Not Just Dirt

It came to my attention recently that a lot of people do not understand the importance of healthy soil. This article attempts to explain the importance of soil health for plants and people.

People are very concerned about pests and disease in their garden — slugs, caterpillars, moths and numerous other critters that seem to make a scrumptious meal out of the fruits and vegetables so lovingly tended in back yards; molds and fungus that inexplicably appear on otherwise healthy looking plants.

What we have to understand is that pests and disease are symptoms. Just as a sore on your skin is only a symptom of a deeper, underlying issue, pests and disease are signs of unhealthy plants — the plant’s natural ‘immune system’ is unable to fight them off. So if we look at things holistically, as we do when approaching disease in our own bodies with natural medicine, we have to look at the cause. Squashing or spraying bugs is ultimately only a band aid solution.

Soil collapse

Dead soils — the result of industrialised agriculture

The cause of unhealthy plants (even if they look healthy, but are still attacked by pests and/or disease) will be in the soil. The soil is a complex system of minerals, elements and micro-organisms that supplies plants with all the nutrition it needs — that is, if the soil is healthy enough itself. Pesticide spraying is detrimental to soil health, it does not just kill the pests on the plants, but also kills micro-organisms and locks up minerals and elements in the soil that are vital to health and nutrition of plants. Over-cropping, over-grazing and not enough diversity initially cause soil imbalance. We then create a vicious cycle. We fertilise to try and increase yield, which locks up minerals and elements in the soil. The soil becomes more imbalanced, which in turn makes the plants more susceptible to pests and disease. We then start spraying pesticide, herbicide and fungicide which in turn makes the soil even more imbalanced!

This is where the world at large is at now, spraying more and more unnatural pesticides, herbicides and fungicides and having to add more and more artificial fertiliser to try and still get a yield from a soil where the biology has mostly been destroyed. Soil is now getting so depleted that eventually it will ‘collapse’, meaning no minerals, elements or bio-organisms are present anymore, or they are locked up in the soil and not available to any plant life.

Healthy plants in healthy soil

Healthy soil makes healthy plants in a diverse, biologically wealthy garden

Focusing on soil health and bio-diversity will produce a healthy, natural and diverse environment, with healthy plants. Healthy plants receive proper nutrition from healthy soil and do not attract pests, and will contain loads of vitamins and minerals to keep us healthy. We all know by now that our conventionally grown foods are extremely low in nutritional value, but even most organic foods are still not up to scratch nutritionally. We have depleted our soil so much over the past hundred years or so, that we need to start focusing on its health again, before it is too late and we are too sick to be able to.

The Permaculture Research Institute Sunshine Coast will be running a Sustainable Soil Management course, taught by Paul Taylor, from 8 – 12 October. Learn how to increase your soil fertility and its health! To book call (07) 5485 4664 or email info [at] (replace [at] with @ in email address). You can also book online here.

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2 thoughts on “Not Just Dirt

  1. Just sit through a Master Gardener class on soils with a good instructor and you will never buy a bag of commercial chemical based fertilizer again.
    After info on the breakdown of healthy soil and what ot dieas for veggies will convince anyone not in the mindset of bug agribusiness.
    Home compost system in the yard and worms on the porch, let nature take over.

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