The Secret Life of the Soil

Martie Young
Adams County Master Gardener

Where will you find deep-fried mushrooms and mushroom compost under the same roof? Where will you find huge baked potatoes and huge models of springtails, soil nematodes, and soil bacteria? Where can you see frozen butter and live redworms up close and personal? By now you have guessed--the Pennsylvania State Farm Show.

This marvelous extravaganza will be taking place this year from January 5 through 10, 2002, in Harrisburg. The temperature today is 50 degrees. It’s hard to believe that in a couple weeks we could be having famous "Farm Show Weather" (snow or blizzard conditions).

I hope by now I’ve made you enthusiastic to go the Farm Show, and while you are there you will see the Master Gardener Exhibit. This year, Master Gardeners have made a major effort to be a visible presence at the Farm Show. 

As part of the Penn State exhibit in the Main Exhibition Building, Master Gardeners from several counties have worked together to produce a wonderful display, entitled "The Secret Life of the Soil." You will see (and be able to crawl through) a 5-foot high worm tunnel decorated with all the living organisms that live in the soil. Be sure to take the kids or grandkids!

How about some live creepy-crawlies? There will be vermicomposting boxes set up (otherwise known as worm composting). If you have trouble getting rid of table scraps (fruits and vegetables), this is the solution. Just keep a box of redworms under the counter and feed them your scraps—in several months, you will have compost—enough to feed your houseplants and other small plants a steady diet of enriched soil.

A regular composting display will also be set up to give you examples of the various types of bins and containers that can be used for composting. 

Master Gardeners will be on hand to answer your questions (remember we have been involved for 2 years with the Backyard Composting program). Speaking of questions, Master Gardeners can answer all sorts of questions, and if we can’t answer on the spot we can get the answer for you. 

Computers will be set up to print out instant information on a variety of topics. Do you know?

  • One teaspoon of forest soil contains these beneficial organisms:
    • between 100 million and 1 billion bacteria
    • several hundred yards of fungi
    • several hundred thousand protozoans
    • several hundred nematodes.
  • One cup of soil may hold as many bacteria as there are people on earth
  •  It takes from 1,000 to 10,000 years to form 1 inch of topsoil.

You will have to come to the Farm Show to learn many more interesting facts about the secret life of the soil. And remember all those delicious food items I mentioned at the beginning? Who could resist the baked potatoes swimming in butter, or ice cream with maple syrup, or maple-flavored cotton candy!

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