Dirt: More Than Just That Stuff You Stand On

I’m Kathryn, a student at UVA and a resident of Hereford Residential College. On March 13, I was lucky enough to learn that dirt is way more interesting than I thought it was–and I got to plant indigo seeds for the TJ Demo Garden!

My Winter Gardening class (a short course offered through Hereford Residential College) spent some time with Mike Parisi (a UVA alum!) of Blue Ridge Backyard Harvest. His talk went a long way towards breaking down the complexity of soil – its varieties, the innumerable interactions between its chemical and physical structure and the microorganisms and other lifeforms that live in it, and the effects that the climate and physical and chemical environment around it can have on it. This helped us to understand the results of the soil test that was done on the TJ Demo Garden. It is my understanding that the most important thing we learned from the test was that our soil pH is in the desired range, which is great, because that means that all kinds of plants can grow in it.

Mike discusses the importance of good soil with the students.

Afterwards, I got to plant indigo seeds! Thomas Jefferson counted indigo as one of his “useful plants” because dye can be extracted from it and used to color clothing. A portion of the seeds I planted were “scarred” in order to (hopefully) make them germinate more readily. Indigo seeds have hard coats, and it is sometimes difficult to get them to start growing without a little coaxing. By scarring seeds using a sandpaper file on a seed coat, it is possible to make them germinate earlier. Hopefully, our indigo seeds will do just that!

Winter gardening students plant seeds for the TJ Demo Garden.

Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria, top) and Nasturtium (Tropaelum majus) seeds were soaked overnight.

I’m very excited to see what the future holds for the TJ Demo Garden–a showcase of useful plants, just as Jefferson intended. 

Kathryn Lawryszek
B.A. | Foreign Affairs, 2012
M.P.P. | Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, 2013
University of Virginia


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