Soil in September

Last Tuesday was a ‘Soil’ themed evening at the London permaculture picturehouse, and as a result of a fabulous night, I felt inspired to blog about soil.

As a gardener I have September down in my (hypothetical) diary as a time to start focussing on soil. If nothing else, the alliteration of it makes me remember… ‘Soil in September’.  It has a nice ring to it. And, it’s lovely to spend some time reflecting on one of our most important (and most overlooked resources). I mean how often do you even look at the ground, never mind wonder what’s going on there, or care for it?! Yep, I bet not to often.

When you think about it, and learn about it, Soil is really remarkable stuff. I mean, we walk on it, build on it, and it provides much in return, such as food, clothing, and it even acts as a carbon sink.

What’s more, healthy soil is alive! Soil contains billions of micro and macro-organisms that work with each other and the plants in symbiotic relationships to provide the resources that we rely upon. They are essentially a massive army of recyclers! Breaking down matter into smaller, and smaller pieces and feeding it back to the plants.

Under our feet is a rather fragile ecosystem that like us, needs water, nutrients and air to survive. Digging and turning over soil results in a temporary increase in fertility due to the death of many of these microorganisms, most of which are uniquely adapted to their specific strata in the soil.  If dug infrequently the soil life can survive.  However, since the use of the plough, then the tractor and then finally the introduction of chemical fertilisers by military chemical companies since WWII it has been unsurprising that soil and plant health has been in serious decline.

So, as permaculturalists, September is a time to care for your soil, build raised beds (or build your garden so you don’t compact the soil). Mulch! And maybe take time to learn more about soil, and to fight for it! … I’m not joking, our soil really could do with some help – take a look at these figures (from physorg):

  • During the past 40 years nearly one-third of the world’s cropland (1.5 billion hectares) has been abandoned because of soil erosion and degradation.
  • About 2 million hectares of rain-fed and irrigated agricultural lands are lost to production every year due to severe land degradation, among other factors.
  • It takes approximately 500 years to replace 25 millimeters (1 inch) of topsoil lost to erosion. The minimal soil depth for agricultural production is 150 millimeters. From this perspective, productive fertile soil is a non-renewable, endangered ecosystem. – The Global Education Project
  • A Cornell University scientist says soil around the world is being swept and washed away 10 to 40 times faster than it’s being replenished.
  • Professor of Ecology David Pimentel says cropland the size of Indiana is lost each year, yet the Earth’s need for food and other grown products continues to soar.
  • “Soil erosion is second only to population growth as the biggest environmental problem the world faces,” said Pimentel. “Yet, the problem, which is growing ever more critical, is being ignored because who gets excited about dirt?”
  • Pimentel said 99.7 percent of human food comes from cropland, which is shrinking by nearly 37,000 square miles each year due to soil erosion, while more than 3.7 billion people are malnourished.
  • The study, which pulls together statistics on soil erosion from more than 125 sources, notes the United States is losing soil 10 times faster — and China and India are losing soil 30 to 40 times faster — than the natural replenishment rate.
  • Damage from soil erosion worldwide is estimated to be $400 billion per year.

Get’s you thinking doesn’t it?

Well, as a last bit of brain food I’ll leave you with a short video from soil guru Dr. Elaine Ingham….

Anna, MAYA Team :)