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Soil vs Dirt

What is soil?

There is soil and there is dirt. One definition by Hans Jenny a soil scientist defines soil as a balanced combination of minerals (sand, silt, and clay), organic matter, and soil organisms also called aerobic organisms.

There is another definition of soil defined by the Green Revolution scientists initiated in the ’50s and ’60s of the past century. The agricultural scientists trained by the chemical industry define soil as sand, silt, and clay mineral including added inorganic matter and NPK fertilizer to help with nutrient supply for proper plant growth. These scientists indicate that nothing can grow in dirt unless fertilizers are applied because there is no nutrient cycling that can occur in the dirt.

Soil Ingredients

Soil consists of sand, silt, and clay. Sand and silt which are the largest particles in size do not hold water because sand and silt particles have varieties of protrusions and shapes that don’t fit collectively making the water go through spaces.

Clay particles, on the other hand, are the smallest particles in size and therefore water has problems or goes slow through them. In the case of compacted clay soil, water cannot go through at all backing up and causing paddles. Because clay particles are small, water moves slow between the elements and if it rains on clay soil, water will back up and stay above the ground.

These soil conditions are harsh for plants and microorganisms to flourish. Tilling the soil constantly to create passages for the water to keep going through is not efficient. However, if we can provide the right environment in the soil for microorganisms to live in, the tilling will become unnecessary and the nutrients in the soil will become bioavailable without the use of any kind of fertilizers. That’s how our mother earth kept resolving this issue for millions of years.

Once the soil inhabits beneficial bacteria and fungi, the microorganisms break down rocks and other particles into sand, silt, and clay. Their reason for breaking down the pebbles is to obtain nutrients and minerals they need by making acidic fungi or alkaline bacteria and that helps them to break down the sand, silt, and clay materials. During this process, the bacteria and fungi absorb released nutrients that now are available to plants for development in the form of nutrients.

Not too long ago, I was convinced that the only way to make soil produce plants is to apply lots of nitrogen, phosphate, sulfur, and other artificial nutrients. The problem with inorganic ingredients is that they will be washed out from the soil the moment it rains and it has to be added again and again to keep the plants growing; this fact is not sustainable farming.

Today, however, I understand that the key to sustainable farming and a healthy environment is to create the right biology in the soil by building soil structures balanced with organic matter and beneficial microorganisms. The great news is that it is possible to convert dirt or any soil with issues into a healthy fertile garden or farmland.

Understanding nutrients and minerals in the soil

Nutrients for the plants are available in every soil on the planet however, in order to pull nutrients from the silica layers proper biology is needed in the form of organic matter and beneficial microorganisms. There is an abundance of nutrients in the soil, however, nutrients have to become bioavailable for the plants to absorb them. Nutrients that are layered very tightly on top of another in clay colloids, which are in crystalline structure layers that are mostly made of silica.

Because the soil is densely packed, there is no passage of air or water in the layers. The nutrients will however be pulled into the silica structure because they are positively and negatively charged. Once the beneficial microorganisms surround nutrients in the soil, they will become released and bioavailable as the bacteria and fungi break down the crystalline structures of rocks into the sand, silts, and clays.

The microorganisms in the soil contribute to converting minerals into soluble forms. All forms of beneficial bacteria and fungi are necessary for the process of the nutrient cycles.

Soil Live = Nutrient Availability for the plants.

A study has been conducted by David C. Johnson of New Mexico State University-Institute for Sustainable Agricultural Research. In his research titled Soil Microbes: Their Powerful Influence in Agroecosystem, he studied the correlation between levels of nutrients available to plants and the contribution of these elements to their growth.

In the 1st Experiment, David C. Johnson concluded that regardless of available levels of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K), Organic Matter, and other elements in the soil, these components were not the playing factors of plant growth.

Instead, the balanced ratio between Fungi & Bacteria was a significant factor in plant growth.

In the 2nd Experiment, an assessment of applied compost (biomass) has been conducted, and it confirmed the observation from the 1st experiment. The “New Soil Carbon” became the significant factor in influencing the ratio between Fungi & Bacteria.

In the 3rd Experiment, the tracking of carbon, carbon partition, nitrogen, and respiration of the homogenous source (compost) has been conducted.

All 3 experiments concluded that carbon partitioning and plant growth are correlated when the proper ratio of Fungi to Bacteria is present. The respiration of soil and the partitioning of carbon into plants is strongly influenced by soil microbe community population and structure.

Source: Dr. David Johnson NMSU

Soil with a beneficial microbial population and organic matter will create an environment resulting in clean drinkable water. Whereas, dirt that is deprived of microorganisms and that contains inorganic matter and NPK fertilizer contributes to soil problems where water cannot become the drinking source.

Clean water from balanced by fungi and bacteria soil

When it rains, because of the build soil structure by the microorganisms, nutrients are held in the soil as microbes create walls for the water to build up to keep nutrients and organic matter in the soil. As a result, water is retained and cleansed moving slowly through the soil. What comes at the end is filtrated water that we can drink.

No drinking water from dirt

Sand, silt, and clay particles in the dirt are without structure because there are no microorganisms in the dirt. Water from rainfall cannot be held in the dirt as it moves quickly through the soil. Consequently, leaching, erosion, and runoff occur. Where heavy clay compaction is present, water is going to back up and stay above the surface. Water also travels sideways or down the hill causing erosion and nutrient is lots. We cannot drink water coming from water running through the dirt.

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