Soil Science for Gardeners: Working with Nature to Build Soil Health by Robert Pavlis (2020, New Society Publishers)
The importance of soil – and particularly, soil that is full of life – to the success of a garden cannot be understated in any way. When our soil deteriorates – becomes compacted, perhaps, or crusty or covered in chemicals – we can’t help but take notice. Otherwise, most of us tend to hum along, grateful that it’s doing well and giving our plants a place to thrive, but we don’t really stop to think about what soil is, how it is composed, and how we can keep it healthy and supportive to our beloved green babies.
Soil Science for Gardeners to the rescue! (And I do mean to the rescue…there is actually a section at the end that you can use to play doctor with your own garden soil, figure out what is working and what isn’t, and set yourself some “soil” goals for future improvements. If that isn’t useful, I don’t know what is).
Pavlis starts us out by discussing the components of soil, addressing particles and structure and pH, as well as nutrients and how plants take them up from the soil. Yes, there is some chemistry involved – there has to be! – but he succeeds in making it all a little less daunting for those of us who are a little fuzzy about formulas….
One of my favourite sections in the book is about soil life. When was the last time you thought about all the bacteria and fungi and algae and nematodes and earthworms and other organisms that are rumbling around beneath the roots of your kale and broccoli? Pavlis talks about how they’re all part of the big picture. He delves deeply into the importance of organic matter and compost (and busts some myths along the way!), as well as gives us a crash course on the rhizosphere, which you’ll then consider and appreciate every time you plant.
Of course, you can’t have a book about soil science for gardeners without talking about all the potential problems with our soils. The detailed discussion on identifying soil issues and how to resolve them is extremely useful for readers to refer to time and time again. The focus on how the gardener’s inputs – mulching, tilling, using cover crops and so on – will affect soil health is particularly appealing, and may cause some of us to rethink a few of our practices or make amendments (pun intended).
I cannot recommend this book more highly! Soil science has been an integral part of my horticultural studies over the years and I’ve read a good number of books on the subject. What sets this book apart is how accessible and practical it is to new and experienced gardeners alike. It is comprehensive and thorough and yet written in such a way that anyone can grasp the concepts without needing a science degree. Plus, you might actually find that you find the topic rather enjoyable! That takes the kind of skill, knowledge, and expertise that Pavlis consistently reveals on his website Garden Fundamentals.