On Oct 6-7, the Northeast Coordinating Committee on Soil Testing (NECC1812) hosted its annual meeting in Milford, PA. The NECC-1812 works to ensure that soil, plant, water samples are analyzed and interpreted properly for Northeast states. The committee members consist of soil fertility specialists and key lab personnel from Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and West Virginia. The committee discussed opportunities and challenges of soil testing for evaluating soil health. Examples that were involved in our discussions are testing for soil aggregate stability, which is a soil property that is important for evaluating soil erodibility; testing for soil organic matter, which is important for soil chemical, physical, and biological properties, and ultimately to soil’s capacity to supply nutrients to our plants as well as sustainability of soil’s ecosystem service; and nickel as plant nutrition – why does it improve plant yield under specific situations.

Dr. Stephanie Murphy, the director of Rutgers University Soil Testing Laboratory, shared with us a recently published guideline for dealing with soil for raised beds. If you use raised beds in your garden and are wondering what type of growing media and soils would work best, how much organic growing media and organic amendments are needed, and how you would send samples to soil testing labs when analyzing organic growing media and composts, please visit this newly published extension article Soil For Raised Beds at https://njaes.rutgers.edu/fs1328/.

A nice treat that we had from this committee meeting was that we got to use Grey Towers National Historic Site in Milford Pennsylvania for the meeting to take place. The Grey Towers was built in 1886 by James and Mary Pinchot as their summer retreat, it is truly a beautiful property with full of history.

Grey Towers Historic Site in Milford, PA. Photo by Haiying Tao

James recognized the reckless destruction of nature resources and committed his effort to advance his conservation ideals to preserve the nature heritage and the family donated the Grey Towers and its surrounding 102 acres to the US Forest Service in 1963. Besides the astonishing architecture and the design that reflects the French heritage, the history of the family and their involvement and great impact on natural resource conservation, we truly enjoyed the beautiful garden surrounding the Grey Towers.

Climbing hydrangea at children’s play house. Grey Towers. Photo by Haiying Tao.

Thanks to Gifford, the oldest son to James and Mary, and Cornelia Pinchot, who designed and constructed much of the landscape that we get to enjoy now. They planted 30 prominent fruit and ornamental trees on the property, and some of them are from Europe and Asia. As soon as we parked our car in the parking lot, our eyes were immediately caught by the blooming oxydendron  and its stunning color of leaves and think you may enjoy seeing a picture of it as well.

Oxydendron in bloom. Grey Towers. Photo by Haiying Tao.

My favorite part of the landscape is the Swimming Pool Terrace. Although the swimming pool is now filled and a tent is built on it for outdoor public programs and meetings and conservation education, I love the climbing hydrangea-covered stone walls and the beautiful grape arbor with stone foundation and seating inside.

Grape arbor. Grey Towers, Photo by Haiying Tao

In a corner near the arbor, I noticed a huge grain mill and was wondering what it was doing in a garden of a rich family’s mansion. As I walked around in other gardens, I noticed more of them. It was later on that I learned from the guide that these mills were brought in by the residence of Milford during the recession. With a warm heart to help people during the recession, the Pinchot family announced that they needed a mill wheel, and they would pay $5 if anyone would bring them one.

One of the 17 mill stones at Grey Towers. Photo by Haiying Tao.

They ended up receiving 17 of them. Some of them are now displayed in the different areas of gardens, and a few of them are buried underneath other structures in the gardens. In addition to the dedication of the Pinchot’s family to natural resource conservation, this is the next best story that I enjoyed during this visit. There are truly a lot more interesting histories and beauty for you to explore if you will be ever passing through Milford PA and can allocate some time to visit the Grey Towers.

Haiying Tao, Ph.D. UConn PSLA