With poor soil health, it will be impossible to meet the constantly rising demand for food. Soil quality can be boosted organically, through the use of legumes, manures, compost material, and some planting methods.
It can also be boosted inorganically, by adding chemical fertilizers. However, this has resulted in an increased rate of production. Also, chemical fertilizer doesn’t enhance soil value eventually. It only helps the plants grow by boosting soil minerals.
And they have to be added repeatedly to uphold this standard. Therefore, improving it by employing organic matter is now a growing trend in Agriculture.
Now, agriculturists need to know how to improve soil health naturally if they want better yields. The concept of soil health, soil fertility, structure, pH, and type of soil are discussed exponentially in this article.
What is soil health?
All living things need soil for their advancement. Plants directly depend on soil for their growth while animals depend on soil, indirectly, via the food they consume for their growth.
Therefore, the potential of soil to function properly, that is, “soil health” is a great concern to everything that lives. It is the potential of soil to perform its role as a pillar for the advancement of living creatures.
This is just its peripheral meaning, there are many other definitions of the term. It is difficult to determine it without using a measure.
Therefore, agronomists and other professionals have put together some pointers that serve as a measure to determine soil quality. The Soil Health Institution declared the universal pointers of Soil health in 2017.
The pointers are categorized into physical, biological, and chemical criteria. Other pointers include color, texture, tilth, drainage, and the appearance of weed. After planting, the yield obtained also determines the soil starts.
What is organic matter?
Organic matter refers to the remains of dead plants and animals or their waste products, which have decomposed and formed a complex mixture of carbon-based compounds. Organic matter is a crucial component of healthy soil, as it provides nutrients and helps to retain moisture.
It is also an important part of the carbon cycle, as it plays a significant role in carbon sequestration and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Examples of organic matter include leaves, grass clippings, food scraps, manure, and other decomposing plant and animal materials.
Different Approaches For Effective Soil Fertility Management
Boosting the status of the soil is a useful approach to the practicable management of its fertility. Organic approaches have been propelling waves in recent years.
Soil fertility simply implies the aptitude of soil to be a favorable housing for plants and support them. This theory intends to enhance soil nutrients by maximizing agronomic activities and increasing yield.
Organic approaches include planting crops (precisely legumes), manures, cover crops, and other natural farming methods. While inorganic methods include using chemical fertilizers.
Legumes are plants having an abundance of nitrogen, and they are needed for plants to boost the soil’s well-being. Legumes undergo “Nitrogen fixation” when planted.
Nitrogen fixation is the cycle of converting nitrogen in the atmosphere to ammonia. However, not all legumes perform this task. Legumes, which draw nitrogen from the atmosphere to give off ammonia are called ” Nitrogen-fixing legumes”.
Manures are waste of animals, such as feces and urine that can be used to boost soil, organically. Humans, cows, poultry, e.t.c. produce this material through excretion. Spreading cover crops, or practicing intercropping can also boost soil.
Planting cover crops also bolster organic substances in the soil. Additionally, preventing the loss of nutrients has also been a decent approach to managing soil well-being. Loss to erosion or leaching should be prevented or avoided.
Knowing the strategies to manage soil fertility is not enough. It is also key to know that each type of soil, sandy, loamy, and clay has a unique approach that works for them to improve their status.
How to Improve Soil Health and Structure? Enrich poor soil
The configuration of soil contributes largely to its characteristics. This configuration can boost the well-being of the soil, its productivity, and health. The discussion of the ways to enrich the soil will be based on the varieties of soil and how to boost each of them.
1. Sandy Soil
This type has big particles and big pores. These pores allow indiscriminate permeability of air into the soil. It also. allow permeability of water. Therefore, sandy soil can’t conserve water and other nutrients for a long time. They are also not uniformly shaped. Some particles are big and some are small. Sandy soil is not sticky even when wet.
The unhindered permeability of air in sandy soil encourages microbial activities. These microorganisms deteriorate organic material easily. Due to these reasons, sandy soil is not suitable for planting, but it is suitable for particular plants.
To improve health of sandy soil:
- Add organic materials, droppings, or compost. (About three to four inches or its equivalent)
- Cover the plants with any part of plants, such as bark, leaves straws, e.t.c. Mulching helps water retention of soil
- Yearly, add about organic materials (about two inches)
- Plant some cover crops on the soil
2. Clay soil
Clay soil has many opposing characteristics with sandy soil. Clay soil has smaller particles and tiny pores. Its particles are closely arranged, thus water retention is facilitated. Clay soil is very vulnerable to waterlogging. When wet, clay soils are muggy and moldable.
And it becomes hard and crumbly when dried. Clay soils are not only used for agrarian purposes, they can also be used to mold various objects.
Clay soils do not allow free and unhindered permeability of air, so they have low microbial activities. Also, plants grown on clay soil find it difficult to penetrate deeply due to the hardness and compact arrangement of the soil.
Not all plants can ordinarily thrive on clay soil. However, clay soil has an abundance of minerals and will do better if it is enhanced organically.
To Improve Clay Soil:
- Add organic materials, manures, or compost materials. (about three inches to the soil)
- Always top it with a little quantity each year (about 1 pound or its equivalent)
- Grow plants on raised beds to improve the drainage system
- Reduce tillage activities on the soil
3. Silty soil
This type of soil has some advantages over sandy and clay soil. It contains rock particles and minerals in small particles. It is denser and has bigger pores compared to clay soil, but its pores are smaller when compared to sandy soil.
Silt soils also retain water for a long time and are susceptible to waterlogging. They are the growth of plants than the two types of soil mentioned above. This shows that they are the most fertile and they are rich in organic matter.
To improve silty soil:
- Top the soil with a small amount of organic matter once a year (about one inch). Focus more on the topsoil
- Reduce tillage and other activities that disturb the soil
- Use raised bed to grow crops, to facilitate drainage
4. Soil pH
This is a metric that indicates the level of hydrogen and hydroxyl in the soil. The scale for measurement pH level is number 1-14. PH of 1-6.9 indicates acidity, pH value of 7 shows neutrality while oH value of 7.1 to 14 shows alkalinity.
When hydrogen ions of the soil are higher than hydroxyl, it shows that the soil is acidic. When hydroxyl ions present in the soil are higher than hydrogen ions, it shows that the soil is basic.
When hydrogen and hydroxyl ions in the soil are in equal amounts, it shows that the soil is neutral. Soil pH level tells a lot about the quantitative and qualitative properties of the soil. A pH that is too high or too low may affect soil fertility.
5. Soil pH Tester
Adjusting the pH level of the soil is part of the approach to the management of soil fertility. However, it should be done gradually and correctly. Organically, the pH level of soil can be moderated by adding organic matter, manure, or compost material. It can also be improved by adding chemicals.
We may wonder why it is important to moderate soil pH levels. This is because most plants have a range in which they can thrive.
Most plants grow at a pH range of 6.5-6.8 and nutrients are not easily at a higher or lower pH value. Thus, the nutrients in the soil are rendered useless to the plants. And this will affect soil health and fertility.
6. Acidic soil
Although some plants grow well in acidic soil, most plants don’t. Examples of plants that grow well in acidic soil are blueberries and azaleas. A pH that is less than 6 5 is detrimental to the growth of green plants.
So there is a need to increase the pH of acidic soil so that it can become diluted and accommodating for plant growth. Environment and topography also determine the level of acid in the soil. For instance, soils in the United States are mostly acidic.
The PH value of the soil can be heightened by adding limestone and wood ash. Limestone increases the pH value gradually by adding manganese to the soil. And this helps to increase the hydroxyl ions. But wood ash produces a different effect. It is faster and more effective.
However, the excessive use of wood ash on the soil can be disastrous. So, it is recommended to measure the quantity to be added to the soil. Wood ash is better applied to the soil during winter. About two pounds of it or its equivalent should be added once every two or three years on 100 square feet of land.
- To raise the pH value of sandy soil by one point; add limestone. About three to four pounds or its equivalent for every 100 Square feet of land should do.
- To raise the pH of loam soil by one point: Add limestone. About seven to eight pounds or its equivalent for every 100 Square feet of land should do.
- To raise the pH of clay soil by one point; Add limestone. About eight to 10 pounds or its equivalent for every 100 Square feet of land should do.
7. Alkaline soil
Just like too high acid soil is bad for the soil, too much alkaline is likewise bad. Although some plants such as lavender, tomato, and cabbage thrive well in alkaline soil, most green plants don’t. Climate also plays a role in the alkaline level of the soil. In arid lands, the soil is usually alkaline.
So, if the pH value is higher than 6.8, it is important to lower the pH to accommodate most green plants. The addition of sulfur to the soil increases the pH level.
That is, the higher the sulfur in the soil, the higher the alkalinity. Also, the accumulation of materials such as sawdust, oak leaves, peat moss, and other organic acid substances will increase the amount of alkaline present in the soil.
- To drop the pH level of sandy soil by one pound; add a pound of grounded sulfur or its equivalent. (for 100 square feet of land).
- To drop the pH of sandy soil by one pound; add about two pounds of sulfur or its equivalent. (for 100 feet of land).
- To drop the pH of clay soil by one pound; add about two pounds of grounded sulfur or its equivalent. (for 100 feet of land).
Soil health and soil quality can be used interchangeably. Both terms mean the ability of soil to execute its tasks and support the growth of plants. The health pointers are categorized into three measures.
Organic approaches to practical soil management comprise planting “nitrogen-fixing legumes”, using manures, and adopting some planting methods. The different types of soil have different structures and these structures have an impact on the soil.
The pH of the soil is also a determinant of its health and fertility. Too high or too low acidity or alkaline will affect the growth of plants. So, this factor should also be monitored.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How does organic farming improve soil and water quality? What organic farmers use?
Organic farming practices prioritize the use of natural fertilizers and avoid synthetic chemicals, which helps to improve soil and water quality. Organic farmers focus on building healthy soil through practices like crop rotation, cover cropping, and composting, which enhance soil fertility and structure.
2. What type of soil is good for organic farming?
Organic farming can be successful in a variety of soil types, but certain characteristics are preferred. Well-drained soils with good water-holding capacity are beneficial for organic farming, as they promote proper root development and nutrient uptake.
Loamy soils, which have a balanced mixture of sand, silt, and clay, are often considered ideal for organic farming due to their ability to retain moisture while allowing for adequate drainage.
3. What color are soils that contain plenty of organic material?
Soils that contain plenty of organic material often have a dark or black color. The high organic content contributes to the darkening of the soil, as organic matter, such as decomposed plant and animal residues, adds rich organic compounds to the soil.
This dark color indicates the presence of nutrients and the overall fertility of the soil, making it desirable for agricultural purposes. The dark color also helps the soil retain moisture and promotes healthy plant growth.Whats