Why does dirt under the fingernails feel so good?

My postage stamp-sized backyard vegetable garden is my refuge each morning and afternoon during my hectic workday. As soon as the frost broke in March, I was turning the dirt to put in radishes, lettuce, onions, sweet peas, kale and carrots. Tomatoes and peppers went in a couple of weeks ago. Zucchini, bans and cucumbers followed last weekend.

I love seeing the new shoots pop up out of the ground, and playing a cat-and-mouse game with the local rabbit populations (hint: fox and coyote urine is commercially available, and makes a great repellent).

But mostly, I love turning over the soil.

Not too many years ago, the little parcel I staked out for my garden was nothing but heavy clay and rocks. After removing as many rocks as possible, I built some raised beds and began a steady regimen of feeding the soil. Two compost bins in our backyard turn lawn clippings and kitchen waste into rich organic matter. In the fall, leaves raked from the yard are piled in the garden, and mixed into the soil, along with some buffalo manure I haul in from our small herd. And an early fall planting of clover after harvesting the vegetables adds rich nitrogen to the soil.

This weekend, as I was getting ready to plant another batch of beans, I turned over the soil, and couldn’t help getting my hands down in the dirt. The coal-black soil was teaming with fat earthworms, and carried a rich fertile smell.

Fresh vegetables enjoyed only after hours after picking are one of the key rewards of backyard gardening. So, too, is a little dirt under the fingernails.

Tom Casey
Amy Clark
Angelika Torres
Anthony Zolezzi
Chelsea Vurciaga
Dave Carter
Elizabeth Chatellier, MA, RDN
Linda Bonvie
Liz Latham
Sebrina Zerkus Smith
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