Healthy, Living Soils - Tools and Techniques to Safeguard Our Future
We all know that healthy soils are a central part of sustainability. From carbon sequestration to increased crop production, it's hard to overestimate the contribution good soil can make to our collective well-being (or the damage that can be done by abusing this most precious of resources). Contrary to common misconceptions, healthy soil is more than just a jumble of inert organic matter and nutrients — it is also a hugely complex, living, breathing community of micro-organisms and mini-beasts. From mychorrhizal fungi that form symbiotic relationships with plants, to creatures that digest, break down and redistribute organic matter, the amount of life in a single teaspoon of soil is astounding. According to Dr. Elaine R. Ingham, Associate Research Professor in the Department of Forest Science at Oregon State University: "Agricultural soil should have 600 million bacteria in a teaspoon. There should be approximately three miles of fungal hyphae in a teaspoon of soil. There should be 10,000 protozoa and 20 to 30 beneficial nematodes in a teaspoon of soil."
So how can we cultivate these beneficial relationships? Besides traditional organic and low-impact techniques like mulching, composting and no-till cultivation, there are also a growing number of companies trying to actively produce micro-organisms that can be used to 'seed' inert or degraded soils with life. The video above is from Soil Secrets, a company offering a wide range of additives and soil improvers that have been inoculated with beneficial micro-organisms. Paul Stamets' company, Fungi Perfecti (previously featured on TreeHugger here) also offers a range of products designed to reintroduce mychorrhizal fungi to the soil and improve plant growth, as well as cultivation kits for edible mushrooms that can be grown as beneficial companions to edible plants - apparently increasing yields of fruits and vegetables while simultaneously providing a valuable crop of their own. This TreeHugger is on the verge of moving to a space where he can finally start a garden, and he intends to try some of these products out, but in the meantime we'd be fascinated to hear from any readers who have experimented with these, or similar commercial products designed to promote healthy soil life.
For those wanting to do more in the global quest for healthy and productive soils, check out this collaborative global network of long-term soil experiments; learn more about the incredible potential of biochar; get involved in the rapidly expanding permaculture movement; or seek out your nearest community garden (if you can't find one, you can always start your own). And don't forget to read our guide on How to Green Your Gardening, and of course, for the garden-less — remember to buy organic.