What is Soil Health?

Soil Health, Biological, Food quality, soil productivity, environmental quality, physical

The concept of soil health

When we are standing on the ground, we are really standing on the roof top of another world. Living in the soil are plant roots, viruses, bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, mites, nematodes, worms, ants, maggots and other insects and insect larvae (grubs), and larger animals: the soil biota.

Indeed, the number of living organisms below ground is considered to be far greater than that above ground. Together with climate, these organisms are responsible for the decay of organic matter and cycling of both macro- and micro-nutrients back into forms that plants can use. The activities of the soil biota stabilize soil aggregates, building a better soil habitat and improving soil structure, tilth and productivity, and hence the primary productivity of the ecosystem that they inhabit.

The essential ingredients

Soil health starts with good infrastructure.  A continuous soil pore network is a good soil structure. When there is enough quality food the soil biota doesn't go hungry, and creating a large variety of microorganisms which encourages more biodiversity. We always want more organisms to join the party. This helps clean the air and water in the soil.

Rhizoterra, soil health, cover crop, roots, soil healthBuilding the Infrastructure 

If you build it...  the microbial community will come.  Below is David Brandt in Carroll Ohio 2012 is planting corn into a cover crop also known as a soil health primer. By having multiple types of plants in the same area it supports the overall soil health by replacing nutrients back into the soil.


What is the Rhizoshpere?

The rhizosphere or root zone is the most biologically active part of the soil. The plant roots, the root exudates, the soil, and the soil organisms (soil biota) together create the soil infrastructure. The longer the soil habitat is left undisturbed more types of plant or crop species grow in the habitat developing a stable infrastructure. TRhizosphere, Rhizoterra, soil health process, Plants, soil, organismshis means more air and water can fill the soil pore spaces, increased microbial activity, more access for predators to the bacteria and fungi, enhanced nutrient recycling, more earthworms engineering more tunnels, a better environment for roots, healthy plants, and more nutrients in the plants. When we plowed the native prairies we caused a catastrophic event belowground and released a lot of organic nutrients all at once, and kept using them until they were used up. It is time to rebuild, rejuvenate, renew, and regenerate our soils. There is no one way to do that, but there are many ways to adapt the principal process.

The Rhizosphere or Rooting Zone and Rhizosphere Processes are the keys to building, and regenerating wellness in our soils. This process is the cycle between the plants, soil, and microorganisms. You must have all three parts to have create healthy soil.

The take home lesson is that: plants, soil and soil biota need each other to create a healthy and productive soil. The system is self-serving, and as farmers we need to limit soil disturbance and loss, keep the soil growing plants as often as possible (so we can feed the growing populations of organisms in our belowground city), and grow more than one kind of plant or crop (so that different organisms that can add more services to our below ground city will be encouraged to grow, and multiply.

Importance of Soil Health, so what is all the fuss?

When we use a balanced approach to agriculture that includes soil health, the results are great yields of nutrient dense food, clean air and water, more ecosystem services, and health for people and their animals. Not to mention now you have an environmental marketing story that consumers like, and food they want to eat. Ideally, your lender and landlord would care too, because they know that increased soil health means a more profitable farm. Ok, this all sounds a bit altruistic, futuristic, and too good to be true. But there are plenty of farmers in the world with proof. Tell us your story.

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