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Soil Health Principles Part 1 – The Nature and Properties of Soils

As part of his work on this project, Buz Kloot has spent a lot of time in soil pits!

In the fall of 2013, film maker Robin “Buz” Kloot, teamed up with the Natural Resources Conservation Service on a project to share the important role soil plays in all our lives. He began with a cross-country trek to interview some of the nation’s leading researchers and experts on soil health. Over the next three years, Buz, a Research Associate Professor at the Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, took what he’d learned, and put it all into a series of short videos that break a very complex subject into easy to understand segments. We’ve shared a number of them with the On Pasture community in the past.

At the end of the 2016 season, Buz realized that there are all kinds of tools and practices that enhance soil health. Choosing what works for an individual operation comes from an understanding of basic soil health principles. So he put together a series of videos on those principles, with examples of how they can be used in different production systems.

Buz starts with pieces of information about the nature and properties of soils that we can take with us as we consider the principles that will help us be better managers. I’ve summarized his points below and added some additional On Pasture resources for further exploration. Enjoy!

Important Thoughts on Soil

If you want to go into “depth” on the nature and properties of soils, this is the book for you. It is the hallmark text on the topic and provides an integrated understanding of the diversity of soils, the soil system and it’s role in the ecology of the planet. And, On Pasture gets a small percentage of any purchase made from this link. (This is the paperback version of the latest edition.)

1. Soils vary a great deal!

As Buz points out, there are 19,000 different soil series across the U.S. alone. If you’d like to know what soil types you’re dealing with, I suggest the NRCS online Web Soil Survey. This is the largest soil data base in the world, and it’s all online so you can type in your address and find out what you’ve got and what it’s capabilities are. Here’s our most recent article with instructions for using the database.

2. Soils are 3D

They go a lot deeper than the 6″ we measure when doing a soil analysis; and what’s down there is important to our success. Editor Emeritus Rachel Gilker wrote about the deeper layers and how they develop over time.

3. One acre of soil can contain one ton of soil microbes.

Soil microbes are critical to soil function and plant health. Buz suggests learning to work with them. Here’s an article about what two Australian researchers discovered about the care and feeding of soil microbes.

4. Soil is not just a solid.

Healthy soil includes “empty spaces” or pores, where microbes live and water is stored. When soils become compacted, microbes’ homes are lost. Buz did an excellent video about a series of experiments to see which works better for reducing compaction – plants or subsoilers. Check out the On Pasture article here.

5. Soils can change based on our management.

While building new soil takes a long time, changing soil function can happen within just a few years. Over the years, we’ve written a lot about the kind of management that makes for healthy soil. Here’s just one example from Tom Krawiec describing his grazing management and what he does to feed the soil.

In Part 2, Buz shares his first principle for soil health. In the meantime, if you have questions or observations, do share them in the comments section below.

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