Dirt, soil, the very earth we stand on is capturing the heart and the mind of science.
“Scoop up a handful of soil. The dirt you hold in your palms forms the basis of the life around you, from the earthworms crawling in your garden to the raptors hundreds of feet in the air. But soil is not just a lifeless pile of earth. Symbiotic fungi living in plant roots—known as mycorrhiza—help the plants extract vital nutrients. Other microbes break down decaying plants and animals, replenishing the materials used by the plants.”
There is so much we are learning about soil, the intricate, complex and captivating root system and microbe community beneath our feet. Do you garden and have a compost pile? Have you spread out that composted material on garden beds and marveled at the transformation of various materials? While I have tossed kitchen scraps and lawn clippings into a bin it wasn’t until I met the compost kings at several master Gardener demo gardens in VA that I really began to appreciate the process. We often referred to the men who managed the compost bins as our ‘compost kings’, a title they rightly deserved. From managing the bins temperature, receiving garden materials from weeded beds, to turning them over and then doling out, they were true stewards of this precious material. We then had the pleasure of taking this soil and using it in various garden beds. Soil that’s healthy and viable has a rich smell, deep brown color, holds together fairly well. Some call it ‘black gold.’
In today’s world, we have to acknowledge that we have not been good soil stewards. We have lost over one-third of the earth’s topsoil in just 100+ years. tillage farming, mono-crop farming was born from expansion after WWII. Today, family farms are almost an endangered species.
My podcast guest this week, Kimberly Kresevic, Founder of InSoil Health shares a microscopic photo of soil microbes. She brings her microscope out to farms and shows folks, in present time, what is in their soil. Are there enough microbes to indicate the soil is healthy and thriving? If not what can one do to amend that soil, cultivate and /or innoculate the soil to increase viability?
Mycorrhizal fungi act like mediators within this vast underground world. They are traders too. This tree over here wants more of this nutrient, fungi find a supplier and in exchange they receive food. They love carbs and thrive on carbs from plants.
Microbes: are also multifunctional: they help remove essential elements from rocks, keeping those minerals and more into play. They also help to break down organic matter. We know that various forms of decaying matter are rich with nutrients and the decaying process makes them bioavailable.
It is said that one teaspoon of soil contains a million life forms. Pretty incredible and yet we have so much to learn.
What can you do today to protect our soils?
- Look closely at your yard. Are there any more natural plantings you can include? Is so, make that a part of your action plan.
- For the beginner and novice gardener, consider leaving or cutting weeds down to the roots only. The root systems of these plants support and keep the mycorrhizal network alive and thriving.
- Fill in any bare spots. Make that a part of your spring cleanup. Plant an edible shrub if the spot is big enough. Use wildflowers. Add milkweed or other pollinator-friendly plants. Weeds, wildflowers need little to no attention, are drought resistant and build soil and sequester carbon.
We got an electric mower to keep the paths in our garden manageable and at the same time keep the roots intact. We keep the clippings wherever they land. One new act we added last year is now part of our routine. What are your spring plans this year? What can you do to grow more viable, healthy soil?
I appreciate all the comments. Please share. Thanks. Enjoy.