Healthy soil is an important part of having a healthy climate.
It is always under our feet and most of us take it for granted, never really thinking about the ground we live on. Yet soil is an incredibly important part of our ecosystem, and healthy soil does everything from increasing nutrients in plants to sequestering carbon. Yes, healthy soil is an important part of having a healthy climate.
What makes some soil healthier than others? The best soil is highly aggregated. It has granular, durable, distinct aggregates (clumps of soil) with varying sizes of pore space in between. These pore spaces allow the soil to be crumbly and allows for high infiltration (water saturation). When these elements are present the soil is considered to be well-structured, and there is better movement of both water and air through the soil while providing habitat for soil organisms.
How do you know if your soil is healthy? You can do a Slake Test. Collect a handful of topsoil. Find a clear, glass jar large enough to hold the soil. Place a piece of wire mesh hooked at the top of the jar which will allow the soil to be submerged in water but keeps it at the top part of the jar. Fill the jar with water and submerge the soil in the jar. Poor soil, with an unhealthy structure will begin to fall apart.
Remember soil stays healthy when it is undisturbed (tilling breaks down the soil) and has living roots in it. The deeper the roots the more carbon that is sequestered and in general the better the development of your soil. You can learn more about soil at www.nrcs.usda.gov under topics and soil.
Another method for helping your soil is the use of cover crops. These are a farming technique that can increase the health of the agroecosystem by slowing down soil erosion, improving soil fertility and creating habitats for wildlife. Cover crops are also a benefit to the climate. The living root of the cover crop, in the soil during times cultivated fields might be left barren and exposed, helps sequester carbon into the soil. It also enriches soil through the natural process of root decay.
This technique can also be used in residential gardens. Clover, beans and alfalfa are excellent cover crops for your garden. They can be planted late in the season to provide cover for the garden over the winter, return nutrients to the soil and prevent weed growth.
Helping people move to healthy land management that encourages well-structure soil is an important role our government can take locally to positively impact the environment!