Sunday, February 7, 2016

Teeming with microbes

That's how Nicole Selby, a staff gardener and Swarthmore alum, describes the soil underneath the five-acre experimental organic lawn at the college. It's part of the beautiful, rolling lawn in front of Parrish Hall, where the administration offices are housed.

Teeming with microbes

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That's how Nicole Selby, a staff gardener and Swarthmore alum, describes the soil underneath the five-acre experimental organic lawn at the college. It's part of the beautiful, rolling lawn in front of Parrish Hall, where the administration offices are housed.

Nicole is an urban farmer and food activist who studied agriculture at the U. of Maryland and sociology and education at Swarthmore. She's now tending the lawn and other gardens on the grounds team at Swarthmore, which is famous for its Scott Arboretum.

My visit yesterday was my first in awhile. I was struck, as I am every time, at the obvious care and affection that goes into everything here - from the containers in front of the arboretum offices to the labels identifying plants and trees.

Nicole's organic experiment has been going for a year now. She's been using compost, compost tea, lawn aeration and overseeding of cool weather grasses on her five-acre patch, which is used as a practice field by the Ultimate Frisbee team and gets heavy foot traffic from students, whether they're lounging around, walking across, or making a beeline for the dining hall.

Nicole reports that at a minimum, her lawn is no worse than the conventionally maintained lawns. At best, the soil under hers is, as she puts it, "teeming with microbes." I can attest to that. She showed me samples under a microscope!

Story to come next Friday.

Inquirer Staff Writer
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About this blog
Ginny Smith, a Philadelphia native, joined the Inquirer at 1985. After stints as both reporter and editor in the city and suburbs, she’s been happily writing – and learning - about gardening full time since 2006. She’s won two silver medals of achievement from the national Garden Writers Association and in 2011, Bartram’s Garden honored her with its Green Exemplar award for her stories about “the region’s deeply rooted horticultural history, cultural attractions and bountiful gardens.” She plays in her own – mostly - bountiful garden in East Falls. Reach Virginia A. at vsmith@phillynews.com .

Virginia A. Smith Inquirer Staff Writer
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