Thereís a growing interest in that dirt under your feet. As we all grow more environmentally conscious, the importance of the earthís fine organic skin becomes a thing of interest to scientists, farmers, and the general population alike to the point where certain catch phrases, soil quality (favored by scientists) and soil health (favored by farmers) have become interchangeable.
What It Is
Soil is a finite resource. That means, like the water we use and the trees we cut for our consumption, soil quality and soil health must be treated with an eye to conservation. Soil is a living system that develops slowly and is modified by both time and climate. Itís a complicated soup of organic compounds, minerals, and living things all interacting to both natural and manmade influences.
What It Does
Soil quality and soil health become even more vital when you stop to consider its importance to all ecosystems. The necessary functions soils provides include:
- Supporting human habitation. Soil supports both human social and economic structures as well as archaeological treasures.
- Cleaning the Earthís biosphere. Soil stores and cycles nutrients and other elements.
- It filters, degrades, and detoxifies industrial as well as municipal byproducts.
- Soil filters and partitions water flow.
Soil health and quality can be hindered by using bad tilling and cropping practices. Bad timber harvesting and excessive livestock grazing can also hurt quality, as can misuse of fertilizers, pesticides, municipal or industrial waste and poor irrigation practices.
What Can Be Done
There are some widely accepted practices that foster soil quality and health and the first deals with enhancing the soilís existing organic matter. The experts consider adding organic matter yearly as the most important way to maintain soil health and quality. These practices include leaving crop residue in the field, growing cover plants, spreading manure or compost, and mulching. While designed for farmers, the homeowner can also do their part by scaling these suggestions down to fit their garden or property.
Preventing soil compaction is another proactive measure. When itís been compressed, the amount of water, air, and root space available is limited. The damage from big machines often canít be undone, so the keyword here is prevention for soil health.
Experts also suggest that unused soil should be covered, as bare soil can be victimized by wind and water erosion. Here, cover crops or plants can be used as living organisms provide additional organic matter. However, this type of ground cover must be managed to prevent delayed soil warming in the spring.