Getting Life into Your Soil
February 5, 2024
The market is ever shifting and changing.
Sometimes, this can be exciting and sometimes it can be disappointing. In hindsight, we know that the trend in the chemical age was not a step in the right direction, which is disappointing. But right now, the trend is exciting – there is a growing interest in being truly healthy, and eating healthy. The trend is that consumers are educating themselves about what healthy food is, what it does, and where to get it.
Growing exceptionally healthy food is not always easy. But it is truly rewarding. When we follow God’s principles and work with nature, it is possible to get life into the food we eat and make it exceptionally healthy. Do we have all the details of how to do it? No. But we do know that it all starts with getting life into the soil, which is also the exact same thing that helps you reduce or eliminate the need for chemicals.
In exceptionally healthy soil, the life can amount to about 8000 pounds of underground livestock per acre, which is much higher than the number of livestock that is often fed per acre aboveground. According to Harold Willis, in “Foundations of Natural Farming”, a healthy soil would contain about 2600 pounds of bacteria, 1300 pounds of actinomycetes, 2600 pounds of fungi, 90 pounds of algae, 90 pounds of protozoa, 45 pounds of nematodes, 445 pounds of earthworms, and 830 pounds of insects and other arthropods.
It may be helpful to remember that soil biology has the same basic needs that we have: oxygen, water, food, and a good environment. Understanding this is the basic foundation to getting life into your soil. Everything you do needs to enhance this cycle.
There are also 5 basic principles that help you get more life into your soil.
- Limit disturbance.
- Keep the soil covered.
- Build diversity.
- Optimize photosynthesis.
- Integrate livestock.
Let’s break these apart:
When you limit disturbance, you are often creating a better environment for biology. Too much tillage creates loose soil with no structure, which means that it will crust with the first rain. Crusting means no oxygen. Poor soil structure also means that the water will not infiltrate properly. And, tillage oxidizes carbon and organic matter, which reduces water holding capacity.
When you keep the soil covered, you are creating a cushion that prevents rainfall from creating soil surface crusting. And perhaps more importantly, soil that is covered does not get as warm in summer, which is critical because soil that is not covered in July can be 130 degrees, which is much too hot for microbes to function. And judging from a strawberry project where we are measuring temperatures above and below covers, the soil would not get as cold in winter, which could mean that metabolic activity would continue at a higher rate during the winter.
When you build diversity, you build different microbiomes in the soil, which is not only important for building healthy soil and capturing maximum amounts of sunlight, but also for producing medicinal compounds in the food.
When you optimize photosynthesis, you are pumping sugars into the soil. Sugars are the food source and the active carbon for the soil microbes. Optimizing photosynthesis also means that a living cover crop needs to be in that soil as much as possible, and capturing as much of the sunlight as possible, because obviously, it takes a living crop to photosynthesize.
When you integrate animals into the system, you now have a “vehicle” to graze the grass or cover crops, trample in the leftover residue, and spread the fresh, good manure.
In conclusion, much more could be said. You certainly need to understand your context and make adjustments accordingly. But when you understand how these core principles effect soil health, and put them to use, you will see a difference. In your farm, your food, and your future.Source: Melvin Fisher | Sponsored by Keystone Bio-Ag LLC