Living Soil Series: Minimize ground disturbance for better garden harvest

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Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 6:46 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -What is healthy soil? And why is it so important to sustain life?

“Soil is paramount to life on this planet. Every bite of food you eat somehow needed soil to grow and to produce food and fiber.” Tracy Robillard, a spokesperson for the Alaska Natural Resources Conservation Service, said.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture whose mission it is to improve, protect and conserve natural resources on private lands.

To understand how to care for your ground soil you have to first understand the soil web.

The "Soil Food Web" is a group of organisms living all or parts of their life in soil. The...
The "Soil Food Web" is a group of organisms living all or parts of their life in soil. The birds and animals eat the insects in the ground, who eat the micro-organisms, who eat plant matter and nutrients from the soil.(Natural Resource Conservation Service)

The soil food web is a community of organisms living all or part of their lives in soil. Meaning the plants in the soil feed the fungi and the bacteria, who are eaten by the insects, who are eaten by the birds and the animals.

The NRCS said there are four main principles for healthy living soil.

  • Minimize disturbance (avoid tilling the ground as much as possible.)
  • Maximize soil cover (by using cover crops.)
  • Maximize biodiversity (plant diversity above ground means there is diversity below ground.)
  • Maximize the presence of living roots (by keeping a living root in the soil all year round; annuals or perennials.)

Minimize Disturbance

“Minimize disturbance means we want to let that soil rest as much as possible because underneath that surface of the ground there is a thriving, living system of complex soil microbiology,” Robillard said. “So the more we can do to protect that soil and minimize the plowing and the turning it up, the more that we can allow the soil food web to do what nature intended it to do.”

Soil scientists report the world loses billions and billions of tons of good soil each year due to erosion. A huge contributor to that is tilling the land.

“We used to farm conventional tillage, we disked, we packed, we drilled grain, we just planted like everyone’s always planted,” Bryce Wrigley, owner of Wrigley Farms explained. “I started reading about some of the farms in America where they were down to one or 2% soil organic matter, and I didn’t want to wind up there.”

Bryce Wrigley has been running a no-till tractor on his family farm in Delta Junction since 2010. This tractor drops seeds into the ground with minimum soil disturbance.

“We would see these big dust clouds come boiling up as soon as the wind blew,” Wrigley said, explaining his switch to a no-till tractor. “We needed to conserve the moisture, we live in an area where we get 11 or 12 inches of precipitation a year.”

Since switching, Wrigley no longer has problems with wind erosion. He also added he has had even growth with his crop. Before using a no-till tractor he would worry about when the next rain was coming.

The NRCS says the no-till practice isn’t just for farmers - backyard gardeners can do it too.

“In agriculture and even in a small scale garden, that (means) letting your seedbeds rest, so after you harvested, give that soil a chance to rest and rotating your crops so you could plant a different crop in a different piece of the garden… over multiple years. "

Stay tuned all this week as continue our Living Soil Series and go deeper into regenerative agriculture and how you can benefit at home using the NRCS’s four principles.

For a deeper look at the Wrigley Farm, please visit our story: Regenerative Agriculture: Delta family farm hopes to address food insecurity, help the environment.

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