Hit the “Dirt”–Perennial Bookworm

Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, David R. Montgomery, 2007.  University of California Press, 295 pages, 6 x 9”, $17.95 (paper).

The author’s main point: we treat our soil like dirt.  From the Romans to the Mayans to the Palouse region of my home state of Washington, man beckons the demise of civilization when he ignores soil exhaustion and erosion.  Soil, the life-giving natural resource so unappreciated by even those who work it, when degraded, cannot feed the populations originally made possible by the invention of agriculture. 

Montgomery, Professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, calls for a philosophical shift whereby we recognize the ground under our feet as “the living foundation of material wealth” and thus treat our soil as an ecological, rather than industrial system.  Among the opinions well-supported in Dirt: that cheap food is not the solution to eliminating hunger for a boundless world population, and that with oil supplies disappearing, the days are numbered today’s petroleum-based agriculture. 

Covering geology, the history of soil science and accounts of societies who have destroyed, as well as those that have enriched their soil; this book is a thorough and enlightening treatment of the topic.

University of California Press http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520258068

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About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is a freelance garden writer and speaker who regularly writes "The Perennial Bookworm" where she reviews garden and natural science books, as well as a regular contributor to "WestSound Home & Garden Magazine" on a variety of horticulture topics.
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2 Responses to Hit the “Dirt”–Perennial Bookworm

  1. James says:

    I’m going to have to check this one out. To think that the nursery revolution X years ago was the soil-less planting mix. “Less pathogens” the nursery people trumpeted, but it treated earth with no respect, like the dirt you mention. Some of our native plant nurseries at least are reverting to mixes that feature a big portion of live, mycorrhiza-rich earth. Yeah, it’s heavy as…dirt…and makes for increased shipping, but somehow it seems right.

    • Colleen Miko says:

      I like the idea of using real “dirt” in potting mixes, but I don’t think it would fly up here where we get some much rain–stuff would never drain in the winter. Was at a Washington State Nursery & Landscape Association meeting last night where some local Japanese Maple growers were discussing potting mixes and how much these trees hate wet feet. It makes alot of sense for farther south, though–holds water better, which is a swell idea in more arid So Cal. And it has that live microbial activity plants thrive on. These growers did say they don’t use “sterlized” mixes, so at least some of us are realizing that the life in soil is dear.

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