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The Dirt on soil! Soil isn't Dirt!

Nov 18

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11/18/2013 9:00 AM  RssIcon

Consider this. When you look out of a window onto the landscape what do you notice? What do you contemplate? A forest. A meadow. A field. Plants! Then, of course, there’s the sky, and perhaps a water feature like a stream, river, or lake back-dropped by a majestic rock outcropping or mountain. But hey, did you consider the soil? Probably not, and you wouldn't be alone.

We take soil, and what it does for us, for granted. In fact, we’re more likely to refer to soil as dirt, and that’s where our problem with appreciating soil begins. Dirt by definition is something worthless or filthy, associated with corruption, scandalous or embarrassing. To be clear from the outset, dirt is vastly different from soil, and, you should do your best from here on to remember the following important distinction.

Dirt is the stuff that your noisy neighbor likes to dig up on you. Dirt is the stuff that inhabits the nooks and crannies of your wall-to-wall carpeting. Dirt is the stuff that overflows from your vacuum cleaner. Dirt is also on the bottom of your feet, your shoes, your clothes, the kids, the dog, the cat, the car, and…. Well, you get the idea. That’s dirt.

Soil on the other hand is the most complex biomaterial on the planet. Yes, that’s right, the most complex biological material on the planet. Soil is a dynamic three-dimensional “living” body that sustains life on Earth. Quite simply, without soil, our species, and the vast majority of others on planet Earth, would not be here. Soil is a treasure! A magical alchemy of biotic and abiotic components integrated in a self-regulating planetary skin that is intimately entwined with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere. Soil is as much alive as we are.

A handful of living soil can contain billions of microscopic organisms performing complex biochemical functions essential to our survival. Certainly we depend upon soil to produce food and fiber, but equally important, we depend upon soil to filter and purify our water, detoxify and degrade our wastes, recycle and store nutrients, clean our air, and be a building material.

Civilizations throughout human history have risen and fallen purely on how they treated soil. WE are soil. We are the made of the same essential elements. How we treat soil is a reflection of how we treat ourselves, and should be considerable food for thought.

In the coming months I will focus on the physical, chemical, and biological properties of soil, how soil is formed, how soil is classified, how soil is managed, and how you can employ best management practices in your landscape to sustain the viability of our living soil resources.

Now go outside and give some thought to all that’s happening in the ground beneath your feet.

And remember, soil isn’t dirt. Soil sustains life!



*Credits to the WMEarthcare and Stephen Andrews.


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