Soil restoration is the process of mending the structure, nutrient level, and viability of your soil. Even though a lot of soil deficiencies are caused by human practices, such as conventional farming, we can reverse the consequences greatly by observing a few basics.
- Increasing Microbial Activity
- Cover Crops
- Plant Diversity
- Regenerative Grazing
- Reducing The Use of Chemicals
- Avoiding Tillage
Increasing Microbial Activity
Did you know that 95 percent of life on land resides in soil? They are called microbes. Most of the energy for this world beneath our feet comes from plant carbon. One of the richest of these sources is extracts, or ‘juice’, from living roots. In exchange for the ‘carbon juice’ from these roots, microbes fuel the availability of the minerals and trace elements required to maintain the health of their plant hosts. Another benefit of microbes is that they help with soil structure, resulting in less erosion and compaction.
Many of today’s farming methods have damaged the soil microbial communities. This creates negative effects such as reducing the potential of the land and the profitability of farming. Following are ways to increase microbial activity and restore your soil to living wellness.
If you can see bare soil, it is losing carbon. We should always be looking for ways to keep the soil covered and alive. Think of cover crops as the grocery store for your microscopic living microbes, giving them energy to dig and wiggle down into the depth of the murky earth. Their burrowing helps prevent waterlogged or compacted soils. Cover crops are also beneficial in preventing erosion and creating drought resistance.
Every plant has its own unique blend of root extrudes “carbon juice” and attracts its own type of microbes. The greater the variety of plants, the greater the variety of microbes and the hardier the soil becomes. Plant a cocktail of species; your microbes will love you for it. A diversity of plants also promotes a variety of insects, preventing any one pest from taking over. This reduces the need for insecticides.
The height you cut your cover crops is very important to soil restoration. When you remove 90% of the plant in a single cut, 100% of the roots stop growing for 17 days. At 70% removed, 50% of the roots stop growing for 17 days. Roots do not stop growing when only 50% or less of the plant is removed in a single cut. Remember, live roots = carbon juice = microbe communities = vibrant soil.
Reducing The Use of Chemicals
No amount of chemicals or fertilizers can rejuvenate compacted, lifeless soil. It can actually make things worse. Chemicals result in bad soil structure and less nutrient dense food. It has also been proven that the use of nitrogen fertilizers on waterlogged or compacted soil causes nitrous oxide, also called laughing gas. If your soil is not alive and receptive, even well-meaning fertilizer will do no good. So first, liven your soil.
Tilling may seem to be a band aid for soil problems created by lack of deep-rooted nutrients, but repeated or aggressive tillage leads to opportunity for more erosion. It also depletes the soil nutrients by stirring up a short-term flush but causing long term depletion. A deep till destroys your highly beneficial microbes leading to dead soil. No Till Drills can be used to prevent this. Shallow cultivation of 3”-8” may be beneficial in some situations though.
By putting some of these regenerative practices to work, you can get your soil to take care of itself. Restoring your soil doesn’t have to be complicated- just focus on keeping your microbes wiggling.