by Beau Propes
Soil is the basis of life and every living thing on the planet. Whether we are growing a vegetable garden or grilling on the balcony of our apartment, we are connected and very dependent on our soil. In a teaspoon of healthy soil, we can expect to find more than 5 million bacteria, up to 20 miles of fungi strands, thousands of protozoa and up to 500 beneficial nematodes. Then add in the mites, spiders and earthworms. All this together forms part of a complex system called the soil food web. While creepy critters crawling around in the garden might not sound appealing, these organisms are essential for healthy soil. A truly amazing symbiotic relationship exists between plants and soil organisms. Healthy soil grows healthy plants; from delicious vegetables to lawns and flowers.
In this soil food web, these soil organisms work tirelessly, recycling dead plant materials which maintain soil fertility. Most of these amazing creatures live in the top few inches of soil, and we want a healthy diversity of these guys in our soil to improve it. We can help them out because to thrive, they need air. Soil compaction decreases oxygen availability, and when oxygen goes down, the bad guys flourish—anaerobic bacteria and fungi that cause plant disease. Aeration can help get vital oxygen where it is needed. Adding compost or top dressing with compost can also loosen up the soil so air and water can penetrate.
Earthworms, which love compost, are great aerators of the soil, and all those busy soil recyclers need good food. Compost is the perfect solution because it also improves soil structure and provides a more favorable soil habitat for the incredible diversity of life that exists there. In healthy soil, there are also complex humic and fulvic acids that help break down nutrients and minerals into available forms for plants, and compost can be rich in these essential building blocks. Adding additional organic matter to the soil will also increase the cation exchange capacity (CEC) which increases the ability of the soil to hold nutrients for use when needed. Some bacteria in healthy soil can even convert nitrogen from the air and make it available to plants.
Fertile soil has greater moisture retention, and organic matter can help with clay soil to add structure and resist compaction. In sandy soil, compost can help in nutrient and water retention, allowing water to move laterally. Watering less means more savings and less impact on our water supply. This spring, homeowners can be loyal to their soil and add organic matter to keep the soil food web going.
Beau Propes is the owner and operator of Earth Kind Services, which provides organic compost and lawn treatments. For more information or to discuss a soil amendment for lawn or garden, call 469-744-0281 or visit EarthKindServices.com.