Let’s stop treating our Soil like dirt! While most of us don’t think about that wonderful material (soil) beneath our feet, we can’t live without it. Soil not only provides most of our food, it cleans and stores our water, it grows our forests, it recycles nutrients, it provides habitats, and can even sequester carbon.
In order for soil to provide these services, it needs to be healthy and whole. The Conservation District promotes programs that help build soil health and prevent soil erosion. We engage with landowners, developers, and loggers to implement best management practices that will minimize soil erosion. Likewise, we assist with practices and programs that will improve soil health and enhance agricultural productivity.
The Conservation District is all about Healthy Soils. And while you might think that only matters to the Agricultural community, the truth is that healthy soils are important to us all, and this includes the soil on your property.
As you can imagine, healthy soils are important in food production. The health and nutritional value of the crops grown is typically a reflection of the soils from which they came. But, healthy soils are also important to us all because of the role they play in water filtration, stream health, wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, and a myriad of other benefits.
Healthy soil is living soil. Soil is not just inert material under our feet, if it is, it’s just “dirt”, not soil! In order to function properly, soil must be full of life- from worms to microbes, roots to fungi, insects to actinomycetes.
Soil often acts as a giant water filtration plant, taking compounds out of the rain and runoff that might otherwise be harmful to us (and other life). Soil is what gives you (if all is working well) clean drinking water from your well. It’s what filters the wastewater from your on-lot wastewater (septic) system. Healthy soil is what removes excess nutrients, organic chemicals, and other pollutants and thus helps keep our streams cleaner.
- Soil helps clean the water we drink and the air we breath. Pollutants such as toxins, viruses, oils, and bacteria enter the water system every day. The soil in forests, in forests, fields, in wetlands, and along rivers prevents many of those potentially harmful substances from entering the drinkable water supply. In the U.S., soils treat wastewater for about 25% of the population in rural, suburban, and urban areas. In Fulton County, it’s more like 85%. Soil is the largest single wastewater treatment plant!
So, what can you do, in your yard, and on your property, to protect soil and improve soil health?
- Don’t garden naked. I’m talking about the soil here, not you. Do whatever you’d like personally, but keep your soil covered! Bare soil will erode and wash away. That’s not good for keeping your top soil and not good for water quality. Bare soil provides no food to the life within the soil, and often leads to more weeds for you. That’s the job of weeds, to cover bare soil as quickly as possible. Use cover crops, mulches,
- Add organic matter continually. Organic matter is full of carbon, which is a major food source for the soil food web. Organic matter can also greatly influence (positively) the ability of your soil to hold water and nutrients. How can you add organic matter? For one- compost- don’t throw away your leaves, grass, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, etc. Compost them instead. This is free soil food! Here again, use cover crops. Add manures, especially if they’ve been composted. Use organic mulches such as bark and wood chips.
- Avoid tillage! Minimize soil disturbance and soil compaction.
- Avoid toxic substances. Use chemicals sparingly, if at all. Even chemical fertilizers, if used improperly, can actually be harmful to soil life.
- Test your soil.
The Conservation District has soil test kits available, or you can get them at Penn State Extension or another testing lab of your choice. It is important that you sample your fields correctly.