Yesterday, my neighbor came by and dumped a scoop full of black dirt on what, someday, will be--we hope--our front lawn. What some people tell me, people I trust, is that you can never have enough black dirt.
I'm no farmer, never have been, never will be; nor am I much of a gardener, to be truthful. But there's something about that line I love: "You can never have enough black dirt." If it was funny, it could be a Rodney Dangerfield one-liner; but it's not--it's true. "You can never have enough black dirt."
Anyway, we got it. A few days ago, we took a dying plant into a local greenhouse to get a new arrangement. The guy said he'd dig the old one out and put together some new combo for us--50% off too. He did.
But said he put the old sad one into a spare pot he had sitting around because the old guy still had good roots. Just couldn't toss it. I like that.
Anyway, he looked up at us as if what he'd pulled up was dope (this is Iowa, remember, not Colorado). Looked straight at me, brows furrowed. "Where'd you get that dirt?" he said.
I was being grilled. I hunched my shoulders, and looked at my wife. "I don't know," I told him, feigning innocence. "Out of a pile in our backyard, I guess."
Then, in all sincerity, even deep respect, he looked me straight in the eye. "That's good dirt," he said, as if I'd better take out some additional homeowners insurance.
This really, really black and gorgeous stuff in a pile on our front yard is called "Primgahr." Don't believe me?--look it up. It's origin is O'Brien County, Iowa, just east of us, and it's just plain midnight, inky black. It's greatly beloved, as you can well imagine, blessed with a rich and well-earned reputation for producing "perfection in all kinds of grain and vegetables," one source claims.
Here's what it looks like when it's not in a pile on my front yard.
And here's the real story, straight from the mouth of the USDA:
The Primghar series consists of very deep, somewhat poorly drained, moderately permeable soils formed in loess on uplands and high stream benches. Slope ranges from 0 to 5 percent. Mean annual air temperature is about 47 degrees F, and mean annual precipitation is about 27 inches.
Precipitation will be higher this year, believe me. In fact, maybe the real blessing of Primgahr soil won't be so ultra-apparent this growing season because some sources insist it needs to be drained. It's so black and dense that it retains water bountifully, which is great in drought or near-drought, but less a blessing when rain water is at a premium.
Josephine Donovan's novel of life among the new, white residents of Sioux County, Iowa, circa 1870, Black Soil, draws its title--and it's setting, by the way--from "Primgahr soil," which means, of course, that that pile of dirty blessedness in my front yard is even famous.
Well, after a fashion. Be interesting to know who were the other two or three people to read that old wonderful story in the last decade.
If I'd been reared on a farm, if I'd planted hope every spring and worried myself sick every harvest, I'm sure I'd have thought of it long ago. But I was a professor, which means, in some very Siouxland ways, a slow learner.
When I look out my window right now over miles and miles or Siouxland prairie and think of that rich dump of black soil in my front yard, I just can't help myself, I guess. Garrison Keiler once said in Christian Century that the world would be a better place to live if everyday every last one of us would give thanks for something, anything.
This morning, I'm thankful for lovely dirt.