Planters Guide to the Galaxy

Avatar of Tobi Haims
Features Column

Henry David Thoreau once wrote that, “heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” Humans can credit our very existence to soil, which is considered the cornerstone of life on earth as we know it today. But what makes soil so incredibly important? Unlike dirt, soil is alive. If I go outside and get some soil on my clothes and then come back inside after an hour, I no longer have soil on my clothes, but just plain dirt. What changed in that time is that all of the happy living things in the soil died. Disheartening, no?

Healthy soil, on the other hand, is very much alive. In fact, there are more living organisms in one tablespoon of soil than there are humans on the planet! Along with organic matter and elements that have been decomposing since the beginning of the earth, soil contains worms, fungi, insects, and billions of microorganisms including bacteria, archaea, and even viruses. Soil itself is a beautiful self-sustaining ecosystem. Even more, it has the power to filter our water, store carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, grow a bunch of plants, and support life on earth.

However, we have a population of almost 7 billion humans to feed and modern agriculture unfortunately does not take care of our soil. Agricultural practices such as excessively plowing the land and using pesticides, inorganic fertilizers, and other chemicals decimate our soil by killing the organisms that are necessary to growing healthy plants. To add, this disrupts the essential cycling of nutrients through the soil and atmosphere. Doubly disheartening.

This is when compost comes in to save the day. Compost is every gardener’s best friend because it puts life back into the soil. It retains the balance of nutrients, builds soil structure, holds water, and suppresses diseases and pests. Many people right here in Berkeley, California make their own compost, and one of these people is Logan Thompson, a junior in Independent Study (IS).

While there are multiple compost-making methods, Thompson’s backyard is home to one particular kind – a worm bin. When the compost bucket in his kitchen fills up with vegetable scraps and coffee grounds, he empties it into the worm bin. The worms eat, digest, and poop out those organic materials, producing an awesome type of compost called vermicompost, or worm compost, which is full of good bacteria and valuable nutrients. 

Thompson’s worm bin also produces something called worm tea, which, according to Thompson, is “basically all the juices from the worm bin. … Our worm bin has a little tap at the bottom so you can just pour [the worm tea] into a watering can. It has a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals that plants love, so you can water your plants with worm bin tea and they’re stoked!”

Keeping a worm bin provides Thompson’s garden with compost and worm tea, and it also benefits his chickens. “We feed the chickens worms from the worm bin. They love those,” said Thompson.

“[Composting is] just so rad,” said Thompson. “You can take stuff from your kitchen that you could throw into the trash and turn it into dirt and your plants love that dirt. And then you grow a tomato, and you can put it back in the compost after you eat the parts you want to eat. And then it’s dirt again. You get to be part of the cycle.”