Hey, isn’t dirt, well… dirt? Soil is actually a living aggregate of beneficial and harmful micro-organisms. Ideally your soil balance is flush with beneficial species. Encouraging soil biology where your food grows is a win-win practice. You can farm abundantly while increasing topsoil and water holding capacity in your soil.
Three key aspects of soil are physical (structure), chemical, and biological. In conventional systems, the physical aspects of soil are managed by adding amendments via tilling. Where the chemical aspects of soil are managed by addingamendments that adjust pH and plant nutrients. The continued use of amendments and the practice of tilling cause soil degradation, lost topsoil, and erosion.
These detrimental results seem digestible as you list them- ‘Ok so my soil needs support. I’ll need to rent a rototiller- and maybe use more resistant soil conditioner’. Conventional farming practices focus on one-up-ing nature through chemical support or genetic resistance. Ultimately, these practices are expensive and detrimental to the life in the soil, the third key aspect of soil. Regenerative practices foster all three key aspects of soil.
I like to build my soil with seasonal cover crops, bio char from the edges of my burn piles, aged manure, and companion planting. Interactions between the plants and the soil fauna make up the soil food web. Bacteria and fungi create micro and macro aggregates that provide pore spaces for water retention and oxygen absorption in the soil. Fungi manage the correct calcium and magnesium ratios to balance soil compaction. Soil food web organisms maintain pH and soluble nutrients. Plants drive the soil food web by secreting exudates through their roots, which feed bacteria and fungi that use enzymes to mine nutrients from the sand, silt, clay, and organic matter found in the soil.
Biological techniques help farmers remain profitable and community based while turning your dirt into soil. By increasing your soil’s food web, topsoil and micro biodiversity increase, erosion and hardpan decrease. The real solution to dirt is to develop your soil food web with local resources. We can refocus our farming practices be they for our family or the community!
Map local resources in the vicinity of your home. Where will you pick up clean manure to improve your garden soil? What if you need compost extract to balance your soil? Where do you find local mulch or a dynamic soil analyst that will test your soil for beneficial and harmful microbes? How do you encourage more groundwater storage?
Reach out to local businesses such as Sprouting Soil, facebook.com/sproutingsoil/, to test your soil, or Catalyst BioAmendments, catalystbioamendments.com/, for high quality compost, or All About Wells, invitewatertostay.com/ for assistance with groundwater wise land management.
Discover your backyard old school style! Read the cork board at Peaceful Valley Farms. Visit your Nevada City, Grass Valley, or Penn Valley Farmers’ Market. Or search from the comfort of your home through the Local Food Coalition. Give a few of your local businesses a shout out!
Thank you Sprouting Soil Brian and Shelby Vagg for contributing to this article. Evelyn Soltero, MS, is a local groundwater scientist and owner of All About Wells. Questions, thoughts? www.invitewatertostay.com or firstname.lastname@example.org