Tag Archives: Soil

Healthy soil

Soil-The Living Layer of Earth


A noted French theologian once said that “man is the living layer of earth.” He was referring to the spiritual realm, I’m sure. Because there is another “living layer of earth” right below our feet – the soil.

That’s because good soil is alive with millions, billions, trillions – countless mega trillions of living creatures which are born, live, procreate and die every second. A teaspoon of good soil would contain millions of living creatures, while a shovel-full would hold billions. An acre would contain more living organisms than there are starts in our galaxy… perhaps in the entire universe.

These organisms are part of the complex nature of soil – which is different from dirt. I’ll call good soil simply soil in the rest of this article.

I have already written about how soil is formed. Here is a deeper view. Once the tiny bits of grains have deposited and some organic material begins to grow and die, bacteria, single-celled animals and fungi begin to colonize the growing soil and mineral mixture.

Picture yourself in a forest. A tree sheds its leaves. Those leaves, now on the ground, begin to decompose. It’s not a process that just happens. The organic compounds in the leaves are being consumed by living microscopic creatures (and some larger ones). A single bacterium lives about 12 hours, after which it divides. In 7 generations, that single cell with become more than 16 million duplicates of itself. You could see that, in a year, the total bacteria population would completely cover the earth.

However, there is a failsafe, which contributes to the soil being enriched. Bacteria in the soil are being consumed by larger single-celled animals, like amoebas and protozoans. And while these cells are dividing, they are being consumed by even larger creatures.  Now, while all these microbes and macro-organisms are going through their life cycles, microscopically fine threads of symbiotic fungi are making their way from root to root.

It’s not over yet. Larger creatures – earthworms, pill bugs, beetles and other detritus-eating plants, munch away at the larger pieces of debris that the microbes did not finish consuming. The earthworms are especially adept at this, and they do more. By passing the detritus through their gut, they inoculate the particles with beneficial bacteria, which they then excrete back into the soil. Worms also make vertical tubes, allowing air and water to penetrate the soil.

Spiders, bug-eating beetles, ants, and other predators begin feasting on the earthworms and their helpers, adding their carcasses or depositing it as excretion onto the ground.

Now, even larger creatures come into the soil – like moles and birds. These predators love the other creepy crawlers and provide a useful purpose.


Every time I turn my compost in the spring, a robin perches near me waiting for worms. Since my compost is usually full of worms, except during the coldest days of winter, I don’t mind sharing them with this friendly avian. She waits until I have tossed four or five wriggling ones her way, she daintily picks each one up with her beak until she has all of them captured. Still holding them in her beak, she slams the worms against the crushed granite walkway until she has them dazed enough to her satisfaction. A quick flit to her next in a nearby oak, a couple of minutes there, obviously feeding her chicks and she’s back waiting for a more worm largesse. Occasionally, I’ll find her on top of my compost pile, scratching on her own – which is okay with me. I’ve got plenty of earthworms.  


This is the natural flow of things making up the living layer of earth and an essential part of the planet’s recycling process.

Making Your Soil Fertile


It really doesn’t matter what type of soil you have in your yard, garden or landscape. Any soil can be amended to make it fertile and robust.

As you can see from the chart above, each type of soil has its own properties. Clay soil has good nutrient- holding and water-holding capacities, but water and air cannot infiltrate into the clay. Clay is also hard to work. Dig a hole into clay soil and fill it with water. You can see what I mean. It takes forever for it to drain. Since clay is so dense, plant roots find it difficult to penetrate very far, leading to a weakened root structure and unhealthy plants. Soil amendments increase the porosity and allow water and air to flow through the soil.

Silt soils have medium capacities in all the categories, but to get the best results it will need to be changed somewhat.

Sand doesn’t hold nutrients or water very well. Pour water into sand and see how fast it drains through. Adding good amendments to sandy soil increases its water- and nutrient-holding abilities.


Now, loam is a different matter. Loam is an almost ideal plant-growing medium. It’s a mixture of equal parts of clay, silt, and sand. But, to make REALLY good soil, a few more ingredients are needed.

“ A soil amendment is any material added to a soil to improve its physical properties. In other words, you want to increase water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, aeration, and structure. The overriding reason for this is to provide a better environment for roots,” according to a Colorado State University paper by J.G. Davis and D. Whiting.

There are easy ways to develop good soils.

I have found that organic materials are best, although some swear by inorganic methods. Organic amendments have come from something that was once alive…composted leaves and grass clippings (although it’s much better to mulch the clippings as you are mowing), peat moss, manure of many kinds, organic humates,  straw (not hay because hay has tons of seeds),  rotted wood (not fence slats or loading pallets) but wood from trees), fresh vegetable scraps, worm castings, and more. Although wood ash is organic, it is also high in sales and has a high pH.

You should also know this about organic materials. It helps the soil retain water, while also providing infiltration of both air and water. Soil with five percent of organic matter can hold up to three quarts of water per cubic foot. A 4,000 square foot lawn with that amount of organic matter (thus 4,000 cubic feet) can hold up to 3,000 gallons of water, and an acre can hold about 33,000 gallons. If water is a problem (many residents along the coast have their own water wells), it pays to remember that a good soaking rain can save a ton of water-and money – just by adding organic material. Some people make their own compost -others buy organic material (or steal it from their neighbor’s green recycling bin.)

Inorganic materials include vermiculite, perlite, pea gravel, sand, several other mined materials, and man-made crosslinked polymers. These materials are readily available.

I definitely prefer organic methods. I make my own compost- although I can never make enough to meet my needs. I do buy a lot, but I purchase it from local organic compost manufacturers. You can find a local organic composter near your area here.

One other good thing about organic material is that it inoculates the soil with beneficial organisms, which in turn help make nutrients more available to plants, as well as increasing the health of the soil.

What is Soil? It’s not just dirt!


Plants obtain water and nutrients from the soil surrounding their root systems. Plants also use the soil to anchor them physically, allowing them to stand upright.

Soil is made up of weathered rock fragments which contain minerals, the decaying remnants of plants and animals, including micro-organisms, and the secretions from the plants and animals living in it. It contains varying amounts of air, water and micro-organisms.

Good soil is made up of about half solids and half pores or open spaces between the solids. The solids consist of minerals and organic matter. The minerals consist of a myriad of particle sizes, from those that can be seen with the naked eye to those so small that an electron microscope is needed to view them.

These minerals make up about 45 to 48 percent of all the solid matter in soil. An additional 5 percent is made up of organic matter – decaying plants and animals.

An ideal soil would consist of the above concentrations of minerals and organic matter and the other 50 percent would include 25 percent air and 25 percent water in the porous areas.

The air and water provide sustenance for plant roots. The organic material allows microbes to grow. The microbes in turn, help the plant retrieve minerals and nutrients from the soil.

For more information on soil, please click here.

Mike Serant of Microlife discusses organic fertilizers and lawn products


Bob Dailey checks in with Mike Serant, Owner of MicroLife Fertilizer. Learn about MicroLife, why its a great product line but also the science behind it and all life.

Here’s an article from Mike’s webpage:

Only with Organics can we grow the best testing and healthiest food possible.

One major reason Americans per capita, have more diseases than any other developed country is the vast majority of our food is poor quality. We can change our destiny by buying and growing the cleanest food possible and that is with Organics.

The Law of Nutrition states; “When any organism is fed the highest nutrition possible, that organism will hit it’s optimum potential and have the least amount of problems.”

This is true be it plant, animal, or human. Since the 1970’s, most American Farmers and most American food processors care more about volume than our health.

We can change all that by “Going Organic.” And by simply following Nature Law, we get excellent harvest and delicious foods that are safe. Organics programs are easier than going chemical and we feel much better about them. There is a science called Biophilia that tracks the DNA connection between plants and humans. Quite amazing to know that we are related to plants and when we take of our plants, they take care of us. A wonderful book that helps to explain this is “Your Brain on Nature” by Dr. Eva Selhub. Dr. Selhub will be coming to Houston via OHBA in January 2019. For more information head over to ohbaonline.org.

It is important to note that all chemicals fertilizers provide poor nutrition to plants and hurt soil health. Soil health and plant health are directly tied together. We want a fertilizer that improves both. Also recognize that chemical fertilizers only provide up to 7 minerals, but plants need at least 52 to be healthy and the human body has 79 elements in it. When we feed plants only 7 elements, there is tremendous disconnect with what is required for good health.

Remember, ‘we are what our plants eat.’ When pants are grown with chemicals, malnourishment sets in and plants become susceptible to pest insects and disease. The chemical industry answer to this is to spray poisons on plants. That poison doesn’t go away and when we, as humans, eat malnourished foods that have poisons sprayed on them, we too, get sick. Another great note for Organics is that when plants get a full load of minerals their flavonoid metabolites are enchanted, and flavonoids are another way or saying flavor. That’s why well grown organic foods always taste better.

 

The world under our feet


Living in our urban and suburban world, we most often think of the ground under our feet as a surface to put buildings and roads on, dig canals, and foundations and ponds, meanwhile plopping a few plants hither and thither to create what we think of as “landscapes.”

The “ground” as many of us call it is part of something much greater…part of our living planet, just as much as our dwindling forests, the air we breathe, and the plants and animals we eat…and interestingly, it plays a large part in all those as well.

For the “ground” is soil. It provides habitat for countless beings (there are more living things in a shovel full of soil than there are humans living on this planet). It is, as the Swiss Confederation reported recently, “the connecting element between the atmosphere and the groundwater.”

Our understanding of soil is just beginning to emerge as perhaps one of the 21st century’s greatest scientific breakthroughs.  Soil is the basis for food production, the habitat for innumerable organisms, a water filter and a natural store for carbon and water.

Here in North America, rock, ground down by glaciers, wind, water and other natural events, flowed down streams and rivers, deposited by floods and changing river beds, spread and deposited across the land.

In some places, large inland seas left huge deposits of organic material, as well as rocks and sand.

Sun, rain, frost and soil organisms worked together symbiotically in weathering the rock material, ultimately breaking it down into smaller and smaller particles. Slowly, soil took form. And in that form, plants and land animals began to thrive.

All the living beings that reside in the soil, all the minerals and elements that lay inside that structure, form not just a self-contained ecosystem which exists under our feet, but a truly ancient and rich ecosystem, tied inexorably to all the other ecosystems on the planet.

Earthworms and the art of grass cutting


“It’s time to mow the grass.” This was one of the most dreaded statements of my young life. Our acre-and-a-half lawn loomed, a seemingly unending expanse of a green enemy that required regular haircuts. Even with a self-powered lawn mower, the process required several hours of sweaty, unfulfilling work.

We never bagged the grass clippings. Instead they lay where they fell. In a day or two, the clippings disappeared. Wondering where those clipping went never occurred to me. I was just glad that we didn’t have to empty heavy grass catchers.

The ground beneath the lawn was full of earthworms. Just throw a pan of soapy water on the lawn, wait a few minutes, and collect enough worms to catch a mess of perch from our pond.  I didn’t make the connection between the earthworms, the lush green grass, and the disappearing grass clippings. Nor did we understand the part they played in the enormous ecosystem that lived under our very feet.

Charles Darwin, almost a century and a half ago, did understand. His book, “Earthworms”, published in 1881, was the result of years of study into these seemingly insignificant creatures.  In his manuscript he noted “It may be doubted whether there are as many other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures.”

It wasn’t until I read this study that I realized that earthworms were the major reason that the grass clippings were disappearing. At night, they emerge from the earth and pull the clippings down into the soil, where they eat and digest them. The bacteria in the worms’ digestive tract breaks down and inoculates the material with beneficial bacteria. This then passes into the soil.

The bacteria then join untold millions of other bacteria, protozoans, microscopic insects and fungi to convert the soil into a rich mélange, which in turn, provides nutrients to the grass (and other plants).

Had I understood this process when I was mowing the lawn, the odious chore would have turned miraculously into an interesting and fulfilling science experiment. University research now confirms that children who understand this relationship develop important skills and healthy qualities.

Involving youngsters in the relationship between healthy soils and plants, including lawns, vegetable gardens and flower gardening, instills healthy qualities.

  • Knowledge of this unseen world instills a real sense of accomplishment and responsible attitudes.
  • Delving into the way plants and soil interact increases skills such as problem solving and nurturing
  • Understanding this allows them to understand and accept delayed gratification, failure and success.
  • The attitudes it instills helps them increase their abilities in science, art, reading and social studies.
  • Involvement in these disciplines helps develop interaction between parents and children
  • It encourages the development of positive relationships.
  • It expands their understanding of a work ethic.

And, who knows. It might even encourage them to gripe less when they have to cut the grass or eat their vegetables.

Are you connected to Earth’s Natural Internet?


Are you connected to Earth’s Natural Internet?

By Bob Dailey

There is a fungus which grows in the soil on and around plant roots that is absolutely essential for plant health. In fact, this fungus is so important that some plant species cannot exist without it. Named mycorrhiza, which literally means “root fungus,” this organism creates a symbiotic relationship with plants. The amazing properties of this root fungus has prompted scientists to call it “Earth’s natural internet.”

If one digs into leaf mold, or into really good soil, tiny white filaments resembling spider webs can be seen spreading through the soil or leaves. This is mycorrhiza. Though deceptively small, a teaspoon of good soil can have eight or nine feet of the tiny strings.

Mycorrhizal fungi create a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, taking in minerals from the soil and delivering it to the plant, in exchange for sugars produced by the plant. Plant biologists have estimated that 95 percent of the plants investigated are either partially or completely dependent on these fungi- a testament to their importance. Orchids, for instance, are so dependent on mycorrhiza that even their seeds cannot germinate without it.

Once attached to plant roots, this fungus sends out tiny threads which extend out much further than the roots can extend.  Though they look like plant roots, these white filaments are what absorb nutrients. Since they have a great deal more range than the plant roots themselves and have significantly more surface area, they are able to find and take in significantly more water and nutrients than the plant roots can. Scientists have also discovered that mycorrhiza can store up nitrogen when it is plentiful, and then release it to the plant when there is a lack of nitrogen in the soil.  These fungi can also store water, which it releases to the plant in times of drought.

Plants that are not aided by these fungi may not be able to take up important nutrients such as phosphate or iron – which can lead to iron chlorosis or other plant deficiencies. Mycorrhiza can also play a protective role for plants in soils with high heavy metal concentrations, such as acidic or contaminated soils. These fungi are also suited for colonization of barren soils.

Soil-borne diseases (such as take-all patch and brown patch) are also serious problems for plants. Unfortunately, many residents are quick to apply fungicides at first signs of take-all or brown patch. While these fungicides will kill the bad fungi, it will also kill the mycorrhiza. A better method may be to inoculate the lawn with organic material that has high concentrations of mycorrhiza.

Studies are showing that plants colonized by mycorrhizal fungi are much more resistant to these and other diseases.  Scientists have also now determined that mycorrhizal fungi can also transport nutrients and water from plant to plant through extensive underground networks.

Operations like tilling can also kill mycorrhiza, although aeration prior to adding organic matter will do relatively little damage to it.  For floral or vegetable gardeners, many experts are recommending “no-till” methods.