There is an entire universe beneath our feet. It is vast and unfathomably complex. In a small scoop of healthy soil, there are more organisms than the number of people who have ever lived on the Earth. More than 8 linear miles of mycelial cells packed into a cubic inch. Healthy soil is alive and booming with diversity. Protozoa, actinomycetes, archaea. Nematodes, springtails, ants, earthworms, mites. This is how it should be, and this is how it was until our influence took over.
The organisms in the soil process organic matter and transform the nutrients into a form that the plants can use. However, today much of our soil is dead. The broken down aggregates and nonexistent bacteria in the cracked, chalky dirt have been starved of diverse life and bathed in chemicals and inputs for years. There is nothing to hold the rain, so instead there are devastating floods. CO2 is released instead of being captured by plants and stored in the ground. There are little nutrients left for the crops, resulting in less nutritionally dense food for our families. Diseases and pests thrive.
But we are recognizing our mistakes, taking ownership, and attempting to reverse the damage. Everyone can help - this global regeneration project does not require an advanced degree in microbiology or a lifetime dedicated to studying fungi in old growth forests. We have to recognize the serious threat to our species of losing our remaining topsoil, and take action to counter the damage we have done.
The easiest thing to do is to simply leave things alone. Let the Earth breathe and worry less about aesthetics. It’s important to keep the ground covered - this means stop raking leaves and use plant waste as mulch. This will help reintroduce organic matter and reduce evaporation and erosion. It will also lower the surface temperature of the soil, which will help maintain optimum conditions for the delicate microbes that begin to die when the group is too hot.
Another way to help is by disturbing the ground less. This means trying to plant in a way that requires less tilling or digging. Undisturbed soil will hold more water, and encourage the continued growth of microbes. As a result, plants will grow stronger.
When possible, try to always have a living root in the soil. In yards this can be done by selecting native, hardy perennials with deep root systems. For farmers this can mean crop rotation and cover cropping. These tactics will increase the organic matter in the soil, add diversity, increase nutrient cycling, reduce disease and pests, among other benefits. As roots break off and are left in the soil to decompose, they build the top soil that we so badly need.
To ensure a healthy future for our Earth and our species, we must find ways to rebuild and support the world underground. It can feel overwhelming to recognize just how far reaching our destruction spans, but we can make change. We can feed ourselves in a way that does not destroy the ecology that we depend upon for our food. Plants are powerful, and they can help us ensure a better future.
Protecting Our Earth Moving Forward
What do you do to rebuild the ground beneath your feet? We want to hear it! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories, or any questions regarding this article.