Prior to learning more about gardening and farming, I never had an opportunity to appreciate the true value for natural resources, especially soil. Life seemed very purposeful when buying organic food from the grocery store and pursuing somewhat environmentally conscious lifestyle. We always recycled bottles and tried to minimize the use of plastic. When we moved to Las Vegas, NV, and bought our house, my first instinct was to immediately look for local nursery to establish our garden. Little did I know, the soil in the desert lacks any nutrient and is very alkaline. At the time, these characteristics meant very little to me as planting a tree in my mind was a very straightforward activity with a step or two such as digging and transplanting a tree.
At the local nursery, I had an opportunity to meet with a horticulturist, who was very knowledgeable about the local climate and things we needed to grow a tree in the desert. Being curious and with an appetite to learn more, the Internet became my best teacher. I searched and browsed for articles and videos learning how people grow farm organic food. It turned out digging a whole was not the only step necessary in establishing nurturing conditions grow a tree, but rather soil, water, fertilizers and more were required for a tree to grow and produce healthy organic fruits.
We opted for organic garden soil, bought several bags of cedar mulch, and pursued the journey of learning how to garden. The importance of clean water is widely accepted but the importance of the less appealing resource, soil, is greatly undervalued. We take soil for granted and do not realize the replenishment cycle could be easily disrupted if humanity is not careful enough. With our speedy industrial and technological progress, we move so fast that we forget to acknowledge the importance of nature and the essentials of life. The value of water in the desert is very important, but the soil should be as symmetrically important.
According to, Jo Handelsman, Obama's former scientific adviser, "It is probably the most critical resource right now that we are losing at a very high clip." (The Irish Times, The biggest threat to the world? It is not a disease. Or Trump). Furthermore, she states that the disappearance of our soils is the biggest threat the world is facing. The soil that feeds our trees must contain all the essential nutrients for trees and plant to produce. The topsoil constitutes the upper outermost layer, the generally the dark top 2-8 inches. That layer contains the highest level of organic matter where microorganisms happily live. This is where the biological activity takes place where microorganism breakdown carbon, organic matter and produce nutrients for plants and trees. When improperly misused by industrial farming to establish mono-culture farms, the soil is heavily abused by the spread of toxic formulations to fight pests and eradicate weeds. Furthermore, aggressively growing GMO seeds and shortened crop rotation cycles, lead to soil starvation and erosion. The soil is subsequently stimulated and boosted by synthetic fertilizers to allow a farmer to further produce.
The soil is not just a dirt we might think of, but rather a home to microorganisms that live and produce nutrients for trees and plants. Based on my personal observations, the soil in the forest is dark and covered with grass and leaves which are further enhanced by animal droppings that come for food. Bird droppings, decaying, broken branches of trees, fungi and many others factors all contribute to the richness and complexity of our ecosystem, making soil acidic and highly nutritious.
Our first tree was an apple tree that was successfully transplanted from a pot but only survived one season due to scorching sun and unbearable desert heat. Living in the desert does not just teach you about soil but it also inspires you to conserve water, electricity and appreciate nature. Planting a tree led us to organic gardening, and pursuing urban farming using permaculture principles.