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Friday, June 28, 2019

Review: The Weather Detective

The Weather Detective is a bit of a bait and switch. I checked it out hoping that it would actually tell me more about weather prediction from a naturalist point of view (rather than just reading weather forecast), but within 40% of the book the topic had shifted entirely into gardening!

But then I read the passage about hailstones and how hail was formed to Bowen and he said: "This is the coolest book ever!" Then I realized that because of my never wanting to spend any time gardening, this book had lots of information that I didn't know about. For instance:
Across Europe, the Earth is no longer in its natural state. Before being settled by humans, the landscape was dense with primeval forests. The closed, dense tree cover was the best possible protection for the fine, loose soil, and all processes took place at a slow and moderate pace under the canopy of beech, oak, or ash. Humans removed this protective layer around their growing settlements by clearing vast tracts of woodland. But this is not all: the early farmers left an indelible mark on the soil when their oxen pulled wooden plows, dragging the topsoil into ridges and furrows. These plows turned over a very shallow layer of soil, no more than 8 inches. The soil below this was smeared by the plow, resulting in a clogged-up layer called the plow sole, blocking the pores in the earth and stopping air and water from seeping through. This effectively suffocated the soil life beneath this layer and meant water could not be fully absorbed after heavy rain. The result was a bathtub effect: after rainfall everything was submerged, whereas in dry periods no moisture could be drawn up from below. Shepherds and goatherds have also wreaked havoc with their livestock over the ages. The surface of the ground has been beaten down by the animals’ hooves, causing further damage to the pores through successive layers all the way to the surface.  (Kindle Loc 1382)
There's a ton of stuff about bird migration, the life of underground tunneling creatures and it dispelled some of my misconceptions about fertilizers and how they work (they don't work by adding nutrients to the soil), and why you shouldn't use too much (and it's not about run-off, it's about the plants growing too tall and then getting squashed by inclement weather).

All in all, I ended up reading the whole thing and not resenting any of the gardening tips. Maybe I'll check out the author's more famous book: the hidden life of trees.

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