Column: North Ga. soil isn’t ideal for gardening, but hard work can make it happen

There is certainly an interesting underground world in Georgia. It’s not as exciting anywhere as in the northwest corner of our state, towards and including Lookout Mountain. Deep beneath the surface are caves, underground rivers, and a natural system of pipelines made of rock that sometimes carry a lot of water and sometimes no water.

Over here in the Hall Habersham Banks area, the layers look different, and I experience them by digging slowly down. After removing kudzu and rotten plant debris, there is the A horizon, as soil scientists call it. Plant growth is best there, although northern Georgia does not have the most fertile soils in the world. The red stuff that every Whump! from my post-hole excavator is a clay loam. It spent thousands of years losing those nutrients that promote plant growth. No massive ice sheets plowed the ground and restored missing minerals as was the case in the Midwest. Amber trees seem to like it, however, which is evidenced by the roots that are difficult to pierce. I’m sharpening the bird’s beak-like blades on the post-hole excavator. Now it cuts through the roots and takes me to the next layer of soil.

This is the B horizon. It looks pale after thousands of years of water and natural acids from the plant roots. Instead of having a soft, mushy clay character, this layer is loose, almost like sand, but more gritty than that. On closer inspection you can see shiny minerals, larger than sand but smaller than gravel. The smallest plant roots are missing at this deeper level because they cannot find the nutritious minerals they are looking for down there.

Here, at the top of Banks Ridge 700 feet above Homer, my A horizon is only six inches (don’t start a farming career on this property). The B horizon is a little thicker, maybe 16 inches. I can’t get past this depth with my hand tools, but the cutout on the house foundation shows it. The underlying C horizon consists of increasingly larger pieces of rock, until after a few meters the final R horizon, the solid bedrock, is reached.

It is not the ideal garden soil in the Hall-Habersham-Banks triangle. But with the right treatment, for which the agricultural advisory service is advised free of charge, it can turn into a very beautiful garden. That is, when you are done building a fence to keep the deer out.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is professor emeritus for physics at the University of Brenau. His column appears on Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.

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