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Updated: Jun 8, 2018

In preparation for the upcoming Urban Gardening Course, I’ve been looking over my archives and going down memory lane with some of the research that shifted my attitude and understanding of soil.

Soil base rock with lichens
Lichens on rock, Soil at phase 1

One of the most transformational pieces of information I’ve ever read on soil was this definition of what soil is:

· A thin and fragile layer that covers the earth,

· It contains and supports life,

· It’s stratified and develops overtime.

Up until then all I had read and heard about soil was that it’s a inert medium that anchors plants and if one had enough nutrients in the form of fertilizers, it would be enough to support plant life.

Fallen autumn leaves
Autumn leaves on soil where the top soil has degraded.

It’s fragile.

According to an article by the Scientific American magazine, it takes 1000 years to generate 3 cm of top soil and if the current rate of soil degradation continues then the world’s top soil could be gone in 60 years. Although some say it’s just top soil doomsday stories, it would be unwise not to pay attention to how we treat this precious resource.

For those of us who don’t know what top soil is, remember the definition above where it says soil is stratified, that means it’s layered. Top soil is the good stuff that is full of nutrients, water and a home to many soil-dwelling beings. In natural and undisturbed soils, top soil accounts for approximately the first 20 cm. Nowadays, it’s rare to find this much topsoil in the garden and should consider yourself very lucky if you have even half of this.

There are many factors that contribute to soil degradation; chemical-heavy agriculture is among the top causes.

soil fungi, mushrooms, okitchengardens
Mushrooms are the fruit of the microorganism - fungi - which is useful for harvesting minerals from rocks, such as phosphorus (for plants and other organisms).

It contains and supports life.

It’s easy to think of our gardens just in terms of the plants, because after all, they are the biggest inhabitants of the space and we have a direct interaction with them through their fruit, flower and foliage. What we see however is just a physical manifestation of the work that happens down below, in the soil. Soil is home to billions of microorganisms whose variety and interactions determine amongst others the health of our plants and the quality of our food. In exchange for carbohydrates and sugars provided through plant roots, they provide plants with some of the most essential services including:

  • Assisting with Photosynthesis (the miracle of how plants eat);

  • Breaking down complex substances in the soil and making them available to plants in a form they can digest; and

  • Protecting plants from pests and diseases.

Scientists say that there are more microorganisms in one teaspoon of soil than there are people on the planet!

SO, it’s not a man’s world after all.

Homemade compost

Harness its power.

You are probably thinking, “sadly my soil is not that amazing”. Here are some things we can do to improve the condition of the soil in our gardens:

Definitely discontinue the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Though these may work brilliantly in the short term in the long run they slowly diminish the populations of microorganisms in the soil eventually rendering it barren and completely dependent on these substances.

Incorporate compost in to the soil at the turn of every season.

Compost is a great way of inoculating the soil with microorganisms.

Always make sure that the soil is covered with a layer of mulch.

This will help create a hospitable environment for these soil-dwelling beings.

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