What is soil health? Soil health is the continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans.

What is soil health? Soil health is the continued capacity of the soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals and humans. Healthy, fully functioning soil provides an environment that sustains and nourishes plants, soil microbes and beneficial insects. Managing for soil health is one of the easiest and most effective ways to increase crop productivity and profitability while improving the environment. The four principles of soil health are 1) to disturb the soil as little as possible, 2) diversify as much as possible using crop rotation, cover crops, and livestock, 3) keep plants growing throughout the year, and 4) keep the soil covered as much as possible.

1. The soil’s natural biological cycles and structure can be disrupted through tillage, improper chemical disturbance, or excessive livestock grazing. Continuous tillage will destroy soil aggregates, compact the soil, disrupt soil pore continuity, and plant weed seeds. After minimizing the disturbance, soil aggregates will begin to form, root channels will remain continuous, and the soil microbiology will begin to thrive. Once soil aggregates begin to form and root channels remain intact, a water infiltration will begin. The increase in root channels will allow for more water to be stored within the soil.

2. The lack of diversity in cropping system will limit the soil microbiology. By limiting the types of plants being grown we are also limiting the microorganisms in the soil. Different types of plants will produce different root exudates. Microorganisms use these exudates to do the various functions that support plant growth, e.g., decompose organic matter, cycle nutrients, enhance soil structure, and control populations of soil organisms, including pests. Diversity in plant community above ground equals or indicates a diverse soil biota.

3. Keeping a living root in the ground year round will help the microorganisms in the soil thrive year round. This extra activity from the microorganisms can increase the nitrogen mineralization and immobilization. The living roots/plants will also scavenge any excess nutrients in the soil and deposit them back in the form of organic matter.

4. Keeping the soil covered will help control erosion, protect soil aggregates from the impact of rainfall, and keep the soil cool. Bare soil will typically be 20 degrees warmer than soil that is covered. The covered soil will also prevent the moisture from evaporating. At 70 F soil temperatures, 100 percent of the moisture is used for growth. At 115 F soil temperature 100 percent of the moisture is lost through evaporation. The cover on your soil will also feed the microorganisms below the soil.

Please join us on March 7 to begin a discussion on how the four principles to soil health may help you increase the fertility and productivity of your land to levels not seen since it was first farmed. We hope you will mark your calendars and plan to attend. In addition to some local speakers we will also have the regional Soil Health coordinator on hand for what we hope will be a lively discussion about what we can do here in our area. The location of the meeting is the CSU Extension office at 411 North 10th, and the time is from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration is free, however, we would like for everyone to RSVP to Caitlin Hansen with the Conservation District or Ryan Hytry with the NRCS at (719) 254-7672. Hope to see you there.