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What is Healthy Soil?

Earthworms are an excellent indicator of healthy soil. Photo, Sippakorn Yamkasikorn, Pexels
Earthworms are an excellent indicator of healthy soil. Photo, Sippakorn Yamkasikorn, Pexels

Dirt and soil are NOT the same thing. Dirt is a lifeless mixture of minerals, air, and water. Soil includes minerals and air, as well as animals and other living things, and eventually their waste and/or decaying bodies. 

Healthy soil:

• Is loose, friable, and well-drained
• Is approximately 45% minerals, 25% water, 25% air and 5% organic matter
• Has good structure and texture, plenty of nutrients and a pH between 5.5 and 7.5
• Has large numbers and types of organisms 

The living component of soil is referred to as the soil food web and includes microscopic bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa; more complex life forms like nematodes and micro-arthropods, and visible creatures such as earthworms, insects, and small vertebrates. 


The main factors that impact the health of the soil are:

Soil structure and texture 
Soil chemistry 
• Organic matter content
Soil biology 
• Water infiltration, retention, and movement

Healthy soil has a good combination of all these factors;  unhealthy soil has a problem with at least one of them. 


What does healthy soil do?

• Cycles nutrients, making them available to plants
• Provides a healthy rooting environment
• Creates habitat for diverse plants, animals, and microbes living in and above the soil
• Minimizes leaching of nutrients into ground and surface water
• Minimizes run-off and erosion
• Maximizes water-holding capacity so water enters the soil and is available for plant growth
• Absorbs and filters excess nutrients, and pollutants so water does not carry contaminants to groundwater or surface water
• Provides a stable foundation for structures


Do you have healthy soil? 

There are many indicators of healthy soil:
• Productive, good-looking plants 
• Earthworms 
• Water that penetrates easily 
• Soil that is easy to work  

To better understand what’s happening beneath your feet, Get to Know Your Soil!