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The Easiest Way to Tell if You Have Healthy Soil

The Easiest Way to Tell if You Have Healthy Soil

As every good organic gardener knows, healthy plants need healthy, living soils. In fact, one acre of soil can contain as much as 40 tons of life — all working together to maintain what’s known as a soil food web.

So how do you tell how healthy and happy your soil is? Well, you look at it.

In this short video from the always entertaining Growing Your Greens, John Kohler explains what to look for as you dig into your soil. From earth worms to fungi, there’s plenty of visible animal and plant activity you can see that should serve as an indicator of a healthy, living soil. Besides the worms and the fungi, I might add that color and structure can tell you an awful lot.

The darker your soil, generally speaking, the more organic matter it is likely to contain. And if you pull up a plant, the roots are well-spread out, and the soil comes crumbling away—then you are doing something right. If the soil comes up in hard clumps and/or the roots are stunted, you may have a problem. (You can also look for water gathering on the soil surface as a sign of compaction.)

Just pulled up some soil and it’s not looking good? Never fear. From no-dig gardening to extensive composting, there are plenty of ways to bring soil back to life.

If they can green an arid, salty desert, then you can revive an abused or neglected backyard plot.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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2:54AM PST on Jan 8, 2014


8:25PM PST on Jan 5, 2014

After years of back-breaking toil in ground ravaged by the effects of man-made growing systems, Paul Gautschi has discovered a taste of what God intended for mankind in the garden of Eden. Some of the vital issues facing agriculture today include soil preparation, fertilization, irrigation, weed control, pest control, crop rotation, and pH issues. None of these issues exist in the unaltered state of nature or in Paul’s gardens and orchards.

“Back to Eden” invites you to take a walk with Paul as he teaches you sustainable organic growing methods that are capable of being implemented in diverse climates around the world.

3:14AM PST on Jan 5, 2014

i have good soil, but there is work involved. raised beds, add composed chicken manuer from my years, every fall, etc.
last year i took a challenge to grow 300 pounds of food in my yard. i made 308!, next year, i am going for 400.

9:46AM PST on Jan 4, 2014

Thank you TreeHugger, for Sharing this!

9:29AM PST on Jan 4, 2014

Good information. Having worked with an organic gardener in N. Mexico made me much more aware of the need for good soil composition and everything you shared was right on cue.

11:40PM PST on Jan 3, 2014

The healthiest soils are those that have never been sprayed with glyphosate,which contrary to the misleading lies regarding its alleged "safety"is actually a killer of all that is good in the top layer of the soil! It is frightening to think that billions of tons of this poison have been dumped all over the planet,because it was convenient!No more hand weeding,but look at the legacy left for future generations!What an abomination! I stopped buying "Round Up"decades ago,because enlightened organic experts saw through the "spin"and lies!

9:50PM PST on Jan 2, 2014

Thanks for the the food chain from the bottom up..not from the top down.

8:55PM PST on Jan 2, 2014

Thanks for the article, info and video.

7:29PM PST on Jan 2, 2014

I live in Florida, land of sand. Because of the heat you have to keep adding organic material to your soil as it breaks down quickly here. You also have to be careful where you get that material. In my old home I used to go around collecting leaves from everyone else as my yard had no trees when I moved there and so no leaves. It made great compost, but was often full of bugs and fire ants, something no one needs more of here. I can't tell you the number of times I stuck my hand into a compost pile and came up with fire ants. Ouch! By the way, white vinegar takes the fire out of the bites. My current home is on a pine barren. It is called that for a reason, cause pines and palmetoes are all that grow there. I am gradually amending the soil with leaves from the trees I planted, potash from my burn pile, and chicken and horse manure. I raise the chickens, my neighbor the horses. I have 2.7 acres to work with. Chickens make wonderful palmetoe distroyers, they love to eat them and dig around them and eventually they die cause they have no more green. They have roots that go way down. When they die, the little roots rot and the big root comes out of the ground easier. It may take a long time, but we will slowly improve the soil here. I will leave some palmetoes, as they look tropical. But we don't need all we have. The pines are mostly long leaf and we have planted oaks and maples and a winged elm.

7:22PM PST on Jan 2, 2014


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