The Lakota Native American people of the Dakotas have a saying: Mitakuye Oyasin, which translates to “all are related.” They aren’t just referring to humans, or even to just animals. Instead, this concept speaks to a deep, underlying interconnectivity among everything from plants to animals, from people to the smallest speck of dirt.
So, of course, they also know how healthy soil makes for a healthy life.
While modern-day farmers and backyard gardening enthusiasts may understand this concept as well, putting it into action to start building healthy soils is another thing. Healthy soil can happen naturally, or it can require a lot of effort and planning to rework degraded land into fertile ground.
Building Healthy Soils
While the Lakota people recognize spiritual reasons for caring for the Earth and all its beings and elements, there’s another reason to cultivate healthy soil. When tended well, healthy soil of the land surrounding where you live can produce nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, and other crops. When humans eat those plants, they gain the benefits.
Healthy soil is full of life — and not just in terms of producing plants that can sustain the life of humans. The most fertile and vital land is also home to a whole host of the smallest critters, which keep the entire cycle alive.
But the soil of the Earth isn’t getting healthier. It’s just the opposite.
According to the World Bank, in 2018 more than 44% of the land in the United States was used to grow our crops. But that percentage has gone down somewhat dramatically since they first started keeping track. In 1961, nearly 49% of the land in America was used for agriculture.
That’s why it’s more important than ever for growers overseeing plots of all sizes to do what they can to learn about the life happening below the Earth’s top crust and learn the tricks for building healthy soil.
What does Healthy Soil Consist of?
Healthy soil can be defined as Earth that serves as a living ecosystem that sustains the health of animals as well as plants and humans. It is almost as if soil can be thought of as the infrastructure that is needed to keep a host of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and microscopic critters living in balance. When this is accomplished, soils can sustain life.
Healthy soils have many qualities that can be measured and tracked. Let’s look at each of these vital signs individually:
Hosts a Biodiverse Microbiome
As mentioned, the soil is an environment — and what it hosts will decide whether it’s a healthy or unhealthy ecosystem. When you dig into soil, sometimes you’ll see an earthworm. That’s just the beginning of the life happening among the roots of your plants. Healthy soil also contains:
- Up to one billion bacteria per gram
- Mycelium, or fungi
- Soil animals like worms, nematodes, arthropods, mites, millipedes, and grubs
That’s what it means when you hear how healthy soils are full of life: That’s a literal statement! Sometimes the critters living in between the specks of soil are microscopic and can’t be seen, but lots of life is a good indication of soil that’s healthy for plants and humans, too.
Full of Nutrients
You likely have heard of chemical fertilizers that add nutrients into the soil, often by soaking the supplements right into the root layer. That’s because soil is where those roots find the nutrients the plants need to grow and thrive. There are many nutrients found in healthy soil:
Other nutrients can sometimes be found in trace amounts. They include iron, manganese, copper, zinc, boron, and molybdenum.
Regulates Water Flows
Another mark of healthy soil is that it can regulate and control water that flows in either naturally through rain or snowmelt, or manmade irrigation. Soil that contains too much clay often holds too much water, while soils that are too high in sand will allow the water to drain quicker than nearby roots are able to use it.
Most gardeners prefer soil that is known as loam. This usually includes a mixture of similarly sized particles that is about 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay.
What are the Healthy Soil Benefits for Plants?
Healthy soils, then, provide the optimum environment for plant roots to obtain the right amount of water and nutrients needed for excellent crop yields. But that’s just the beginning of the healthy soil benefits for plants.
Soils that are full of microbes and minerals can buffer out pollutants that may be present in runoff water flowing through the land. Soil is responsible for filtering and detoxifying both organic and inorganic materials. So, if there’s an industrial spill or abnormal deposits from the atmosphere, healthy soil cleans the water before it destroys the plants on the surface.
Soil also provides physical support for plants. That’s why farmers work to preserve the structure of the soil.
Why is Healthy Soil Important for Life?
It’s not much of a jump to realize that if healthy soils create abundant crops, and humans eat those crops, then healthy soils are important for human health. In fact, this is how healthy soil makes for a healthy life.
A few years ago, the journal Scientific American explained how crops like wheat, corn, soybeans, and field peas now contain less protein, zinc, iron, and calcium. The B vitamins in rice, meanwhile, could drop by 30%.
Why? Because increased levels of carbon dioxide, a result of climate change, have made certain areas of the globe less hospitable to healthy soils. Scientists call it the “great nutrient collapse,” and it’s to blame for malnutrition happening on a global scale.
It’s a sad reality that there’s a malnutrition problem when, at the same time, there’s also an obesity epidemic. Many people are eating the wrong kinds of foods and don’t have access to the highly nutritious plants we all need to thrive.
Thankfully, there are steps land managers — from backyard gardeners to large-scale commercial farmers — can take to protect and enhance the health of their soils … and the health of their community, too.
Tips for Building Healthy Soil
Now that you know how healthy soils make for a healthy life, it’s time to learn the steps you can take to improve the vitality of the Earth of your land. The best practices for healthy soil for life include:
The best place to start the sometimes complicated task of improving the health of soil is to know exactly what you’re working with. There are soil tests available commercially or, frequently, through local agricultural extension offices in your community. These tests will determine the soil texture, pH level, nutrients, and the kind of organic matter that is currently present.
This information will help you determine how to keep your soil healthy.
Most soils need some sort of support, regardless of what the soil test shows. Modern farmers use products known as microbial inoculants to enhance their soils with good bacteria. These bacteria will help with the balance within the ecosystem around the root structure, making it easier for plants to have access to the nutrients already in the soil.
A microbial inoculant such as Impello’s Tribus Original is made with all-natural ingredients and is guaranteed to improve the health and productivity of plants.
Certain crops will take more of a certain kind of nutrient, stripping the soil and causing an imbalance that can cause negative impacts for years to come. Certain pests are attracted to some plants and repealed by others, so keeping particular crops in the same place will, again, cause long-term problems.
Instead, incorporate the practice of rotating crops so that the same plant only grows in the same place every three to four years.
There’s a reason most gardens and farms have lines of crops and areas where people can walk. That’s because compacting soil makes it less healthy. Think about the soil structure: When it’s compacted by machinery or even footsteps, it’s harder for the microscopic creatures and even running water to make the way in between the grains of dirt.
If water and critters can’t get through the soil, then roots are likely to have problems as well.
It’s a good idea to include organic materials, such as decomposed compost or an organic soil amendment to your soil to maintain its health. Since not every gardener or farmer can have a large compost heap in the back, many prefer using a commercial soil amendment to help soil (and plants) fight stressful environments. This may include high salinity levels or inadequate watering.
Impello’s Lumina is a bioavailable source of plant nutrients designed to promote plant vigor and nutrition for those who enjoy the crops after harvest time.
In between growing seasons, you can still protect your soil by planting cover crops. When row crops are harvested, the land can be left bare — sometimes for months. This means the land is left exposed to erosion from the wind, rain, or snow.
Cover crops also decrease the breakdown of soil aggregates, maintaining the structure of the soil for the next growing season. They also help to suppress pests and increase organic material, especially when left and tilled into Earth before planting begins.
Finally, to help the long-term health of soil and the life that your soil sustains, stay away from the use of chemicals. Pesticides will kill all kinds of critters in the land, even the good ones. Chemical weed killers, too, harm the life within the soil. Instead of improving the health of the land, you’ll be polluting it.
Instead, choose plants that will grow well in your soil. Create physical barriers like row covers and hand-pick pests such as beetles and caterpillars.
Why Is Healthy Soil Important?
So, why is healthy soil important? It’s perhaps the most vital element of creating a healthy life for humans and all the animals that live on Earth.
It’s what the Lakota people recognized long ago: We are all connected, from the top of the food chain to the microscopic critters at the very bottom. When we care for the soil environment, we care for our families, our communities, and ourselves.
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