5 things everyone can do to protect the planet's soil

hand in soil
© RachenArt

Here's why soil is one of our most valuable natural resources and what you can do to support it.

Unless you happen to be a farmer or a gardener, chances are you don't think about soil very often. Even among the eco-minded, we generally think more about the water and air and forests and animals before we think about soil.

But just like we require healthy water and air, so do we require healthy soil. As the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) explains: "Soil provides ecosystem services critical for life: soil acts as a water filter and a growing medium; provides habitat for billions of organisms, contributing to biodiversity; and supplies most of the antibiotics used to fight diseases. Humans use soil as a holding facility for solid waste, filter for wastewater, and foundation for our cities and towns. Finally, soil is the basis of our nation’s agroecosystems which provide us with feed, fiber, food and fuel."

And as the American Society of Agronomy (ASA) puts it, "Soil is essential to life."

Which is why these two soil societies are asking everyone to join in celebrating World Soil Day on December 5th, a day to focus attention on the importance of protecting soil as the valuable, natural resource it is.

Now the question is: How does one possibly celebrate soil? Go to a field and throw it a party? Buy some perfume that smells like damp soil? (OK, admittedly that's a weird one, but I had to get a mention in of one of my favorite scents, M2 Black March, that I affectionately call my "dirt perfume" – it smells just like a scoop of soil from the forest floor.)

Anyway, as it turns out, there is plenty we can do to celebrate the soil, without being farmers or soil scientists. Here are some of the things that the ASA and SSSA recommend:

1. Reduce food waste

The food we buy at the grocery store impacts the entire food supply system. One of the easiest ways we can support the soil is by limiting the amount of food that ends up in our garbage. All the food that ends up in our shopping carts requires land, water, nutrients and energy to produce. By consuming more and throwing away less, we will prevent valuable nutrients from ending up in a landfill.

Reducing food waste has also been called "One of the most important things we can do to reverse global warming."

2. Eat a diverse diet

By eating different types of foods, we can help create demand for a wide variety of agricultural products, which is better for soil. Food diversity helps with biodiversity and soil fertility when land is used to grow multiple crops. For protein sources, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends varying “your protein routine.”

In general, eating a diverse diet is better for our health too – "eating the rainbow" (a variety of color in fruits and vegetables) helps the body get a great assortment of nutrients.

3. Compost

So maybe our eyes were bigger than our appetites at the grocery store, and we end up with food we can’t finish. Instead of throwing it in the garbage, consider investing in a compost system! Composting can return nutrients in food back to nature. And, compost will be great for our gardens next growing season.

See more of our composting stories here.

4. Read labels on lawn and garden products

Walking through the aisles of any home improvement or garden store, there is a seemingly endless array of products for our lawns and gardens. No matter which product we end up selecting, the most important step before applying is to thoroughly read the label and all instructions. Over- and under-application of the product can both cause problems.

And to that end, TreeHugger advocates for all-natural weed and creature control:

6 homemade herbicides: Kill the weeds without killing the Earth
8 natural & homemade insecticides: Save your garden without killing the Earth

5. Perform soil tests

If we are looking to fertilize our lawn or garden, we need to know what nutrients are already in the soil before applying more. We might be able to save money and apply less fertilizer. Or, we might just need to add one specific nutrient, and not others. A simple way to get reliable results is to have our soil tested. Local university extension services can help provide information on testing soil. It’s usually a matter of scooping up soil from a few areas of the yard and sending it in to the lab!

So there you go, see? You can celebrate soil! Here's to a happy and sustainable World Soil Day.

5 things everyone can do to protect the planet's soil
Here's why soil is one of our most valuable natural resources and what you can do to support it.

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