Preserving healthy soil
University of Washington geomorphologist David R. Montgomery is typically a big-picture guy. In his seminal book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, Montgomery examines how modern agriculture is stripping the Earth of high-quality topsoil, and how the depletion throughout
history of these few inches—“the skin of the Earth,” he calls it—has led to the collapse of civilizations.
During his grim research for the book, he noticed his wife, Anne Biklé, working to restore the poor glacial garden soil in the couple’s Seattle backyard. She worked in loads of wood chips, fallen leaves, and coffee grounds to improve it, then experimented with adding mulch, compost, and soil soup (a home brew made from worm castings). Over several years, the precious topsoil came back. “It’s shocking how much food she grows,” he says. Their backyard restoration has inspired him to think small-picture for his next book, a collaboration with Biklé about how all of us can take part in restoring healthy topsoil. It turns out that what you do in your own backyard has an impact on the larger world, says Montgomery. “The dots are pretty far apart, but they actually do connect.”