Healthy soil is a commonly used term, but what do we actually mean? Generally, we see healthy soil as soil growing strong, pest and disease resistant plants and nutrient-dense food – even when weather conditions are not ideal. However, because functioning soil ecosystems are needed to get these outcomes, healthy soil is essentially a functioning soil ecosystem.[1]

Diagram of soil ecosystemSoils are the most complex and self-organising living systems on the earth. One tablespoon of healthy soil usually contains kilometres of mycorrhizal and other fungal threads and 6 – 7 billion soil organisms, including bacteria, nematodes, protozoa, and arthropods.

Above-ground, plants are the base of the food chain. Below ground, our soil ecosystems source their nutrients and energy from:

  1. Organic waste materials (leaf litter, roots, wood, faeces, dead animals, etc.),
  2. Secretions of sugars, proteins and other organic compounds plants release from their roots (root exudates), and
  3. Nutrients from dust and mineral particles in the soil.

 

Diagram showing food sources for soil ecosystems

Why is Healthy Soil Important

Unhealthy soil won’t produce healthy food, even if we feed our soil with nutrient supplements!

Functioning soil ecosystems provide the FREE ecological services essential for growing strong, pest and disease resistant plants and nutrient-dense food!

  1. Disassembling organic waste materials, storing the nutrients recovered, and making them available to plants for reuse [2][3]
  2. Producing acids and enzymes releasing nutrients locked up in the sand, silt and clay particles in the soil [4]
  3. Controlling soil pathogens and soil-derived plant pests and disease through complex predator-prey relationships [5] [6]
  4. Enabling a diverse community of soil organisms to form beneficial symbiotic associations with plant roots [6]
  5. Maintaining soil infrastructure allowing water infiltration and storage in soil and drainage of excess water [7]

Getting Help with Building Healthy Soil

Watch some of the videos collated on the Learning from Nature YouTube Channel

Read this article – How to Build Healthy Soil – Eco-logically

Or alternatively, get everything you need to know with this publication from Learning from Nature

Front cover Feed plants without Fertilisers

References

[1] Wendy Seabrook, 2021, What is Regenerative Farming and Gardening? Publ Learning from Nature

[2] Wendy Seabrook, 2019, Eco-logical Farming Handbook, Publ Learning from Nature

[3] Wendy Seabrook, 2019, Eco-logical Gardening Handbook, Publ Learning from Nature

[4] Elaine Ingham, 2016, Roots of your Profit, Oxford Real Farming Conference 2016

[5]Thakur M.P., Geisen S., 2019,  Trophic regulations of the soil microbiome. Trends Microbiol. 27:771–780.DOI: 10.1016/j.tim.2019.04.008

[6] FAO 2008. An international technical workshop Investing in sustainable crop intensification The case for improving soil health. Integrated Crop Management Vol.6-2008. FAO, Rome: 22-24 July 2008

[7]Wendy Seabrook, 2020, How to drought-proof your farm and garden. Publ Learning from Nature

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