Why such interest in the soil?

Bloggers can become slightly obsessed by statistics. For me they help to give you an idea of the kinds of topics that readers are interested in and it’s always nice to know that more people are reading your work, but it stops at that. However, something I have found of great interest by looking at these stats is that by far and away the most popular post on thinkingcountry in the five years I have been writing blog posts is this post on soil formation, followed closely behind by this post about soil texture. They have attracted people from across the world and across a range of demographics (it still amazes me how WordPress manages to gather this information). I like to think that not everybody who is reading them is doing so for the purposes of researching for an essay but is reading because of a genuine interest in the soil.

It is soil that connects us. It feeds us. Indirectly it provides us with comfort and shelter. It is the basin of civilisation and biodiversity, for without healthy soil nothing else would live for very long. Yet, I think it is still something that we take for granted. Soil health and avoiding cultivation has become almost a cult amongst some circles of the farming community, and organic farmers have revered the soil as the central facet of what they do and how they do what they do for years. Composting is an activity in its own right and any gardener worth their salt will have an almost intimate connection with their compost heap! However, there is still so much that we don’t know about this oh so important habitat and medium. Soil biota is vast and the science is still young but there is some very interesting work being done. Not only does the soil have multiple benefits in its own right, the organisms that live in it have the potential to generate great benefit for human beings, and indeed all other animals and plants above the soil surface. Some of these benefits are only just being discovered. I read last week that a group of Polish scientists are investigating the potential for using the coelomic fluid obtained from earthworms to develop a medicine for lung cancer – incredible!

If you subscribe to Resurgence and Ecologist Magazine you will regularly read pieces that hold soil in almost spiritual or ethereal regard, from writers such as Satish Kumar or Vandana Shiva. Whilst a conversation with most no-till farmers might be somewhat more frank and less philosophical than one with a contributor to Resurgence and Ecologist I think there is still a passion there that connects the two. Both of these groups of people have gone through a process of understanding the importance of soil and of conserving soil. We continue to lose hundreds of thousands of tonnes of soil to desertification and erosion. Soil is a finite resource and we take this lightly at our peril. One thing that we can all do, assuming we have access to a garden or even a community garden, is composting – generating organic matter that can be returned to the earth. as a process it is endlessly fascinating and not only can you improve the vitality and health of your garden you will be contributing to the health of soil overall. Unfortunately that message needs to be translated on a much bigger scale, and industrial agriculture, which is rapidly spreading across the globe, eating into ‘wilderness’ areas will ultimately not help the situation, unless those in power provide radical regulation or (more favourably) those who work the land take responsibility for good soil management to avoid erosion and build up organic matter.

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