Soil ecosystems affect water, carbon in the atmosphere, the quality of fresh water, the productivity and nutritional value of crops that we eat and feed our animals and much, much more. Healthy soil is biodiverse, teeming with millions of tiny microbes that help increase the energy and fertility of the soil.
Healthy soil is a complex habitat of mineral and organic particles. The living organisms including plant roots, microbes, and larger animals. One gram of healthy soil contains 100 million to 1 billion bacteria, several thousand protozoa, and 10 to several hundred nematodes. In fact, a handful of soil can have more living organisms than there are people on this planet! As we strive to make our wild farmlands ever more sustainable and productive, we must focus on the soil.
Compost and Mulch
Compost is decomposed organic matter used as ground cover and fertilizer. Mulch is a material spread on top of the soil to conserve moisture. Mulch made from organic materials such as straw or wood chips will break down into compost. Compost and mulch are an important part of a healthy soil program, but they lose their organic fertility over time.
Cover crops crowd out weeds, improve the biodiversity of the organic matter in the soil, and mitigates compaction. By doing all this, cover crops improve the soil's water-holding capacity. What cover crop you plant to gain the most benefit depends on what crops were grown before the cover crop, and what crops will be grown afterwards.
Soil biostimulants introduce complex forms of nutrients into the soil, including carbohydrates, amino acids, organic acids, and fats. These complex sources of nutrition provide food for soil organisms and energy for the plants living in the soil with them. Biostimulants provide consumable organic matter that supports nutrient mineralization, increased root mass, and more efficient plant nutrient uptake. Continued application of soil biostimulants, typically through drip irrigation systems, increases the effectiveness of compost and mulching practices.