“It’s not the soil itself, it’s the soil life that is the most important element.” – Geoff Lawton
Healthy soil has several qualities that we can learn to recognize when we start paying close attention to it as we should. Healthy soil:
- Drains well.
- Warms quickly in the spring.
- Does not form a crust after planting.
- Soaks up heavy rains with little runoff or ponding.
- Stores moisture for a long time without puddling.
- Has few clods and no hardpan.
- Can be crumbled easily with your fingers. May feel “spongy” when you walk on it.
- Is resistant to erosion and loss of nutrients.
- Is home to a high population of soil organisms.
- Doesn’t need added chemical fertilizers to increase yields.
- Produces healthy, high quality crops.
- Has a rich, earthy smell.
Soil that doesn’t quite meet all of these characteristics can be nurtured back to health like an ailing loved one. Remember, most unhealthy soil has been abused so it needs to be cared for patiently until it is brought back to its full potential. That may seem like a lot of work, but it is well worth the effort because healthy soil has a plethora of benefits.
Personal Benefits of Healthy Soil
For example, it is much easier to work and plant. It is ‘soft’ so it is easier to dig in and get your garden planted. Once your garden is planted, those plants will be more robust because healthy soil will have fewer pests and diseases for plants to content with. Beneficial microorganisms that live in the soil will help keep pathogens under control.
In addition, healthy soil offers plenty of nutrition for those new plants, allowing them to thrive. You can look forward to vibrant colored foliage and produce just bursting with vitamins and minerals. Produce from the grocery store is conspicuously devoid of many nutrients. Have you ever heard of people talk about cardboard tomatoes? Grocery store produce is not only bred for travel and not flavor, but it is grown in chemically soaked dirt, not healthy soil. Where is produce supposed to get the nutrients from it they aren’t in the soil? And speaking flavor, well, let’s just say you haven’t tasted real food if you haven’t grown your own.
Global Benefits of Healthy Soil
Besides the benefits of growing your own food, healthy soil offers bigger benefits on a more global scale. Thanks to the minerals and microorganisms living in it, pollutants in the air and water are broken down and immobilized.
Have you ever watched news footage of a landslide on TV? Just a flood of sticky mud and muck filling the streets, wiping out homes and property without regard for life. Trees are buried, cars are pushed aside like toys and people stand aside, powerless and helpless. Degraded, abused soil is desolate, with death and destruction always close by.
Healthy soil is teeming with life, but it is also a giver of life. Yes, it is where we grow plants, but without healthy soil there would be no dense forests, no fertile grasslands. Without these habitats, there would be no wildlife. There would be no life at all. Just miles and miles of nothing. The benefits of healthy soil include a healthy planet, beautiful landscapes, diverse habitats, bounteous crops, strong bodies and an exciting future. Those are pretty compelling reasons to take care of our most vital resource.
But It Must Be Done Right
So the first step is NOT to rush to your local hardware store for a few bags of fertilizer, weed killer and some pesticides. Doing that will just create bigger problems. Like the junkie who’s body thinks it needs a fix in order to function, your soil can become dependent on nasty chemicals and never truly be healthy.
Studies have shown that just one application of insecticide at the recommended rate to kill the “bad bugs” can reduce the population of earthworms by 60 to 90 percent. And that doesn’t even consider what it does to all the other beneficial microorganisms living in the ecosystem in your soil. That community must be protected at all costs! They are what make your soil healthy. Adding chemicals only throws off the natural balance of things.
Remember, you want to nurture your soil to health like an ailing loved one. When you love someone, you want to give them the best care possible. Organic methods are always best, and quality matters. Many products today, including foods in the grocery store, use the words ‘all natural’ as a catch phrase. It is important to know what is really in the products you buy. Do you want a multivitamin composed of sugar, inert fillers, artificial colors and a scant amount of the actual vitamins you need, or do you want actual vitamins? Are the amendments and fertilizers you buy for your soil truly organic, or are they stuffed with fillers that do nothing to enhance the health of your soil? Which would you prefer? Which will make the most difference in the health of your soil? The highest quality organic products will give you the healthiest soil, resulting in the greatest benefits. You will see the difference.