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.

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.