There is something mysterious about breaking open healthy soil with a shovel and digging your hands deep into it. The smell is unmistakable when the soil is moist and carbon-rich.
Healthy soil is dark brown to black
That last part is really important, carbon-rich. Healthy soil has lots of carbon in it. That carbon binds the soil together and helps retain water during times of drought. As the soil begins to lose carbon, it requires more water to stay moist and loses water to evaporation much quicker. Plants actually pull climate heating carbon from the air and fix it back into the soil. It's one way that agriculture and gardening can have a large impact on the future of human civilization on Earth.
Grassland vs. plowed fields-notice how dry the soil on the left is. The grass protects the soil and retains water.
Plowing like seen above loosens the soil so that plant roots can penetrate and push deep into the ground while growing. It's also what caused the Great Dust Bowl during Depression-era America (along with the lack of crop rotation and chemical fertilizers).
A dust storm during the Great Depression in America (Credit: Smithsonian)
Now we know that how we treat the soil is very important or it can quite literally blow away in the wind!
Soil is also alive with billions and billions of organisms in each teaspoon. They're living and battling underneath our feet every day as we go about our busy lives. This process unlocks resources for plants as well. Generally speaking, the greater the biological activity then the better plants will grow.
Soil biology under the microscope (Credit: USDA)
Soil biology is heavily studied by scientists around the world and new discoveries are made every day. For example, we now know that mushrooms (fungi) are a partner with plants and move nutrients around the soil trading back and forth like a giant internet of biological things. This process helps link bacteria and plants in a way that was not known before.
In the next part of the series, we will address water and how it affects soil and plant life. As you're walking around outside this week, we hope you take a moment to reflect on the activity underneath your feet and feel inspired to take part in it yourself.
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- written by plant3r team -