By the Greenville County Soil & Water Conservation District
In a world that has lost about one third of its topsoil, it is important to remember that we owe our existence to it. If you study history, you will find that civilizations around the world have crumbled by mismanaging their natural resources – most notably, soil and water. In fact, it was the 1930s Dust Bowl that sent American officials scrambling for solutions to our land use problems. The silver lining of that very dusty cloud was the creation of the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS). NRCS helps farmers adopt conservation practices that both protect the environment and improve their agricultural operations.
What does soil do for us? Well, ninety-five percent of our food comes from the soil, but that is not all. Soil is home to a quarter of our planet’s biodiversity. Shockingly, there are more organisms in one tablespoon of healthy soil than there are people on Earth. These organisms are essential for food security and nutrition; they feed the food that feeds us.
While keeping us fed is reason enough to become a soil advocate, that is not the only function we rely on. Soil protects communities by storing water, which not only reduces flooding during heavy storms, but also keeps things green during times of drought. This natural “storage” system also filters water, replenishing our groundwater and keeping pollutants out of rivers, lakes, and streams. Likewise, soil sequesters (or stores) carbon, which helps keep carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – out of the atmosphere.
What can you do to protect our soil? Start by following the four soil health principles in your own backyard.
- Diversity is key
Plant a diverse range of grasses, plants, and trees to increase diversity in the soil. A quarter of the planet’s biodiversity lives there – and we have to keep all of their appetites in mind. Don’t know where to start? Consider adding native plants like Black-eyed Susans or Coneflowers to your yard.
- Please don’t disturb
Disturb your soil as little as possible. Every time we disturb the topsoil, it loses vital nutrients, as well as its ability to store water and carbon. If you are a gardener, consider going no-till. Likewise, avoid adding yard chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides.
- Keep things growing
Keep living roots in the soil year-round. Cover crops like Austrian Winter Peas and Crimson Clover are your soil’s best friends. They help keep your soil in place while also suppressing weeds and “feeding” the soil with nutrients.
- Keep it covered
Just like humans need protection from the sun during summer months and warm clothes during winter ones, soil needs to be protected from the elements. Bare soil is often carried away by wind and stormwater. Keep it covered with native plants to keep it in place. In shady areas where plants won’t grow, spread three to four inches of mulch.
The Greenville County Soil & Water Conservation District helps residents protect and preserve natural resources. If you have a stormwater or soil erosion issue, we can help. To contact us or learn more our work, visit www.greenvillesoilandwater.com.