Changing our garden paths from bark mulch to gravel provided an unexpected bonus: a big pile of dirt ready to be used in any number of garden projects. Digging into it during the last week has had me thinking about soil in general.
Not long after I moved to Wisconsin, I can still remember my first sight of the farm fields lining the road to Black Earth. Their appearance lived up to the town's name; they were a vast blanket of dark, rich dirt that looked good enough to eat. I was sure a seed tossed from the moving car window would immediately take root and flourish in such black earth. But that lovely black earth is only one of the many soils found in the state.
Wisconsin actually has a state soil: Antigo Silt Loam received its official designation in 1983. And it has its own song by the late professor and soil scientist Francis Hole, as well. Since my husband's parents came from the Antigo area, I can report that I've seen this famous dirt in person. It's home to the state's potato crop which makes the fields look like a garden when the spuds are blossoming. My husband is the proud owner of an Antigo Silt Loam t-shirt which is how I first leaned about all this. And I've had my picture taken with the historical marker.
Third and fourth grade students from Antigo Elementary School sing the Antigo Silt Loam Song.
In 1899 the National Cooperative Soil Survey began and Wisconsin initiated its own survey efforts shortly after. But it wasn't until 2006 that Wisconsin finally completed its state-wide survey under the auspices of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. It was a massive cooperative effort that included work by folks at every level of government, the university, and five bands of the Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. More than 300 soil scientists did the soil mapping which covered more than 35 million acres of land and cataloged more than 600 different soil types in Wisconsin.
This photo shows a wetland and grassy pasture at the College of Agriculture campus on the UW-Madison campus about 1900, around the time Wisconsin began to survey its soils.
If you live in Wisconsin and are curious about what kind of soil you garden in, you can find soil data and more about the study here. But since this site is the work of scientists and government bureaucrats, I found it a bit confusing to use. Nevertheless, it has lots of cool stuff, including a "2006 Year of the Soil" poster of state soils. If you want to know what's your state soil, Jim — from Art of Gardening — provided the link that has the answer.