If you’ve ever wondered what S.O.S stands for, it’s: Save Our Soil!
Just kidding! But it might as well be because our soil is in serious trouble, which means that the future of agriculture could be in jeopardy. As in food being increasingly harder to grow in addition to all the other problems we are facing with the climate and more. What is one of the main causes of the detriment of our dirt? Industrial-scale farming. Plowing with machines doesn’t just churn the soil, it removes the larger organisms, like fungi and protozoa (one-celled microorganisms that feed on organic matter) from the soil. This disruption throws the whole web out of balance. These organisms are important because they are decomposers who make sure that plants are getting the right nutrients from their environment so that they can grow healthily. They also help to maintain diversity in the foundational components of soil (clay, sand, rocks/ pebbles, and silt) so that water can easily be accessed by plants.
What is the soil-ution? Leading soil biologist Dr. Elaine Ingham has pioneered research about the microorganisms in soil and how they interact with plants. In other words, the food web or biome (kind of like the gut biome in humans) that is found within soil and is made up of all the bacteria and organisms that produce nutrients for plants. When restored it has many crucial benefits to the environment. It can prevent erosion, pests, disease, and weeds. A good example of a thriving soil biome is forests forests, which are incredibly productive without needing any human intervention. A healthy soil food web increases farmers’ production while decreasing costs for fertilizers and pesticides.
Are there any examples of soil reclamation in this area? Local farmer, John Ferrell, followed USDA guidelines to rehabilitate the soil on his land and, when he had it tested, the results came back as some of the most fertile soil in the state. Here at Sprouting farms we are testing out no-till methods; we are testing using the cover crop “hairy vetch” to plant tomatoes into, so that we can better enrich the plants that we grow. Last Fall we put in a cover crop of Winter Rye and, once it was at the right maturity in its life cycle this Spring, it was crimped down (with some encouragement!) so that we could do a planting of pumpkins and melons that had a mulch bed already established. We have also used sweet clover in between walking rows that acts as a living mulch to eliminate so much pesky weeding and simultaneously add nutrients. We are always looking for new things to try to improve soil quality while also participating in preservation. It goes to show that change is possible and a future of happy and healthy soil is right around the corner.
If you are interested in reading more about this topic here is the link to the website talking more about Elaine’s work: https://www.soilfoodweb.com/how-it-works/#structure-formation