Sunday, March 24, 2013

One Man’s Dirt is Another Man’s Soil

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

One Man’s Dirt is Another Man’s Soil

When we were little girls, my sister loved to make fancy mud pies and decorate them with leaves, berries, and twigs. I wanted nothing to do with it. Yuk! Dirt is bad, right? You have to wash constantly to get rid of it—your hands, your nails, your feet, your windows, your food, and your clothes. The list is endless.

Dirt is bad unless you are a farmer, a gardener, a potter, a brick maker, an animal, an artist, or want a facial at your favorite spa. Even some medicines have been made with ingredients like clay.

Soil is the very foundation of life and is an energy giving force.

Early Native Americans believed that standing with bare feet or lying directly on the soil allowed them to think and feel more deeply. We are drawn to the earth when we dig for treasure, bury ourselves at the beach, and look for arrowheads.

Soil is the outer most layer of the earth’s crust. It is a mixture of minerals, organic materials plus air and water. As the organic material decays, it mixes with rock particles, minerals and water to form soil. The content of the soil depends on where it comes from on the earth and the make-up of the parent material.

Sandy soil is made up of minerals and rock and is gritty and has large spaces between the particles. Water flows easily through it. Clay soil drains poorly because it has extremely small particles with small space between them. It is older because it took many years for the rocks to break down. Silty soil has rich nutrients and allows for good drainage and excellent growing. Loamy soil is a combination of the other three types of soil. Because it holds water well, it is ideal for gardening.

The qualities of the soil in any given area determine its use. Farming cannot be done easily in clay, just as building on sand is not wise.

One spoonful of soil can support 5,000 species of bacteria. One acre of land can have five to ten tons of animal life. A one-quarter acre lawn might have 200 to 350 earthworms.

Soil is a non-renewable resource, which can be threatened by over-farming and pesticide use. It takes five hundred years to create one inch of topsoil.

A restaurant in Tokyo, Japan recently made the news by offering a dish costing $110 for those who want to experience the joy of literally eating dirt. Geophagy is the ancient practice of eating soil or soil-like substances such as chalk or clay. Chefs worldwide are experimenting with distilled soil to create an earthy foam to be used in their cooking.

You can have your soil tested through the NC Extension Service. Agents can instruct you about taking a sample. They will send it to Raleigh for testing and you can discuss the results with them to see how to improve your own soil for growing.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Snow Today, Gone Tomorrow

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager


As I write this column, the “S” word is in the weather forecast, maybe. When I taught school, I always instructed my students to wear their pajamas wrong side out on the nights that snow was predicted to fall. Most teachers are as foolish as children are when it comes to the magical precipitation. A snow day off is like playing hooky with God’s permission.

Common adages about encouraging snow include placing a spoon under your pillow, leaving ice cubes on the porch, putting a white crayon in your freezer, shaking a snow globe while dancing, and flushing an ice cube down your toilet.

People in the South see snow differently than anywhere else in the country. Northerners think we are crazy when we hesitate to drive in it, stop all normal activities, and generally lose our minds over one inch of the white stuff.

On March 2, 1980, Elizabeth City and eastern North Carolina experienced blizzard conditions of winds over fifty miles an hour, extremely cold temperatures, and lots of snow. We received Willard Scott’s Golden Shovel Award for the most snow in the country that day. The official measurement was twenty-five inches with drifts up to 30 inches. Then two weeks later, it happened again.

That snowfall was an amazing experience. I stood on my front porch that night and heard the huge pine trees crack and drop their branches. The muffled, insulated sound of the wind was unforgettable. I happily hold onto that memory because it is unlikely to ever happen again. I think.

With the many popular old sayings about snow, there is usually some scientific truth. Some folks say, “It is too cold to snow.” Actually, snow starts falling at around 2 degrees Celsius and up to minus 40 degrees Celsius. Moisture content in the air is the main factor enabling snow. As the temperature falls dramatically, the moisture drops too, so there is little chance of snow.

Photo by Jessica Faulkingham
Northeastern NC has several mitigating factors when it comes to its snowfall. With so much water surrounding us and keeping us warmer, a barrier is formed that keeps us more likely to get rain than snow.

However, we also can experience what is called lake, bay, or ocean snows. These events happen when very cold winds move across long expanses of warm water. The water vapor is picked-up, freezes, and is deposited as snow.

Local news stations try their best to predict our weather, but it is difficult. They use the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) or “European model” located in Reading, England. They also use the Global Forecast System (GFS) model located in College Park, MD from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The European model is statistically more accurate primarily because it has a larger database.

By the way, the Farmer’s Almanac for 2013 has red flagged March 20-23 for a major storm along the Atlantic seaboard with wind and heavy precipitation. Get ready.
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