Monday, April 5, 2010

Planting Time

Watseka was, in my view, a farm town. How could it not be? It’s surrounded by rich black dirt. 
Years ago, some guys I knew from the Chicago suburbs would make jokes about Watseka. I just figured they were jealous. They grew up in cookie-cutter houses and went to schools with fifteen-hundred kids per class.
If my in-law the professor was right, and we all compare our surroundings to our home place, I could be making fun of those suburban guys now. What do they have to remember? What could be special about places like Elgin or Palatine?  Was their Bennigan’s different than any other?
Watseka was unique from the ground up. Even the dirt around it was special.
I wonder how many of you do this? Everywhere I go, without even thinking about it, I look at the soil. I instinctively compare it to Iroquois County’s good black dirt.  Over the years, I’ve been all over the country.  For a while, I even had a job that required me to spend a lot of time in the dirt of several states. In my experience, there is no soil anywhere like the good black dirt of Iroquois County.
I’ve never farmed. I don’t garden. I don’t even tend to houseplants.  I barely made it through WCHS’ science classes.  Accordingly, anything I’d ever suggest on my own about agriculture would be based on pure speculation.
Regardless, when I go home in July and the corn and beans are coming in - I'm always amazed at how green everything is. The crops rarely have any yellow tint. The timber (think about Eastburn Hollow or areas along the River) never looks stressed; it’s thick and lush – jungle-like. Every plant (except the wildflowers and dandelions) is about the deepest richest green on Earth. I’ve always guessed the soil is what causes all that.
Well - - I did a little research. It turns out my assumption was right.  Guess what?  (I trust you not to tell my neighbors in Iowa I said this) Iroquois County has the best dirt in the world. 
Here’s a heading from the on-line High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal (3/24/05): “Illinois soil named nation's best; Iowa officials beg to differ”.  The author of the article cites the Ice Age as the reason for the good soil.
"The mammoth sheet of ice protected the ground beneath it, essentially making it at least 15,000 years younger than land farther south that remained exposed during the glacier era, soil experts say. As the ice melted, strong winds handed the land another jolt of fertility. Massive dust storms spread mineral-rich river basin soil well over 100 miles, laying a fertile layer of topsoil ideal for corn and soybeans. Illinois got yet another boost because glaciers killed off the state's one-time woodland terrain and replaced it with prairie grasses, which feed even more crop-friendly nutrients into the soil, said John Lohse, a soil scientist with the Illinois Department of Agriculture."
The article puts the soil in Eastern IllinoisIroquois County – as among the best in world. 
That's why everything grown there, nurtured or wild, turns out so well. That dirt provides a pretty good place to take root.
There wasn't any better place to be a kid.