Soil is alive! Developing naturally from the chemical, biological, and physical breakdown of bedrock, surficial materials, and dead plants and animals, it is composed of a dynamic combination of mineral sediments, organic materials like detritus, bacteria, bugs, and water, and air. Soil forming processes occur over long periods of time. In the humid climate of southeastern Vermont one inch of soil may take 100 years to develop.

Dummerston’s soils have developed directly from the underlying surficial and bedrock substrates. Consequently, because there are different types of surficial deposits distributed throughout town, there are differences in the quality of the soils, which in turn is directly relevant to agriculture and the distribution of plant communities. Up in the hills, where glacial till is the dominant surficial material, most of the soils contain a combination of clay, silt, and sand-sized particles, as well as a healthy dose of gravel and cobbles. Hence, with the thawing of the ground each spring comes a fresh crop of stones that have for generations challenged New England hill farmers, and supplied the raw materials for the walls constructed by European settlers. In general, hilltops and steep flanks of ridgelines are more thinly covered in soil, while at the base of slopes thicker deposits of nutrient rich sediments accumulate, thanks to the force of gravity. Even so, variations can be seen from one location to the next: the summit of Prospect Hill is underlain by relatively soft bedrock of schist and marble that erode easily, producing a healthy soil covering that is rich in carbonate minerals which stimulate plant growth; in contrast, many places on the top of Black Mountain are completely bare of soil, due to the fact that the hard granite does not readily break down.

The soils of the valleys are much different than those of the upland hills. The biggest distinction is that they are finer-textured, containing mostly silts, clays, and sands deposited in or around Glacial Lake Hitchcock. Due to the action of floodwaters, riverine soils along the banks of active waterways like the West River and Canoe Brook are also the youngest and least developed in town, annually receiving a fresh input of fine-textured sediments. The absence of stoniness makes these lands – particularly those of the CT River Valley – some of the most farmable areas in the state. Not all soils are suitable for agriculture, however. In low-lying areas like marshes and swamps the soil remains saturated from season to season, preventing the decomposition of organic material, and resulting in the accumulation of peat. Yet this does not mean that soggy soils are not useful. On the contrary, wetland soils play crucial ecologic roles by filtering water, buffering floodwaters and agricultural runoff, and providing significant wetland habitats that support a diversity of plants and animals.