The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Why dirt makes us happy

Handful of dirtI have a confession to make.  When it was 55 degrees on Tuesday and Mark had gone to town to do our weekly chicken waterer mailing, I snuck out and weeded a row of berries.  It wasn't on the list --- I was supposed to be pruning --- but the ground had thawed, and three years of organic mulches had turned the soil into black, moist humus.  The weeds almost seemed to jump out of the ground into my hands, and my fingers ended up just as black as the soil.

The chickens were overjoyed, and so was I.  Only later, did I find out that my bout of winter weeding was akin to self-medication.  A few years ago, scientists discovered that a bacterium in the soil --- Mycobacterium vaccae --- works like an antidepressant by tricking our brains into making more serotonin.  Maybe this would explain why the garden-obsessed among us go a little crazy at this time of year.

Feeling blue?  Go play in the dirt!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Im jealous! I have been imagining that first day in the garden with soft dirt, and the scent of sun warmed dirt. Our ground is frozen solid right now. I cannot WAIT for that first day out there!
Comment by Alana Sat Feb 5 10:03:23 2011
It's a short-lived phenomenon. By a couple of days later, the soil was frozen again. But still a hopeful sign of spring!
Comment by anna Sat Feb 5 13:35:08 2011
And, here, I thought I just missed my bees!
Comment by Dean Mosher Sat Feb 5 14:10:07 2011
Our bees were out gathering fungal spores again today despite gale-force winds! It's nice to see them so active in February, although it's supposed to cool back down and we may not see them again for a while.
Comment by anna Sat Feb 5 19:04:16 2011
Oh, thank you for the research info on dirt and how it makes us feel better! After all these years, I thought it was just me. Back a looooong time ago, when I was single and living in my own house, my wonderful elder, ex-farmer, neighbor caught me laying in my newly tilled-up-but-not-planted-garden. I was just lying in the freshly turned dirt. It felt so good. I had just gotten off of work as a flight nurse in a really busy hospital and it had been an especially hard shift. I was supposed to be planting cucumber seedlings, but the soil was calling me. I just laid down in it. The neighbor didn't say a word to me. He just watched me heal in that little patch of dirt. Then went in to his house and commented to his wife how I must have had a bad night. Having owned a farm out in East Texas, he understood the need to lie in the dirt every now and then. Thanks for the confirmation that I’m not the only weirdo out there that needs to feel the dirt.
Comment by Elizabeth Sun Feb 6 20:23:15 2011
Thank you so much for sharing that story --- it's wonderful!
Comment by anna Mon Feb 7 07:47:18 2011

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