When we hear soil, we might think of the ground we walk on. But what makes soil different from dirt?
Dirt is inert (dead), composed of broken down rock, sand, and clay.
Soil, on the other hand, is ALIVE! Soil is home to millions of living organisms: earthworms, nematodes, mites, insects, fungi and bacteria. Not only is soil home to living organisms, but decomposing plant and animal matter also contribute to healthy, fertile soils. Soil is a living ecosystem. It is estimated that one gram of soil contains one million fungi, and one billion bacteria. Of those one billion bacteria, estimates are that a mere 0.5% of soil bacteria have even been discovered or identified to date.
We spoke with Christine Gust of Soil Transformations about the complexity and immeasurable value of fertile soil. Christine, a Certified Lab Technician for the Soil Food Web School and self-proclaimed ‘Microbe Ambassador’, explains that rather than just a static medium for growing plants, soil is a dynamic system. Relating soil to the human body, Christine explains that the soil can be healthy one day, but can become sick or out of balance due to viruses and bacteria another day. But there are also healthy bacteria that exist in the soil, and through natural processes, a balance is eventually restored.
What we are now understanding is that it is the soil food web -the community of organisms that live in the soil- that transform materials (dead plants and animals, rocks, minerals, water) into nutrients for plants to feed on. They are the critical link. A healthy soil food web provides protection against pests, diseases, drought, and flooding. Learn more about the soil food web here.
Soil is the skin of our Earth that we rely on for the production of crops to feed the 8 billion of us. We also rely on it for the production of fiber, fuel, and structures. Alongside water and air, soil is one of the most important and valuable natural resources we have.
To learn more about the intricate relationship between soil and agriculture, continue reading in Soil Series Part 2: Soil: The Foundation of Food