Things need to be alive to be ‘healthy’ so it can be a bit of a challenge to think of soil as being alive!
What is soil? Soil is a living ecosystem – full of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, and countless other soil organisms. Soil has its own complex food chain and performs the life-giving role of sustaining the food chain above ground supporting plants and animals (which includes us but thankfully we’re at the apex of the food chain or else we could be some carnivore’s tasty breakfast).
What is soil health? The term soil health is synonymous with soil quality and it can be thought of as the ability of the soil to sustain its crucial living ecosystem. The absence or presence of beneficial soil microbes can have a significant impact on soil quality otherwise known as soil health.
Soil is a natural resource that plays a vital role in sustaining a healthy environment. Soil needs to be thought of as a finite natural resource and needs to be conserved and protected. Scientific research has determined that it takes around 500 years for 1 inch of healthy soil to be created through natural processes.
Why is soil health important? Healthy soil is important ecologically because: it performs water regulation; filters and buffers pollutants; and provides a habitat for sustaining animals and plants.
Why is soil health important for gardeners? Healthy soil is important from a gardening perspective because it improves soil structure and is necessary for performing carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous cycling and many other macro and micronutrients are cycled, stored, and transformed in soil. Degrading soil health limits its ability to sustain soil microbes that have evolved natural symbiotic relationships with plants over eons.
Can soil health be improved? Ab-soil-utely! There’s no mystery to improving soil health. Soil health can be improved by changing some traditional gardening techniques such as: disturbing the soil as little as possible; growing a variety of different species of plants; planting native species; using a mix of cover crops; keeping living plants in the soil as long as possible; and keeping the soil surface covered with residue throughout the year.
Why does soil health matter to me? Healthy soil is important for healthy plants, particularly foods, whether they’re being produced at an industrial scale or grown in small vegetable gardens. Healthy soil has the potential to improve our health and the health of our environment – everyone can benefit from healthy soil.