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Updated: May 17, 2021


Building Soil Health Together

Why does soil health matter?


To answer this, one needs to ask themselves this question.


Where does the food on your plate come from?


Let's say you are happily enjoying a classic cheeseburger with all the fixings.


The bun’s main Ingredients is flour, which is made from wheat, which is grain and grown in the soil!


All of the veggies, the tomatoes, the lettuce, onions, and pickles are all vegetables that were grown of course in the soil!


Now what about the burger in the cheese??


They both are byproducts of cows. Cows of course don’t grow out of the soil, but they are herbivores, and their main feed as a herbivore is grass. Grass, of course, is the number one product of soil!


I can go on to the ketchup, mustard and mayo but I think you get the idea!


The most important reason soil health is so important is because everything we eat either grows out of or uses the soil in some way!


So, even those who don’t garden are connected to the soil. And because everything we eat comes from the soil the nutrient quality of our food is directly connected to the quality of the soil. Poor soil produces low quality products and healthy soil produces high-quality products!

Before we go any further let us first discuss what soil health is, how it is measured, and the difference between poor soil and healthy soil.



What Is Soil Health?


According to New Mexico University the definition of soil health is, “the state of the soil being in sound physical, chemical, and biological condition, having the capability to sustain the growth and development of land plants.” The soil ecosystem is also taken into consideration as healthy soil in New Mexico is different than in Canada. Just like the health of a teenage boy is different than that of a 40 year old man. They are going to both have different standards that they're both measured by!


How Is Soil Health Measured?


This can be somewhat of a controversy! Some believe it should only be measured by the byproduct of the soil. While others believe it should be the amount of living organisms in the soil. And still others, like myself, believe it has to do with a combination of both!


There Are Two Ways To Test For Soil Health


One is a composition test, aka a common professional soil test, which will give you a list of what is in the soil that can either feed plants or microorganisms. The other test would be to count the amounts of microorganisms in the soil. Counting is difficult, but one way this can be done is with the Whitey Tighty Test. This is where a brand new pair of men’s underwear is buried at least 6” deep and left to decompose for an allotted amount of time. The speed at which the underwear disappears shows that the microorganisms are either low or high. High being when they disappear in a matter of months. You can find a great YouTube video about this here. The more microorganisms there are, the faster the things that you add will disappear!

Poor or Healthy Soil


Poor

  • Poor soil tilth - crusting or compaction that reduces germination

  • Disease problems- without proper nutrients plants become more susceptible to disease

  • Poor infiltration or absorption of water- soil that can’t hold water can’t properly support plant life

  • Ponding or poor drainage - too much water in the soil doesn’t allow for the proper air microorganisms and plants need

  • Low water holding capacity of soil - dries out quickly

  • Unbalanced fertility and pH problems

Healthy Soil

  • Deep topsoil- more room for plant roots to grow and bring in nutrients

  • Balanced nutrients and pH

  • Good drainage- no more soggy bottoms

  • Holds water naturally- holds just what the plant needs and can extend the amount of time between watering.

  • Good soil tilth- air top, no crusting, improved germination of seeds

  • Makes plants more resistant to adverse weather conditions- when a plant is firmly connected to the soil and able to bring in more nutrients it can withstand extreme changes easier

  • Lots of microorganisms - life is what produces more life

  • Free of toxins- healthy soil absorbs in toxins quicker before they have a chance to affect the plant life




Reasons Why Soil Health Is So Important


Now let's get to the 6 other reasons why soil health is so important! Remember #1 was that our food is directly connected to the soil.


Absorbs And Stores Water


In a drought situation, like we've been experiencing here in Wyoming the past 5 years, healthy soil will retain water longer helping vegetation to continue to grow and maintain health between precipitation and waterings. This is very important for a gardener, as experiencing drought conditions will reduce the plant's ability to bring in nutrients and they will struggle without the added water .


Plants need a continual connection to what is called the nutrient sludge. The nutrient sludge is where the water in the soil dissolves micronutrients and holds them there so the plant can pull not only water but nutrients up through their roots to feed itself. If there is no excess water to create this sludge, then the plant suffers. The water absorption will help the uptake of nutrients in the soil resulting in higher production and quality even during drought or between waterings longer. This will also reduce the amount of water needed to support your garden and could save you money on the water bill. The key to a low maintenance garden is when it takes less time and resources to maintain.


So when a gardener focuses on Soil Health their garden can improve in more ways than one!


Reduce Erosion


When soil has a correct balance of organic matter, clay, sand, and other particles the soil has the ability to hold on to nutrients as well as carbon during large weather events. Also, the soil will be less affected by wind erosion as its ability to hold water will keep the particles bound together.


Erosion may seem like a problem that only big landowners have and not a problem of a backyard gardener. The use of tilling in our gardens does help us start with a clean slate every spring and reduce weeds. But, it also aerates the soil too much allowing for quicker burn of carbon and this is erosion too. That is why when the gardener focuses on building our soil health you are more likely to move to a no-till method that can reduce this over aeration. It will also create a balance in the soil that will make natural erosion, like wind and rain, have less of an impact.



Makes Us Happy


Many scientists are working with the natural microorganisms in the soil and plants grown in healthy soil to develop new antibiotics and we all know that keeping ahead of the germs is very important.

It is also said that the soil has the natural ability to build up our immune system. There is more to “ Gardening Makes Me Happy”. It has been scientifically proven that spending time digging in the soil can make you happier and feel more satisfied with your life. Here is a great article from Forbes.com, Digging In the Dirt Really Makes People Happier.


Filters Pollutants


Healthy soil has the ability to withstand pollution because of the high microorganism content that can digest some of the pollutants from farming as well as oil. Oil is made of organic material so the microorganism can break it down into carbon dioxide and water.

Recycle Nutrients

Healthy soil breaks down nutrients quicker and makes them more available for plants and soil life. Nutrients can only be used by plants when conditions in the soil are in balance. And, nutrients can only be made available when the correct amounts of water and microorganisms are present to make that nutrient sludge I mentioned before. Just like in the word recycle; everything in the soil is connected in what is called the Nutrient Cycle!


Physical Stability


Healthy soil allows plant’s roots to spread out which creates a more stable base for the plant which in turn allows them to withstand extreme weather events and improve nutrient intake. The ability of a root to grow into the soil is very important as it is the foundation of the plant but is also the main source of nutrients. So, if a plant has the ability to spread out their roots and reach micronutrients that may not be directly underneath. The plant will be able to send out shoots of roots to find micronutrients because healthy soil is less compact. Which will benefit the plant as well as the yield that comes from that plant. As a gardener, that's how most of us measure success; by how much we can put in our pantries to feed our family.


In conclusion, Healthy Soil is filled with life and therefore produces life! And without it, how can we produce food for our families? And how as a nation, as a world, can we produce the food needed to support the world’s population? Soil health is more than just what is needed in the garden; it is as tied to our food security as the plants. But, how can a simple home gardener help the whole world?


We, as a community, can start a movement to improve soil health!


We can start in our own backyard gardens!


We can choose to buy locally from local growers, who believe in building Soil Health!


We can choose to support others in our community, by teaching others to improve their soil health!


Lastly, if you don’t have a garden in your backyard you can convert your lawn into a garden!

If you need help starting a garden then grab my Start A Garden Checklist and I can help you be part of the movement today!


Until next time,


Pray, Just Plant!



Soil Health Matters

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