It’s spring. The birds are singing, the plants are growing, and at garden stores across the nations there is a run on potting soil and other soil amendments. Everyone is heading out to buy soil.
I confess to buying soil upon occasion, but I also consider soil to be the ultimate do it yourself project. Creating soil is one of the joys of being a gardener. Or rather, inviting the microorganisms, worms, and other soil critters to create your soil is one of the joys, as you’ll rarely see me out in the garden actually making the stuff.
Why create your own soil? Well, it’s a sight better than relying on artificial props to sustain your garden. The fertilizer industry is one that has a nasty energy footprint. In our current system of industrial agriculture, we use three calories of energy to create one calorie of food. How is that efficient? Granted, we can’t eat sunshine like the plants do, but there are efficiencies to be found and many of them lie in creating food using natural processes instead of industrial ones. Nearly half of the energy used to grow food is expended to create fertilizers and pesticides that we spray on our food crops. Energy-wise, this is equivalent to pouring just over five gallons of fuel on each acre of cropland.
Healthy soil can actually act as a carbon sink. Techniques like no-till farming, mulching, and cover crops. Soil is made up of gradually decomposing materials, so it would appear that it would emit more carbon than it contains. While some of the material in top soil decomposes quickly and releases carbon dioxide, much of it also turns into modified carbon that decomposes slowly over time. The key is to keep the carbon in the soil for as long as possible, and that’s what healthy amended soil does. This is the soil with decomposing plants in it, like mulches and all sorts of carbon-rich soil builders.
How do you create healthy soil that will invigorate your garden and sequester carbon too? Use soil amendments if you need to, but make these local and natural. Those who live near farms can use aged manure, while those who live near the ocean can use kelp. Our food scraps can and should turn back into valuable soil as well. Some people place these directly in the garden while others use a worm bin or a garden composter. Whatever the technique, compost adds an immense number of valuable micro-nutrients and microorganisms to the soil.
Regenerative agriculture treats farming and soil as the foundational and life-sustaining activities that they really are. Enough of treating our farmers like lower-class citizens who need to produce products that are cheap and just good enough. Honoring our soil honors the human, animal and plant life on our planet, and it’s good for the atmosphere as well.