Tend your underground garden: Local gardener, author Diane Miessler writes book on soil food web | TheUnion.com

Tend your underground garden: Local gardener, author Diane Miessler writes book on soil food web

Tom Durkin
Special to The Union

Diane Miessler wrote a book about dirt — and sold it to Storey Publishing of North Adams, Massachusetts.

Wait. What? Dirt?

“It’s not about dirt,” asserted Miessler, a certified permaculturalist. “It’s about the ‘soil food web’ — the bazillions of life forms that turn lifeless dirt into living soil that naturally nourishes the veggies and flowers in your garden.”

From worms to germs, micro-organisms to macronutrients, nematodes to nitrogen, “Grow Your Soil!” is an accessible book about the science of soil management.

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It’s written with the humor and conversational ease of “an aging hippie chick” (her words) showing off her terraced garden in Nevada City.

And true to her counterculture heritage, she’s happy to defy conventional wisdom. “Retire your rototiller and stop using chemicals. You’ll enjoy your garden more, grow more food, and take more naps,” she likes to say.

In the foreword to the book, Elaine R. Ingham, Ph.D., wrote, “Diane’s description of the different groups of organisms in the garden made me smile and, on occasion, laugh out loud.”

“Dr. Ingham is the pioneering microbiologist who first described the soil food web,” said Miessler. “I am very honored that she wrote the foreword.”

On the back cover of the book, organic gardening expert Jeff Lowenfels wrote, “A great how-to book … using science and not Grandma’s gardening mythology.”

The book has a bibliography verifying Miessler’s research. It also has glossary of scientific terms and an index.

“Storey recognized that although there’s an expanding awareness among the general public about the importance of soil health, there hasn’t been a good layperson’s guide to soil-building in a very long time,” said Carleen Madigan, gardening acquisitions editor for Storey Publishing.

She added in a March 19 email, “It’s rare to find a writer like Diane, who is not only experienced and knowledgeable, but who can communicate often complex ideas in straightforward language, in an engaging and entertaining way.”

Released nationally Feb. 18, the whimsically illustrated 166-page paperback was promptly listed as a categorical No. 1 new release on Amazon.

“’Grow Your Soil’ is selling well across a variety of outlets — in traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores and online, as well as at specialty outlets like garden supply stores,” wrote Colleen Mulhern, a publicist for Storey Publishing, in a March 19 email.

Kit Hattem, owner of The Book Seller in Grass Valley, reported the store sold out and had to reorder more copies.

“It’s been selling really well, especially since it’s kind of early in the season for a gardening book,” said Angie Kelsey, who works at the store.

Both The Book Seller and Harmony Books in Nevada City had “Grow Your Soil!” in stock as of March 20. However, both bookstores closed their doors March 20 because of the pandemic emergency.

Both Hattem and Stacey Colin of Harmony Books said they would continue to take orders over the phone. The Book Seller also has a 24/7 website for online orders. Additionally, “Grow Your Soil!” is available through Amazon.

Miessler had planned several events to market her book, but the pandemic has shut them down. A March 23 interview on KVMR community radio was called off.

The real disappointment was the cancelation of an April 3 book signing at the Wild Eye Pub in Grass Valley, because the band Purdon’s Crossing was scheduled to perform.

Miessler is a member of the esoteric band, whose slogan is “fine music without the dignity.” Purdon’s Crossing is known for their tight four-part harmonies, multi-instrumentalism and genre-bending repertoire of songs.

“I was going to raffle off a kit for making compost tea,” she said.

A July 2 book signing at The Book Seller during the Grass Valley Thursday Night Market is still planned. “People are going to want to talk to her, because she knows our local red-clay soil,” Kelsey said.

“It’s a good time to get down in the garden. You don’t have to social distance with your flowers,” Miessler advised.

Miessler, R.N., has a day job. She’s a public health nurse for Nevada County. Like everyone, she said she is concerned about the global coronavirus outbreak.

“What we don’t know is how much this virus is out in the community (more than we think), and how likely we are to catch it from people without symptoms,” she wrote in an email March 20.

“Assume everything you touch is crawling with the virus. Wash your hands,” she said. “Better yet, go play in the dirt and grow some soil. Then wash your hands.”

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada County. Full disclosure: he was an early editor of “Grow Your Soil” but was not involved in the actual production of the book.

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