There are a few “must do’s” when it comes to soil health in your garden/field or lawn. Below are five relatively simple tasks, that will be elaborated on over the next few weeks, to help you build, and maintain healthy soil.
5 things to do for healthy soil
- Avoid bare soil
- Use appropriate amendments
- Feed the microorganisms
- Maintain proper moisture levels
- Avoid compaction
Avoid Bare Soil
Bare soil is probably one of the most harmful things to soil, right behind chemical use. Bare soil leads to degradation above and below ground, causing various issues that can leading to compaction and erosion.
Above ground with covered soil
Soil cover goes a long way to protecting the soil from the elements, acting as a barrier between rain, wind, sun and the soil. The plants, or mulch, will take the pressure of rainfall and allow it to trickle onto the soil instead of it beating down. They will also protect the soil from the hot sun allowing the soil to stay cooler and better retain water for plants’ use. Plants will also protect the soil from wind erosion while mulch weighs down on the soil so it’s unable to blow around.
Above ground with bare soil
Without protection, the soil is left bare against the beating wind, pummeling rain and baking sun. High winds, or even normal winds in an area without protection can blow soil around causing wind erosion. Heavy rain, or long periods of rain can cause divots in the ground where water can pool and create anaerobic conditions. Rain run-off or spring melt run-off can also cause soil to erode. On a warm day, the sun can dry the ground out leaving it cracked and lifeless.
Below ground with covered soil
There is far more going on below ground than we realize, but soil cover is essential to making it happen. Plant roots from cover crops will hold soil in place to prevent erosion. Those roots also feed the microorganisms that keep pathways open so air and water can infiltrate the soil (these living roots are constantly creating sugars for microorganisms via photosynthesis, while above ground the plants are blocking the soil from the sun). Having roots in the soil also promotes nutrient cycling by the microorganisms. Cover crops are a great option for over-winter, but during the growing season mulch is your friend. Mulch (wood mulch or straw) keeps the ground cool and moist, and is a great fungal food.
Below ground with bare soil
While the benefits of simply covering the soil are plentiful, below ground, things can quickly turn if the soil is bare. Without roots or mulch, microorganisms lack the food they need to survive. Excessive rain or hot sun can quickly create anaerobic conditions allowing actinobacteria (non-beneficial bacteria) and oomycetes (detrimental fungi) to thrive.
I like to compare the soil to my kids’ skin. I protect their sensitive skin from the elements to keep them healthy; soil needs the same sort of protection to maintain it’s health.
Concentrated planting to avoid bare spots, mulching in between plants or rows and planting cover crops during the off season are great ways to keep your soil cool, moist and healthy all year round. You may find it saves you some money as well because happy microorganisms lead to healthy soil which grows healthy plants.