The Basics of Soil
Soil is more than just the sum of its parts. It is not only the minerals, rocks and organisms that give it the ability to hold and nourish seeds into plants and trees. Soil is a dynamic life ecosystem. It changes based on the ways we farm and interact with it. When we take care of our soil, it takes care of us by providing more nutritious, cleaner harvests. Healthy soil can also help to capture and store carbon to help minimize climate change.
When we view soil in this way, as deserving of our awareness and kuleana, we can begin to treat it with more attention and care. We begin to treat the soil with an intent and relationship we reserve for other living things. We begin to understand that we must respond to the needs of the soil so that it can thrive while also feeding us.
Soil needs to be sheltered from destructive forces like hot sun, wind, and tillage, and like any living entity it must be cared for in ways that help it to thrive and self-sustain.
Yet throughout the history of industrialized agriculture, soil was and largely still is viewed as a vessel for seeds and fertilizers, an inert medium for growing plants. This limited concept of soil has led to its neglect – a third of the world’s soils have already been moderately to severely degraded, and 90% are projected to be degraded over the next 30 years. Soil degradation threatens food systems around the world, and directly impacts the climate, water, and biodiversity. Reversing this degradation will take extraordinary advances not only in technology and social systems, but also in our appreciation of the soil itself.
Healthy soil is teeming with bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, nematodes, and other tiny creatures. Those organisms play an important role in plant health, creating a dynamic ecosystem in the soil. A healthy soil ecosystem helps plants absorb important nutrients through its roots and repel disease.
Soil bacteria produce natural antibiotics that help plants resist disease. Fungi assist plants in absorbing water and nutrients. Together, these bacteria and fungi are known as “organic matter.” The more organic matter in a sample of soil, the healthier that soil is.
Healthy soil is the foundation of a successful homestead. Healthy soil allows plants to grow to their maximum productivity without disease or harmful pests and without a need for off-farm supplements.
Would you like to learn more?
Start with the first segment of this Course:
Soil is the key to successful growing. Learn the basics about soil types and how to test its qualities.
Building healthy soil is often an unexpected priority for beginner homesteaders. Learn why it is important to feed your soil.
Grow crops that feed the soil through their roots and green matter. Learn how to use cover crops to prevent topsoil loss and improve soil health.