Soil health is getting a lot of attention and it well deserved. Do you know why? First, the most well-known and essential benefit of healthy soil is food production. Healthy soil is full of organisms that turn dead matter and minerals into vital plant nutrients. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated it another way, "A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself."
Second, healthy soils can absorb and store water, which acts as a hedge against droughts. The United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that for every 1 percent increase in organic matter in soil, results in as much as 25,000 gallons of extra water retained by the soil. Also, soil organic matter is important in the creation of soil aggregates, which improve the soil's ability to infiltrate water, resist erosion and to aid plant root growth.
Third, a soil with an active biota can act as a filter to remove contaminants from rainwater and surface water. Our soils are the largest natural filter on the planet. When water passes through soil, it is cleaned by physical, chemical and biological processes.
Lastly, a healthy soil has a variety of soil micro- and macro-organisms. These organisms are primary decomposers of organic matter. In addition, microorganisms can provide nitrogen through fixation to help growing plants, detoxify harmful chemicals (toxins), suppress disease organisms, and produce products that might stimulate plant growth. Soil microorganisms have had another direct importance for humans—they are the source of most of the antibiotic medicines we use to fight diseases.
A healthy soil is alive with organisms. A teaspoon of soil from a healthy soil, a native prairie, will contain the following microorganisms: Bacteria – up to 1 billion, Fungi – up to hundred yards of hyphae and Protozoa – several thousand. Whereas, a regularly tilled garden or farm field will contain about the same numbers of bacteria and protozoa as a healthy soil. A tilled soil will only contain several yards of fungal hyphae, which is important because fungi hyphae can be extremely important to plant root uptake of water and nutrients. In addition, healthy soils have more macro-organisms like earthworms and arthropods than tilled soils, which is valuable for the rapid breakdown of organic matter and soil infiltration.
One of the easiest ways to improve your soil's health is to keep it covered with living, deep-rooted plants. Living plant roots nourish the soil organisms as these organisms assist in feeding the plants. Not only are the living cover crop roots feeding the soil organisms, but also they growing deep into the soil. These growing roots are creating channels that will allow the next season's crop roots to grow deeper in the garden or field.Healthy soils equal healthy plants and environment.