Mineralizing the Earth
This article was published in the June issue of the Dirt Doctor's Dirt
All life on earth is given birth and sustained by a thin layer of soil that covers the dry lands of this planet. The quality of that thin soil layer determines the quantity and quality of the AIR we breathe, the WATER we drink and the FOOD we eat. If we let the quality of our topsoil degrade to any degree, the life it supports degrades along with it.
Fertile topsoil is made from life forms -living and decaying - in the presence of mineral rocks. The first life on earth was simple and small. Bacteria and fungi could live on rock surfaces, etch away at the rock, exude on it, and die and decompose rocks. These microscopic creatures created the first organic matter which filtered into the cracks and crevices of the rocks to form organic acids that dissolved more rock. The organic matter and rock minerals together became our first soil. The soil building process went on and on until larger, more complex plants could get a foothold. The death and decay of these higher plants built soil even faster.
Green plants collect the sun's energy and combine it with elements from the air and earth to make energy and food for still other forms of life. The living, dying and decaying of all life forms build with added interest to the soil's bank account. Once modem man intervenes, however, the balance changes. Overexposing the soil with bad tillage practices, plus the forced production of conventional agriculture using high analysis fertilizers and pesticides, seriously strain the health of the soil and the quality of the food it produces.
Modern chemical fertilizers contain no energy. The microbial life needed to process the chemicals into proper plant foods have to draw their energy from the soil organic matter and humus reserves. When the soil organic content runs low, the soluble fertilizer is not properly processed. The plants pick up the food in unbalanced ratios, causing them to become stressed, which in turn, invites pest insects and diseases to attack the plants, and then toxic pesticides are used.
Meanwhile, some of the soluble fertilizer and pesticides are leaching away to pollute surface and ground water, which sickens more life. As humus runs low and soil life dies, the soil loses vital crumb structure and proper ability to absorb water. Normal rains quickly run off carrying humus and mineral-rich topsoil with it. Exposed subsoil is quickly dried by the sun. During dry spells wind erosion takes place.
As the soil loses mineral and humus, its strength, integrity and ability to produce life with strength and integrity are also lost. But if we have the will, soil can be rebuilt. Humans have intervened to hasten the loss of topsoil. We can intervene to create new topsoil. Nature has supplied us with plenty of mineral rock through deposits such as limestone and greensand and through tectonic exposures of basalt, lava and granite. By spreading the dust and sands of these rocks where needed and by recycling and rebuilding organic matter, we can rebuild the integrity and strength of the soil.
Sources: A lifetime of growing plants, vegetables, fruit and nuts, in the field and containers. Using soil and soil-less mixes to study the effects of with and without minerals. And a constant study in the fields of agriculture, biology, botany and geology.