We usually walk over the ground thinking it’s only there to sustain our feet. We couldn’t be further from the truth. Soil sustains our very existence on this planet and the amount of things that can happen below it is bewildering.
It's so easy to lose sight of this when living in a city but when you're in a forest there is just no doubt of the amazing connections that can occur in the ground. It is so dynamic that it can even be appreciated from the surface because everywhere you look there is a written story of these interactions.
“Soil microbes, fungi, algae, protozoa, earthworms, insects and small vertebrates all serve to store, cycle or break down these soil nutrients. Eventually all of this turns into a usable form of food for plants. Without the biology the system breaks down”. Source
The entire food chain in which we partake depends on healthy soil and if we are to attempt to take care of our earthly home, we must begin by restoring it to it’s proper health. I have listed here things we can examine without the need for any tools more than our eyes and senses so I’m not going into microbiology, acidity and other more complex aspects that are considered regarding soil health.
Abundance of earthworms and insects
"Earthworms are sometimes known as ecosystem engineers" Source
Earthworms are a vital part of the soil cycle. They recycle organic material, increase nutrient availability and improve soil structure. Their burrows become channels where water and air can enter the ground, as well as facilitating pathways for roots to grow.
Remember Earthworm Jim? Good, cause it's got nothing to do with this. Or does it?
“Earthworms are sometimes known as ‘ecosystem engineers’ because they significantly modify the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil profile” Source
Other insects help indirectly acting as nutrient storage. When they pass away, their bodies compost and become available to the rest of the soil ecosystem.
Presence of mycelium
"Fungi transfer energy from above the ground, to below it, where it is recycled back to plants”.Source
A few years ago most of us were completely ignorant about the fungi kingdom. We might not know much yet, but knowledge about their importance to the ecosystem is spreading quickly. One of the key aspects of these lifeforms we have learned is that mushrooms are only a small part of fungi, and that the mycelium network that is formed underground makes of most of this amazing organisms size.
The underground network of a mycelium can extend to several hundred miles of distance! Imagine you having access to that amount of information, interacting simultaneously with that extension of land and all its inhabitants! It melts my mind away to try and understand it 😂
The truth is, we wouldn't exist if not for fungi. They are the masters of recycling and making nutrients available for other living beings.
“Nutrients are seldom freely available in soil or water because they are locked up in insoluble compounds. Plants therefore rely on decomposers to provide them with soluble nutrients that can be taken up by roots.
Fungi metabolize proteins, and release inorganic forms of nitrogen, such as nitrate, that can easily be taken up by plant roots. In freshwater environments fungi are instrumental in the transfer of energy from riparian forest to aquatic ecosystems, by decomposing wood and leaf litter that fall into the water. In terrestrial systems, fungi transfer energy from above the ground, to below it, where it is recycled back to plants”.Source.
You can find mycelium both underground where it is usually a concentration of white soft material, as well as above where it usually looks very much like cotton.
Moisture retention and absorption
It is quite easy to appreciate whether soil is absorbing water and if it stays there. If you water the ground and little puddles are formed, staying there for more than an hour, then its absorption is deficient. If the soil dries up below the surface in only a day without watering it, then it’s retention is poor.
That's some awesome mulching! Source
As we said before, earthworms play a vital role in aiding the soil structure to receive more water. You can improve moisture retention by adding a layer of mulch (dry organic matter such as leaves or hay) on top to avoid evaporation. Also, the presence of organic matter in the soil will help with water retention, which leads us to the next point.
Abundance of organic material
Soil was never meant to be just a mixture of minerals. It was supposed to thrive on the leaves that fell from trees, the decayed bodies of the dead and the manure of every living creature on the planet. We might not having corpses laid about to feed the grounds ecosystem but we can definitely add leaves, twigs, kitchen scraps and composted material.
We should also add our shit. Sorry if this sounds offensive to anyone but it's the truth. We are making a hell of un unbalance with our toilet systems. We use clean water to pee and shit on it. Think on that for a second. And all those nutrients the ground could receive are being sent out to be further poisoned with chemicals so that water can be "clean" again.
When soil is abundant with organic matter there is plenty of food for fungi, worms and insects. It enhances the microbiology of the land and helps with the retention of moisture. Dig a little soil from the ground and check around for things that look like fiber or decayed roots. These are great indicators of the presence of organic material in the ground.
A soil with good structure should be soft and loose to the touch. It shouldn’t feel muddy or too hard, nor should it be composed of small particles that feel like sand. Grab a little soil and to compact it softly into a small sphere. If the structure is good, you shouldn’t be able to make the sphere, but it shouldn't slip away too easily from your hands either.
If the sphere forms and stays that way, it probably means there is too much clay in the ground. If this is the case you will need to add organic matter to activate the microbiology so that the nutrients begin to break down.
Good soil structure allows water absorption and retention, as well as the passing of air into the root system. This video explains superbly what we are looking for regarding soil structure:
As I said before, there are many other aspects to consider but just taking care of these goes a long way in having healthy soil.
Is the soil healthy where you live? Let me know in the comments, I’ll be handing out SBI shares to the comments I find topic related and helpful to the post ;)