From last week’s article you know that I confessed that my track record for accomplishing New Year’s resolutions is less than stellar. I pretty much have given up even trying. However, I did run across an interesting article recently that focused on “getting healthy” which provided much food for thought (get it?). People often make vows to eat better, lose weight, and get active but did you ever think these ideas could be equally as useful when applied to soils?
We need our bodies to be healthy and we need our soil to be healthy too. Estimates are that the earth will need to support nine billion people by 2050. Healthy soil is the key to feeding us all. Whether you grow your own vegetables, have a woodland to manage, consider yourself a farmer, or have a lawn, flower beds, and shade trees — soil is our foundation. How do we get our soils to be healthy? The Soil Health Partnership has these tips for you.
Watch nutrient uptake. To get the most out of your soil, periodically soil test. This is sort of like you having your blood tested. What are you growing in your soil and what nutrients are needed for the best production? Lime? Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium? Overapplication of soil amendments can lead to environmental issues and negatively affect your wallet.
Cover the ground. For humans this would mean get outside and walk. For soil it means planting a cover crop to hold soil in place, reducing erosion. Cover crops also provide beneficial habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Cover crops improve soil tilth meaning the soil has good aeration and ability to hold water for plant growth.
Adopt healthier habits. Consider new ideas such as no-till and/or strip till. These conservation practices cut down on labor and fossil fuels, reduce erosion from wind and water, and build up organic matter. Tilling the soil damages the hidden world of microorganisms that live under the soil surface and are critical to overall soil health. Tilling also disrupts soil structure and can lead to soil compaction and poor drainage.
Focus on what matters — organic matter! Organic matter is the top layer of soil and consists of living organisms, fresh residues, and well decomposed residues. A typical agricultural soil has one to six percent organic matter and more is better. Soil organisms keep plants well supplied with nutrients because they break down organic matter. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, every one percent increase in organic matter results in as much as 25,000 gallons of available water per acre, water that is critical during our hot Ohio summers.
Save for the future. Taking care of your soil is the foundation for the future, paying big dividends over time. You save precious topsoil, increase water infiltration, improve the uptake of soil amendments, and more — all of which lead to better production.
If you have questions about how to keep your soil healthy and how to improve water quality, visit our website at www.delawareswcd.org, call us at 740-368-1921, or stop by the office at 740-368-1921. We are here “Helping You Help the Land.”
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.delawareswcd.org.