“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” – Audrey Hepburn.
I plant a garden every year, and I have since I was a kid and I do believe in tomorrow. The reason that I do believe in tomorrow is that humans are so powerful, we have both the power to destroy and also the power to build up and regenerate. We have seen the power of humans to destroy landscapes to turn lush landscapes into deserts and beautiful locations into polluted wastelands. But, I have also seen amazing people improve soil and the health of the planet through regenerative agriculture and permaculture, and through these practices, greening the desert, turning wastelands into productive and abundant landscapes, and regenerating our landscapes and soils instead of destroying them. And it all comes back to what is beneath our feet.
“Despite all of our accomplishments, we owe our existence to a six inch layer of top soil and the fact that it rains” Paul Harvey
I think this quote really underscores that soil is truly the foundation. Without it we do not exist, our food does not exist, our water does not exist our planet does not have life. To fix anything we need to start at the foundation, and it is becoming more and more evident that our environmental problems can be helped if not solved by paying attention to the soil and keeping it healthy. Not only can healthy soil grow nutrient dense food, that can grow healthy humans and ultimately healthy communities, but it can also clean our water, store carbon instead of having carbon in the atmosphere (causing the greenhouse effect), it can also hold more water to minimize the impacts of flooding and drought, it can host a diversity of microorganisms that have been found to decompose pollutants. The list can go on and on.
As a society maybe we have forgotten that everything comes from the soil, our food and medicine is grown in the soil, our food eats what is grown in the soil, our water is filtered through the soil, the microorganisms living within the soil have been providing scientists with our medicine (i.e. Antibiotics etc…) But soil has been treated like dirt and it’s been allowed to erode away, it’s been treated with chemicals that kill the microorganisms in the soil, it’s had it’s nutrients removed and not returned. But as I mentioned before, we have the same power to regenerate and have a positive impact on our planet. One way that we can do that is to take care of the soil within our own sphere of influence.
To take care of your soil try the following things.
- Cover the Soil
- Any bare patches of soil between plants can be covered with mulch, plant residues, or by plant cover. This helps to keep the soil cooler, retain moisture and as an added bonus reduces weeds.
- Leave roots in the soil
- There are more micro-organisms in a tsp of soil than there are humans on the planet! Just like our gut microbiome micro-organisms in the soil keep it healthy. Leaving roots in the soil ensures that these microorganisms have food to keep them active and thriving!
- Plant with lots of diversity
- A diverse planting ensures a more robust and resilient eco-system. When we plant a diversity of plants above ground, we give those micro-organisms in the soil a diversity of things to eat below ground as well. That means we get a diversity of micro-organisms that are helping to support the soil and the plants. (So instead of lawns, plant literally anything else)
- Minimize soil disturbance
- The soil is home to many microscopic organisms, such as Bacteria, fungi, arthropods, microarthropods, nematodes etc… When tillage or soil disturbance is reduced, the soil profile and soil eco-system stays intact and does not need to re-establish every time it is tilled. While tillage is sometimes required in an unhealthy soil, tillage is reduced as the healthy soil micro-organisms start to create their healthy and beneficial eco-system underneath the ground.
- Reduce or stop the use of chemicals meant to kill or destroy
- While these chemicals are sometimes necessary to achieve a certain outcome they should be used sparingly in order to maintain the microbial, and plant diversity required to keep the soil healthy.
- Make and add Compost
- Like Mufasa said, it’s the circle of life. What is taken out of the soil can be returned as compost to return the nutrients and inoculate the soil with microorganisms. This can boost the productivity of the soil, and help to re-establish those healthy soil eco-systems!
So next time you go outside, take a moment and put your bare feet on some land and reflect on that soil underneath your feet and your power to make a difference.