5 Things You Didn’t Know About Soil

By Khala Hurd February 26, 2021

Sustainable Agriculture

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Soil

By Khala Hurd February 26, 2021

Whether you’re looking for a quick bite of information or want to drop some knowledge on your dinnertime companions, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

When many of us think of soil, we think of dirt. But, soil is so much more than just dirt. Soil gives life to all of the food we eat. Without soil, we can’t grow fruit, veggies, grains and more. Let’s get to know our soil a little better.

5. Soil is full of nutrients

Soil is made up of minerals and organic matter.

There are a lot of nutrients in the soil, including calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. However, the three main nutrients found in soil are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, also known as NPK. But, why does soil need nutrients? To fuel plants! Soil provides plants with the minerals and nutrients they need for proper nourishment. In turn, this nourishment is what makes us healthy when we eat these nutritiously grown foods.

So, the soil gives its nutrients to the plants, which then gives the nutrients to us. This means we are getting our nutrients from the soil!

4. Soil has layers

We see soil as just brown dirt, but there are many layers to soil.

When we see soil, we see the “litter zone” on top. This is where we find things like twigs and leaves. However, there’s also the topsoil, subsoil, and bedrock at the bottom. The most important layer is the topsoil because this is where plant growth takes place and root systems form. But, producing just one inch of nutrient dense topsoil can take hundreds to thousands of years, depending on the climate, because topsoil is made from decaying plants, animals and crushed rock. Crushed rock is what takes the longest because it has to be broken down and decomposed.

If you look at the soil in your hand and see the shiny particles, they could be crushed rock from glaciers millions of years ago.

3. Soil has many vital functions we can’t get from anywhere else

Soil is very busy! It has a lot of different tasks that make our world go round.

First, soil holds in moisture to prevent flooding, gives us groundwater, and keeps water intact for crops to grow. It even purifies water as it enters the ground. Soil is a modifier for the atmosphere. It emits and stores CO2, water vapor, and other gases, providing a massive carbon sink for the Earth’s CO2 cycle.

Soil also recycles nutrients so they can be used to help plants grow more than once. It’s the foundation of photosynthesis, meaning we wouldn’t be able to grow anything without soil, and it even provides a habitat for many organisms- big and small. Some organisms include gophers, groundhogs, bacteria, and various types of fungi.

2. Soil has its own microbiome

 The soil microbiome consists of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other microorganisms. Teeny tiny microscopic organisms that serve a big purpose!

These microbes act as a fertilizer. They help plants grow and mature by changing nitrogen from the air, absorb phosphorus to become healthy, and protect plants from fungal diseases. When these microbes are in proper balance, they store and cycle nutrients like carbon and nitrogen. This stabilizes and supports growing plants, and is the foundation of a natural regenerative process that’s been on Earth for millennia.

The diverse microbiome is also responsible for the nutrients in our 5-7 daily servings of fruits and veggies, protein in wheat, and healthy animal feed for our protein. It is essential to providing us the nutrients we need. The more fruits and veggies you eat, the more microbe diversity in your gut and the healthier your gut and overall immune system are!

1. Soil loss will be detrimental to our world

Some experts are saying that we only have 60 years of soil left. We are losing soil at the same rate as losing 30 soccer fields every minute.

There are many reasons why we’re losing our soil, including erosion, poor farming practices, rain intensity, and wind. What does this mean for us? The more soil we lose, the fewer crops we can plant. This could wreak havoc on our food system and become a major barrier to feeding the world. Food insecurity will be a large concern, especially because soil is a finite resource meaning its degradation is not recoverable within the average human lifespan.

There are, however, solutions to this problem. One includes planting cover crops specifically to improve soil quality by giving the soil time to rebuild its microbiome. A second solution is to introduce root systems, which improve the structure of the soil by making space available for air and water to regenerate in it.

Farmers are also taking steps to ensure soil health, including increasing the organic matter in soil, diversifying crop rotations, using no-till or reduced tillage, and using cover crops. The solution to saving our soil comes in the form of many practices, not just one.

The Bottom Line

Soil is the foundation of our food system, and it’s in danger. Without soil, we may not have enough resources to feed our growing population. To learn what you can do to help save our soil, check out our related post.