Did Someone Say Soil?

Damn straight; I did.

Who likes it?

Better yet, who LOVES it?

Me!

I like soil!

I care about soil!

You should, too!

Wanna know why? Keep Reading :~)

I wanted to do one post on agriculture, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought there were far too many components to cover in as much detail as I’d like/be able to in one sitting. So, I decided we’d talk about soil (dirt) and why it is so crucial not only to agriculture, but to us.

*Disclaimer: I am not a scientist, or anything along the lines of formally trained in these areas. The info I’m providing you in through my own research and is intended to be used as a jumping off point into further research. Any additional information you may have is incredibly appreciated as I’m eager to learn more to better inform others

I want to start with a simple question: Where does your food come from? If you answered “The store”…you’re a smart a**, but I appreciate it (and promise you I probably would have made the same remark a few years ago). However, nowadays I’d answer “the ground”. Ninety-five percent of our food comes out of the ground. NINETY-FIVE! Are you wrapping your head around that? Meaning, soil is the home for almost everything we put in our mouths.

In 2014, according to this article in Scientific American, about a third of the world’s soil has already degraded. That was six years ago. And if we’re pointing fingers, we’re pointing them at industrial farming (not to mention global warming and deforestation) as the largest culprit.

Let me tell you why- Monoculture (planting one, large group of the same crop. i.e Corn) along with chemical heavy farming tactics suck the nutrients out of the soil each year they’re implemented. Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium are some of the largest nutrients sucked out especially with the overproduction of grain crops such as corn, soy, and wheat in our market.

Basically, with this kind of farming, our soil isn’t catching a break. It’s like having a runner finish a two hour marathon and not giving them water or food afterwards all the while expecting to run right back to the starting point. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work. We wouldn’t do that to a human, so why do it to that which provides the nutrients for them?

If we get right down to it, industrial agriculture is too big to uphold that sort of care for the fields. It might sound silly because that field make them money, right? Wouldn’t they want to take care of it? Truthfully, they’ll make money either way, and the path of least resistance is usually their first choice. But, there are practices that, if the agriculture industry utilized in a more widespread fashion, could really reverse the damages done to the top soil we rely so heavily on.

I was having a conversation a few nights ago with a fellow who is also passionate (and far more informed than me) about agriculture, and he brought up a great point that I think I should share right about now. He said: “A big trap I see folks, (especially me!), fall into is thinking that one style of farming is gonna save us. The problem is the one size fits all approach to begin with! The ideal, in my opinion, would be farms that were inspired by the features and characteristics of the land that fuels them”

So, with that, I’m not saying these methods are the CURE ALLS for our soil crisis (because that’s what it is at this point). However, at least acknowledging these additional practice could be a huge step to recovery.

Crop Rotation

You might love being a regular at your local coffee shop, but your soil (and your crops) don’t love having regular items planted in one spot season after season. Crop rotation is the practice of planting crops in a different section each year so that ideally, no crop is planted in the same place for two or more year in a row.

When one crop is planted year after year in the same place, the soil is drained of essential nutrients and ends up being unable to give much back to the plants. Also, any pests that might be particularly fond of that one crop only grow stronger and more abundant since they know that food source will always be there.

While your crops are off visiting new, far away plots of land in your garden/on your farm, plant cover crops in their place (See my next point for more on cover crops).

The benefits of crop rotation include reintroducing vital nutrients (like nitrogen and phosphorous) back into the soil to establish a healthy environment for future crops, alternating root lengths that are put into the soil draw nutrients from different levels, bugs/pests are deterred from returning, and field don’t have to stay fallow like they otherwise might.

Just make sure to plan ahead, or at least write down where your current crops are so you can easily replace them.

Cover Crops

If I drilled anything into my head after working at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, it was the value of the cover crop. Cover crops are crops planted in between larger harvests during the year in order to return depleted nutrients back to the soil. For example, legumes bring back nitrogen to the soil! Buckwheat and Lupins have shown potential in helping replenish phosphorus through certain plant soluble acid secretions.

Not only do cover crops give all the good stuff back to the soil, they also prevent erosion (which is another killer), add organic matter back to the ground, and inhibits certain pests from retuning to the field.

Another HUGE benefit of cover crops is that they promote the strengthening of mycorrhizal (symbiotic relationship between plants and fungus) that ultimately end up aiding in water/nutrient absorption, improve the nitrogen fixation for legumes, and may help maintain high spore levels in the ground for the next planted crop to latch onto and build equally strong mycorrhizal connections. The hyphae are root like structures that get send out to do the work when the fungi and plant roots meet. Hyphae take up water and nutrients for the plant, and in return benefit from energy in the form of sugars sent down from the plant!

I could go on and on about that, in a nutshell, that’s it. Bottom line, plant some cover crops.

Go Easy on the Chems.

Just take it easy on the chemical sprays. I won’t say much on this because I think it’s pretty obvious, but whatever gets sprayed onto the plant is going to end up in the soil. If what’s getting sprayed onto the plant is especially toxic, it’s not a good look for the soil either.

Manage Irrigation

In dry areas, salt sticks around in the soil once the water is gone. A buildup of salt/sodium can make it incredibly difficult for plants to absorb the water that’s in the soil. When sodium builds up (which can happen), soil aggregates break down and make the soil downright impossible to work with.

Over watering is also an issue as it can raise salts to the top. When the water evaporates and the slat is left behind, we’re back where we started with too much salt. Over irrigation can also push essential nutrients past the roots and make it difficult to actually absorb for plants.

Really, irrigation planning should run parallel with drainage planning.

Consider a schedule for these practices while also researching what is best for the environment you’re working with (humid vs. arid).

I’ve given you a big block of info now and you’re probably thinking: well, what can we do now? I think our first step is education which is really the reason I wrote this post out. I know you might read something like what I just put in front of you and feel confused, or that this sort of thing is impossible, but it jut takes time. Please trust in that. The more people we can properly educate on this, the more chance we have at making regenerative agricultural practices the standard on which we base everything else on. When that happens, our soil will start healing, and really, so will we.

Reading up, researching, and talking to small time farmers interested in regenerative/conservational agricultural practices is seriously one of the best places to start. From there, you can figure out what plan of action makes the most sense for you to get involved in.

I hope this informed y’all even the slightest bit. If you have any questions/comments/additional information please leave them below! As i said earlier, I’m no expert, just a lady looking to sing sweet songs to the earth and hear it sing back.

Be well. Be here. Adventure on!

FM

***Further Reading/Sources***

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/only-60-years-of-farming-left-if-soil-degradation-continues/

https://store.almanac.com/the-importance-of-crop-rotation/#

https://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Building-Soils-for-Better-Crops-3rd-Edition/Text-Version/Organic-Matter-What-It-Is-and-Why-It-s-So-Important/Why-Soil-Organic-Matter-Is-So-Important

https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/nutrient_removal_rates_by_grain_crops

https://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Building-Soils-for-Better-Crops-3rd-Edition/Text-Version/Managing-Water-Irrigation-and-Drainage/Irrigation#:~:text=Irrigation%20has%20numerous%20advantages%2C%20but,getting%20the%20water%20that’s%20there.

https://soilsmatter.wordpress.com/2019/07/15/what-are-soil-aggregates/

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