Don’t Treat Your Soil Like Dirt!

22, Nov, 2010 Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy

How often do you stop to think about the earth beneath your feet? Ever wonder what’s actually in the dirt you tread on day in and day out? These may not be questions you ask yourself often, but for the Rose Kennedy Greenway, what’s in the ground is vital to the life of our parks. After all, healthy soil equals healthy parks and people.

This week, the Green & Grow apprentices dug into how we maintain healthy soils on the Greenway.  They got the inside scoop from our very own Anthony Ruggiero on a key component of our organic landscape practices: worms.  “I was a lot bolder than I thought I would be when it came to worms!” says Sade, an apprentice in this year’s program.  Another apprentice, Dion, was surprised that those little red wigglers could do so much: “I learned that newspapers and food scraps can be turned into rich soil by worms.  I used to think soil was just dirt.”

Dion got it right.  Soil is definitely not just dirt.  At the Greenway, the Green & Grow apprentices are learning about the how and why of our organic landscape management program.  We value the biodiversity of the soil and employ the most natural techniques to enhance the level of nutrients in the soil.  Instead of using synthetic fertilizers that strip the soil of nutrients over time, we brew our own organic compost tea to spray on the beds and lawns in our parks.

Right now we’re getting by with a little help from our friends at Harvard University who are supplying the compost for our tea.  In the future, however, the red wiggler worms that the apprentices recently discovered in the basement of the Conservancy will break down our food scraps and turn them into nutrient-rich soil for the parks.  The Green & Grow apprentices were quick to realize that essentially, we have great big bin of worm poop!  (To learn more about how to construct your own worm bin and maintain an ideal environment, check out


Green & Grow Meet Worms

“So what you’re telling me is worm poop is valuable??” Anthony Ruggiero shows Raynel and Sade the work of the red wigglers in our basement.


Before the apprentices started brewing the compost tea, they had to learn a few things about the soil.  For example, they learned how to read the soil tests conducted by UMASS Amherst and use the texture triangle used by horticulturists and soil scientists all over the world to determine what kind of soil we have on the Greenway.  They also learned about the ideal properties of soil and how Greenway staff handles complex challenges like nutrient retention and compaction in an urban park.

Our recent Soil Food Web Analysis reveals that there is not a whole lot of fungal matter in our soil.  As the apprentices discovered, fungi (and bacteria) are essential to the growth of organisms that break down organic matter and release all sorts of goodness into the soil for plants to “eat.”  “Not to worry”, Anthony said, “All this soil needs is a cup of tea.”  The apprentices got busy.


Making the Tea

Dion and Remy measure the compost for their tea.


Since our soil needs more fungal matter, our horticultural staff has been experimenting with different combinations to make the compost more fungal for our brew. By adding oatmeal and creating more moisture, we were able to make a successful batch full of sprawling mycelium (fungi).  The Green and Grow apprentices weren’t too keen on the funky fungal stench, but they got over it and jumped right in to brewing tea.


Brewing Tea

Shacoya mixes the tea.


Being sure to allow for proper aeration and then carefully measuring out the right amounts of kelp, fish hydrolysate, hydra-hum, flour, vegetable oil and compost, the apprentices poured the ingredients into the 50 gallon tanks and covered their noses.  Two days later, the horticulture staff inoculated the Wharf District parks with the apprentice’s tea.  One of the apprentices compared inoculation to drinking an energy drink.  It’s a great analogy: drinking an energy drink will give you a boost. Except, our compost tea doesn’t have the upsurge and resulting downer effect that a caffeinated energy drink would. It is more like drinking a smoothie full of vitamins and nutrients, giving you prolonged and sustained health.

A big thanks to the Green & Grow apprentices for their help in boosting the immune system of our parks and ensuring health through the cold season!


The Brewers

The Proud Brewers! Sade, Shacoya, Katherine, Dion, Uriah, Emanuel, Anthony, Remy, Aelxis

The Green & Grow workforce development program helps young Bostonians become effective and reliable employees through an apprenticeship working and learning in an urban park. The program gives young people firsthand experience in sustainable horticulture practices and builds their capacity to take care of the Greenway and help create a welcoming, healthy and environmentally friendly park for all. To find out more, visit our website.