Sweet Soil

Sweet Soil is a project that raises frugality to the 100th power. It represents not the sort of hoarding that results in cupboards stacked with newspapers from 1956 but the kind that turns newspapers into a useful product that enhances the environment. The scope of this project is so huge that you keep expecting to see the “little engine the could” chugging over the compost pile or the “ant” tugging his “rubber tree plant” over the horizon. We’re talking environmental Disney World here.

Our member, Jacqueline Schiering, bought a 30 old strip mine from the Western Pennsylvania Conservatory in 1996. It encompassed 276 acres complete with acid mine drainage, barren soil with a low pH, uneven terrain and all of the other problems that result from strip mining. Her goal: to turn it into productive farmland using products that are “throwaways”.

Impressed yet? If not view the 20 foot high piles of wood chips mixed with calcium carbonate (limestone) and paper fibers (all from Weyerhaeuser Company of Johnsonburg} composting in the sun. Check out the huge pile of 25-year-old sawdust that was collected from an old sawmill. Jacqueline has added horse manure to her “mix” this year. She says that all composting must be done on impervious pads to protect the ground water from drain-off.

These composted materials are then spread throughout the old strip mine providing organic rich, pH balanced soil in which cultivated and wild plants thrive. An original grass test plot was planted on six acres on this reclaimed land. The purpose was to provide feed and cover for wild turkeys and their young. Currently switch grass is being tested in this same capacity.

Not only outside recyclables are used. The land is enriching itself. Grasses cut from acres of land are baled and used as an organic augmentation on other sections.

As the environment improves the wildlife is returning. The land is now supporting deer, turkey, birds, butterflies, etc. In 1999 the area was certified as a Bartramian Autubon Society Wildlife Sanctuary.

Cultivated plants include 1000 blueberry bushes, which are being grown organically. As those of us who saw them at the Farmer’s Market can testify they are producing a large, lush berry. A large herb plot is thriving, as is a small organic garden.

A large greenhouse built entirely of recycled materials has recently become a functioning reality with the addition of a solar panel. This small panel provides the electricity to run the pump, which draws water from a well. The well will now provide water for the greenhouse and for the vegetable plot growing beside it.

Newest addition is a pond rich with aquatic life. It is used as an educational source for local school children. Education is another aspect of the reclamation of this area. Sharing techniques, introducing young people, sportsman, and others to the possibilities inherent in recycling and making them consider all aspects of the environment is a reachable goal made possible by the scope of this project.

Many volunteers have given their time to Sweet Soil. The Boy Scouts have built a grill and done other work as part of their Eagle Scout program. School children helped plant the herb garden and bring rabbits for relocation. Others have helped with the gardens.

In the future is a possible cranberry bog. Brainstorming is going on to find a method to stabilize a steep slope that is left from the stripping. With her propensity for hard work and fulfilling the impossible dream, I sure Jacqueline has many plans for Sweet Soil.

I have my eye on the picnic shelter. Jacqueline says that Sweet Soil in the spring is an entirely different proposition. What say you to another trip in the spring? If we beg really hard perhaps we can turn it into a picnic and make use of that grill. We can also keep our eyes peeled for that “ant” with his “rubber tree plant”.