Dec. 5 was World Soil Day, and this year’s theme was “Soil Pollution, a Hidden Reality.” Most of us never think about the soil under our feet, but in reality, soil is essential to our daily lives. It provides the support for our homes and roads, holds water for plants, animals, and humans to drink, grows trees that provide us with oxygen, food and lumber – I could go on and on.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines soil pollution as the presence in the soil of a chemical or substance out of place and/or present at a higher than normal concentration that has adverse effects on any nontargeted organism. Soil pollution, like water pollution, can be a hidden danger because it can often be difficult to perceive but have significant consequences to our well-being. While it might be easy to blame corporations for soil pollution, awareness of our own activities and their ramifications is key to keeping soil healthy. As the Tanzanian proverb says, “Little by little, a little becomes a lot.” Here are some little ways you can contribute to healthier soil.
• What happens above ground affects what happens underground. Home sewage treatment systems rely on soil to function. Protect your system by not planting trees on it or driving over it and by directing excess surface water away from the site. Septic tanks and aeration tanks fill up. To keep your system, your family, and your soil and water healthy, your tank should be pumped every three to five years. Consult the Delaware General Health District at delawarehealth.org/sewage for more ideas on how to be a good steward of your system and your soil.
• Know your soil. Soil tests take the guesswork out of buying fertilizers, chemicals, and other soil amendments. Site specific management saves you money, optimizes growth of desirable plants, and maintains priceless soil quality. The Ohio State University Extension has a helpful publication titled, “Soil Testing for Ohio Lawns, Landscapes, Fruit Crops, and Vegetable Gardens,” which can be found at https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-1132.
• Follow the 4Rs. To ensure a balanced supply of nutrients to your lawns, gardens, and farm fields, use the right source, right rate, right time and right placement. For more information visit www.4rtomorrow.org.
• Protect the edge. Buffers, strips of native plants, grass, and/or trees planted along streams and road ditches, help keep soil in place. Keeping the soil covered helps build up organic matter and soil organisms, making your soil more productive. Plant diversity above ground leads to diversity of microorganisms below and healthier soil.
• No dumping. The ground is not a trash can. Practice reduce, reuse, and recycle. Recycling is so easy and the Delaware/Knox/Marion/Morrow Solid Waste District has detailed information at www.dkmm.org. You can find out how and what to recycle, the facilities that accept yard waste (including Christmas trees), locations of recycling bins, how to make your own compost, and more. You can also learn about special collection days for household hazardous waste, tires, electronics, and paint.
Soil is precious because it is not a renewable resource. It takes 500 or more years to form an inch of topsoil. Healthy, fully functioning soil provides an environment that nourishes plants, animals, and humans so don’t take your soil for granted.
Visit Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District’s website at www.delawareswcd.org to learn more about conservation. You can also follow us on Facebook and participate in What is it Wednesday?
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.delawareswcd.org.