What do we want from our soil?

General Discussion

Hi everyone, there's a great article about soil written by some of our GROW Scientists that I thought you might enjoy. It answers lots of interesting questions like:

  • What's the difference between soil texture and soil structure?

  • What's organic matter all about? What practices can improve organic matter content in soil or destroy it?!

  • Is it better to create homogeneous soils (the same over large areas) or heterogeneous (more varied) ones?

  • Does adding manure, or using pesticides on your crops, influence the soil biota (things living in the soil)?

What do you want from your soil?
How do you balance food-growing needs with other environmental or ecological benefits?

:) Naomi


Very nice series of articles. Thanks for the link.

What I want from my soil is healthy food production. Some of that is from crops, some from livestock.

For me there isn't a trade off between food production and environmental/ecological needs. I feel that my job as a food producer is to find ways to do that that build soil health without stripping resources from somewhere else. I'm not there yet, but I'm now taking a more scientific approach to determining what methods are best where I am.

Reply — Last edited

Hi Alan,

glad you enjoyed them.

I agree that building soil health whilst maintaining healthy ecosystems and getting a harvest is a key goal.

It can be very hard to achieve though as, of course, harvesting a crop removes nutrients and organic matter from the immediate ecosystem. Indeed, replenishing nutrients for crop-growth has been a key objective of main-stream farming for many years. Artificial fertilisers that are refined from mineral-based sources have been a big game-changer for many farmers. However, we are starting to understand the negative sides of this.

People are looking again at more traditional approaches like crop rotation, crop mixing and cover-crops, especially those which fix nitrogen and/or help maintain ground cover over winter/fallow periods.

There's also the consideration of where we get our resources - can we use 'waste' products from nearby to replace the fertility lost when we harvest?

I'd really love to hear about what everyone is doing! What's your 'cycle' where do you nutrients come from and how do you encourage them to remain in your food-growing ecosystem?

: ) Naomi

At this point on my little farm most of my nutrients come from what I produce. I do import a few things. Hay for my goats for the 3.5 months of winter when there is no standing forage. Bedding for the goat barn and chicken coop. Wood chips as mulch in my perennial beds. Feed for the chickens, They free range in the pasture with the goats in the summer, so I feed very little then, but I have to import all their feed for about 4 months. I also import a bit of dolimitic lime to keep my pH right in the garden. All the kitchen scraps, weeds, and yard waste gets processed by the chickens and goats, and then whats left gets composted with the chicken bedding. In the gardens I do a bit of cover cropping, and lots of deep mulching with bedding from the goat barn. So far this system works pretty well, but I don't have detailed test numbers to support my observations. I know we flush some nutrients down the toilet. (I'm working on a system like the one Anna Eddy describes in her book "Solviva", but I haven't gotten it implemented yet. I'm also trying to find a better way to produce winter feed for my goats and more of the feed my chickens need.