Hi there! It’s Allison, your regular Soil3 blogger. We’ve been eagerly awaiting this day on the Soil3 blog, and we’re delighted you’re here to experience it! Today we’re overjoyed to introduce you to our favorite “plant lady,” Brie Arthur, a captivating garden writer and longtime Soil3 user. You can look forward to monthly blog posts and social media takeovers from Brie as she shares her unique horticultural experiences and helps you become a better gardener. We’re sure you’ll love Brie just as much as we do!
Hi, my name is Brie and I am the newest Soil3 team member! I am a horticulturist and home gardener living in Fuquay- Varina, NC. My professional background is in ornamental plant production, and I have had the opportunity to work at many leading nurseries in the Raleigh area, including Plant Delights and a Camellia Forest. Four years ago my career transitioned from propagation to home gardening when I set out to write my first book about my experience as a home gardener. In The Foodscape Revolution readers learn how to grow all the plants they love within the borders of a home landscape, with HOA approval! Mixing flowers and edibles has long been a passion and hobby of mine and it is my sincere pleasure to encourage everyone to make the most of the square footage you have access to!
Camellia Forest Nursery July 2012
My Soil3 Journey
As an avid gardener I have grown to rely on the quality “black magic” compost from Super-Sod. I was first introduced to the Soil3 several years ago and was instantly impressed with the quality and convenience of Super-Sod’s BigYellowBag. I just emailed to schedule a delivery and right on time a truck arrived and placed my bag in the spot I had marked on my driveway. I couldn’t wait to open the bag and dip my hands into the “chocolate cake mix” soil and dream about the abundant harvests that would follow after topdressing my landscape beds.
The best part about my very first bag of Soil3 was I didn’t even get a chance to unload it. In under an hour my neighborhood garden helpers, Aidan (age 8) and Abby (age 6) had unloaded the entire bag! (That was one cubic yard in 42 minutes if you are counting!) They were so proud of their accomplishment, and as they wiped away sweat from their brows they commented that “This Soil wasn’t smelly.” (Kids can be so observant!) Agreeing, I started to wonder what was in this amazing mix and why had it taken me so long to discover it?
Aidan and Abby with the BigYellowBag
Healthy Soil is the Key
Here’s the deal, I LOVE soil, like in a not-so-well-adjusted way. Soil is the most important part of successful gardening and it’s often the aspect that everyone ignores. Sure, it may not be as sexy as the flashy plants, but the truth is, more than 80% of my garden budget is devoted to soil. That is why I have a green thumb!
Junior gardeners learn about working in a foodscape
My fascination with soil all started 20 years ago in Soil Science 101 while studying at Purdue University. See, having grown up in southeastern Michigan I took for granted the lush, nutritious topsoil of the Midwest. I had no idea that in other parts of the country you couldn’t just dig a hole, stick a plant in, and walk away. It was in that class that my professor shared soil profiles collected in southeast, namely Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. We saw clay, granite, and sand and suddenly I had my light bulb moment: not all dirt is created equal.
Learning the Hard Way
I have been gardening in central North Carolina for 16 years and I have used every kind of soil/ compost that I could get my hands on. I’ve gardened in three locations, with three different soil types, so trust me when I say “I feel your pain.” My introduction to growing in Carolina clay was enlightening. I spent the summer of 2000 working as an intern at the renowned private estate garden Montrose in Hillsborough, NC. Perched atop a granite base with hard pan red clay underfoot, I realized on my first day that developing topsoil by adding organic matter was the only way to combat this unforgiving native substrate. I also learned that digging a hole with shovel wasn’t going to work; happily, a pick ax (or as I call it a Maddox) was handed to me, thus changing the way I gardened forever.
At Montrose the choice organic matter was ground leaves collected from the streets of Orange County. Trucks would arrive, dumping massive piles around the garden. Anytime we planted a space wheelbarrow loads of decomposing leaves were added. Unfortunately, along with the rotting foliage came many invasive weed seeds (especially nutsedge) and shredded garbage. It also had an impact on the pH of the garden, as the leaves were often collected on concrete.
Hauling leaf mold at Montrose Gardens 2004
As a homeowner in Wake County, this resource, though inexpensive, was cumbersome as it required me to have access to a truck and/or trailer to be able to haul them. (I had neither, as I operated a small gardening company from my 4-door Saturn on the side of my nursery production job!) Additionally, the city collection site was more than 25 miles away! This drove me to seek local resources for the soil I desperately needed to begin a home garden.
The most commonly available local resources carried two types of compost: a 50/50 mix of animal manure and top soil or straight animal manure. I learned my lesson quickly using the 50/50 mix, after borrowing a dump trailer and installing 15 yards of purchased compost infected with the bacteria ralstonia solanacearum. Not familiar with that term? It’s a pretty common soil-borne bacterial infection that impacts the growth of plants in the heat of the summer. It is especially impactful on plants in the Solanaceae family like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. I will never forget my desperate call to Wake County Extension agent Jeanna Myers as I watched my heirloom tomatoes wilt from the top.
Ralstonia solanacearum in the tomato crop
Bacterial ralstonia clogs the vascular system grey in a matter of hours. I took samples in for evaluation and the conclusion was disheartening: once you have this disease, you have it forever... do not transplant anything from this space to other areas or you will infect the rest of the garden.
With that lesson under my belt I dedicated my soil budget to “aged” animal manure. And when I say dedicated, I mean I purchased hundreds of yards over a period of 4 years. Week after week I would shovel and rake building up the space that would ultimately become my current Foodscape. By now I had acquired a truck AND trailer and designed this garden (my third since 2005) to accommodate equipment to fit in the turf areas (a common mistake that many people do not consider and learn to regret!). The only thing was this compost was inconsistent and really hot, as in temperature! Often the supplier didn’t know what animals contributed to the compost or just how aged it was. I can tell you firsthand, it was never aged enough! Compost generally is hot – the result of organic matter breaking down. If you plant in manure that is still in an active stage of decomposition you will likely burn the roots of your plants and lose your investment. Trust me, I have lost countless trees and shrubs from planting in animal-based compost that had not fully cooked before reaching my home garden.
Soil prep is a labor of love
I even tried making my own compost blend by mowing up fallen leaves and mixing them in with purchased animal-based compost. This was labor intensive to say the least!
Shannon Hathaway and Brie at NCNLA's Green and Growing Show January 2016
I’m sure you can image my relief when I came across the Super-Sod booth at the annual NCNLA trade show back in 2014. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that gorgeous black compost in the bright yellow, waterproof bag. Without hesitation I dug my bare hands in deep to get a good feel and confirm that it wasn’t just the “good stuff” on top. I pulled out handfuls and crumpled it, feeling the texture and realizing THIS STUFF IS MAGIC. I think the Super-Sod folks were amused by my enthusiasm and declaration that I had finally found the solution to my ongoing challenge.
The Realities of Gardening in Developments
I’ve been gardening on the sandy side of Wake County since 2006. As I mentioned earlier, every soil type has some drawback, but honestly sand is a blessing. Sure it dries out quickly, and in my case living in a floodplain, when we are wet, it turns into quicksand. But overall gardening in sand is a relief compared to the hard pan clay of the new neighborhoods just a few miles from me.
I think the main problem of living in my development is the past use of the land. I am smack in the middle of tobacco country, and until my neighborhood was built, farmers had grown tobacco for nearly 60 straight years. So that means I, and all of my neighbors, have a major Root Knot Nematode issues. RKN’s are a microscopic organism that thrive in hot, sandy soil. They infect a plant’s root system by developing knots and absorb the water and nutrients, thus blocking a plant’s ability to grow, flower, and set fruit. They are especially fond of heirloom tomatoes, which have NO resistance, but will also infect ornamental plants like Hydrangeas, Gardenias, Arborvitaes and other edibles like okra. I haven’t found a cure, but I do practice crop rotations, composting marigolds back into the soil, and have even purchased beneficial nematodes which are supposed to eat the bad guys. Overall I can’t say that anything has made much of a difference, except my dedication to topdressing each season with Soil3.
Root Knot Nematodes infect the roots
Though the nematodes will move throughout a soil profile, adding a fresh layer of organic matter can slow them down and gives me a short-term insurance policy. This practice also ensures that all of my plants are growing in healthy, soil which makes them grow stronger and healthier, reducing my pest and disease problems.
Celebrating the Solution
You see happy plants literally start with healthy soil. And what the Soil3 offers is a blend of the very best aged organic matter to maximize your plants successful growing habits. Derived of composted grass leaves, Super-Sod-grown wheat straw, and local cow manure (those cows are also grazing in pastures free of persistent herbicides) the Soil3 compost offers great drainage while providing essential nutrients and microbial activity.
One of the first lessons I learned in soil science was that roots grow in the air space between soil particles, which is why loose soil is better than compacted. And that is why I adore Soil3 so much – it doesn’t compact like straight animal manure composts do. It also doesn’t have any smell and can even be used for growing in containers! Basically I see the Soil3 as the answer to all my gardening dreams, which is why I want to encourage you to try growing in it.
Soil3 looks like black cake mix
Best of Luck with All You Grow
In my near two decades as a professional gardener I have never found a better product than the Soil3. I was convinced the first time I dug my hands into it, and I would never want to garden without it. It is a pleasure to be able to share my experiences with you and I hope that we can all learn together through our gardening journey. So be on the lookout for my blog posts as I share advice and experiments from my home Foodscape!