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Show me a bare soil in nature

In natural systems, it’s very rare to see bare soil. Soils are usually covered by a canopy, and sometimes by a layer of residue. This cover, whether canopy or the residue, protects the soil. It keeps it cool in the summer and a little bit warmer in the winter. It also provides protection from the impact of raindrops or wind, and therefore reduces its erodibility.

Soil cover for microbes

A covered soil is also a fed soil. Plants feed the soil life. They feed the soil microorganisms through root exudates; these are mainly sugars (carbohydrates) that they get through photosynthesis, and through dead residues, which feeds the soil microbes through decomposition. If you find a place where plant litter has been left for a year or two and look underneath that cover, you’ll see an absolutely amazing soil biological diversity.

When nature is disturbed she makes plans to cover up

Now there are times where natural systems are uncovered for a while, maybe through a disturbance event like a flood or fire, but immediately thereafter, the first thing that you’re going to see is the growth of pioneer plants.  Mother Nature does not like to be uncovered and so she uses plants to cover her wounds. In agriculture, it is often weeds which cover up bare soil. Soil health expert Ray Archuleta likes to say that weeds are the ambulance workers, or the coatings, of the land, and I couldn’t agree with him more.

The ultimate end goal

Keeping the soil covered is important for soil conservation. The abundance and diversity of food for soil organisms is what determines a soil’s natural productivity. If you increase the soil’s natural productivity, you will reduce synthetic inputs such as fertilisers and herbicides. This directly translates to money in your pocket.

Interesting reading:

Plants, the root of your profit

Thriving soil ecosystems

Why care about all these little bugs in the soil?

Portia Phohlo

Portia is a Trace and Save researcher and has been part of the team that works on the Woodlands Dairy sustainability project for the past 4 years. She studied B.Sc in Agriculture where she majored in crop and soil science at the University of Fort Hare. She went on to do her honors and master’s degree in soil science at the University of the Free State. She is very passionate about soil health and soil microbiology and believes that applying soil health principles will rehabilitate degraded soils.

In her free time, Portia loves catching up on House of Cards and The Walking Dead series. The latter she says she finds it fascinating how a dead decomposed organic material can still be conscious, this actually breaks all rules of microbiology according to her. When she’s not watching that, she enjoys watching motivational videos from Ted, especially ones by her idols Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Brene Brown.
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Portia Phohlo

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