ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Last Windrow: Dirt under fingernails - what a great feeling

I like dirt. Especially under my fingernails. My lifelong passion for dirt must come from the first time my dad plopped me down in our farmyard, put a little shovel in my hand and told me to "throw some dirt around." I think he was priming me for...

I like dirt. Especially under my fingernails.

My lifelong passion for dirt must come from the first time my dad plopped me down in our farmyard, put a little shovel in my hand and told me to "throw some dirt around." I think he was priming me for a possible career in farming.

It was a fun exercise digging in the dirt, making river channels and watching the way water found its way to its own level. The mud produced by this exercise made excellent mountains and dams and other features of the landscape.

And, I got dirt under my fingernails. I liked the feeling.

Through the years following I became very familiar with dirt. I found out that the fields we tilled were made up of many kinds of dirt. Having been virgin prairie before the homesteaders came into the country, the topsoil was six feet deep in places.

ADVERTISEMENT

On the river bottoms, the topsoil was sometimes 12 feet deep. Our northwest Iowa farm didn't show a rock or spot of sand anywhere. I plowed from one end of a field to another never breaking pace. The three bottom moldboard plow turned the deep topsoil evenly and rarely "plugged."

Plowing was by far my favorite farm occupation and I still turn the soil of our garden every fall with a moldboard plow, just for old times' sake.

If one spends enough time getting dirt under their fingernails, they soon find that not all fields or gardens are created equal. Moving from the farmlands of Iowa to the forest lands of Minnesota was a soil eye opener!

When it rained on the heavy topsoil of Iowa it took a week or so to dry out. When it rained heavily in northern Minnesota it was as if the water disappeared through a sieve. What was drenched the afternoon before, was dry the day after. That took some getting used to.

The thin and sandy topsoil of my current home-site needs rain every week during the hot summer months to keep plants growing. But, if water is present on a regular schedule, the soil will produce great garden crops; and due to irrigation, corn is now grown where it was a challenge in years past.

I took an agronomy course during my college years and I learned that dirt is not just dirt. It is a living, breathing thing with millions of organisms living on and below the surface.

Dirt can be fragile. If misused, it will eventually die. Farmers were and are aware of that. During my days on the farm, the land was allowed to rest between crops. The land on which we planted corn one year would be turned into oats ground the next and maybe hay ground the next. We left what we called "water-ways" in the creases between the gently sloping hills.

In the mid-'50s we started the practice of contour farming to keep dirt from washing out of the field and into the adjoining creeks or rivers. Farmers knew their existence relied on keeping dirt on their property and they worked to protect it.

ADVERTISEMENT

We have just turned the calendar page to the merry month of May. That means a lot of things to a lot of people. We will honor Mom this weekend, we in Minnesota will honor the walleye the next weekend, we will honor our veterans at the end of the month.

But, there is one other thing we will also honor this month: dirt.

Soon you will see my wife and myself bent over a patch of dirt we call our garden. That sight itself may not be pleasant to the eyes, but seeds will soon be planted and expected to grow.

Our basement is now full of growing cabbage, pepper, broccoli and cauliflower plants. They are reaching for real sunlight instead of the grow lights hanging from the ceiling. I will be cutting seed potatoes in the upcoming weeks and making rows that will produce our next winter's supply of spuds. Sweet corn will be planted later in May and a new plot of dirt will house our pumpkin and squash.

My wife and I will be coming out of the garden with dirt under our fingernails. It will feel good to smell the soil and know that we are producing our own food.

I'm grateful my dad put that little shovel in my hand so many years ago and told me to "throw some dirt around." I'm still doing that. I still like dirt.

See you next time. Okay?

What To Read Next
Exclusive
Local journalism is a privilege and should be promoted