Using Rocks Out of Your Rocky Garden Soil

Having rocks on your land is a blessing, not a curse, according to ours experts. Learn how you can use the rocks from your rocky garden soil.
July/August 1983

Here in Oklahoma, my husband and I recently bought five acres of beautiful woodland situated near a lake. Since then, we've discovered that the soil-though rich-is laden with rock, and we've had little success in raising a garden. Could the Nearings, who have had extensive experience with gardening on the rugged Maine coast, give us suggestions about removing the boulders and/or gardening in spite of them?

We wouldn't buy land that didn't have rocks on it! We're in our 70s and 90s, have just finished building a stone house, and are gathering rocks for a possible next one. In our “forest farm” living room, we used a plumb rock face as an attractive back wall.

Rocks are also useful for road making, filling in dips in the land, constructing patios and walks, and walling gardens to keep unwanted creatures out. (We've built about 1,000 feet of stone walls.)

We give odd-shaped or smooth stones as gifts and mementos. When we find one with a circle around it, we give it to a child, saying, “Put this under your pillow and make the same wish every night and every morning for three weeks. If you don't forget once, you'll get your wish.”

True, sometimes you may find a stone you can't use. When we were digging our cellar in our previous home in Vermont, for instance, we came across a huge boulder. So we excavated under it and dropped it down below the needed level. On the other hand, putting an outhouse over another large slanting-rock gave us a homemade “Clivus Multrum” (the composting toilet that decomposes human excrement as the waste works down a slope)!

What's wrong with stones or rocks? They're mighty handy things to have around the place! 

— Helen and Scott Nearing 

The Nearings began homesteading, in 1932, on a farm in Vermont.