Signs of the Apocalypse: Our Disappearing Topsoil or Why We Need to Think Soil is Sexy

I love long titles for blog posts.

I find this topic actually pretty timely, the reason of which I will get to shortly.  Basically, the world has a topsoil problem, and, unless serious efforts are made to remedy it, agriculture as we currently know it could be getting much much harder in the coming decades.  Soil degradation and erosion is just a small part of larger problems in the age of industrial agriculture, but, if not addressed proactively, then it could prove to be very detrimental to future food production.

Of particular importance (found at the end of the linked article) is the fact that there are things that can be done about the loss of quality soil.  Some of them, are not all that radical, and have been practiced successfully for generations .  Others might take a bit more getting used to (like using human waste – piss and crap and all that – as fertilizer).  All around though, there are solution to this problem (as well as other agricultural problems).  Of course, the challenge is facing up to these problems and making an effort of positive change.

The timeliness of this, is in part, because in March, I am going to be teaching a class on soil health and maintenance at the South Carolina Organization for Organic Living (SCOOL) (note, the site is pretty sparse right now, hoping they build it up some more soon).  As a disclaimer, I am not a soil expert or scientist by a long shot.  But as a gardener and individual interested in sustainable practices, I have spent a good amount of time reading up on, learning about, and considering ways of taking care of soil (in South Carolina, where topsoil is almost entirely gone, this is a subject of particular importance).  I am looking forward to teaching on this subject, and while, backyard gardening soil maintenance is a world of magnitudes of difference from big agricultural soil maintenance, practices in the small can be scaled into better practices in the large.

So what do Eliza and I do for our own backyard soil?  A number of things.  first of all, we are heavy heavy mulchers, putting significant amounts of organic matter directly on the ground.  Additionally, we keep a compost pile and allow organic to breakdown, which we then apply to our garden.  Starting this past year (and gearing up again recently) we’ve begun to incorporate hugelkultur elements into our garden space, which will significantly aid in the retention of water, as well as provide additional carbon resources to the working soil.  We keep chicken, and use their poop as a phosphate additive to our composting process (we’ve also talked about adding a dovecote for pigeons, which would provide additional phosphate acclimation).  We also do some green mulching, to re-nitrate the soil.  All around, we have tried to avoid using any non-sustainable fertilizer sources, and thus far have succeeded quite well.

The is hope, we need not experience the soil-apocalypse, but it is going to take some work, and require some changing views about how we grow our food.  Here’s hoping we get it right.

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~ by Nathaniel on January 18, 2013.

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