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Soil Health

Where does our food come from?

Soil health has an eventual impact on our health because it is the most basic foundation of the planet's web of life, and humans are the ultimate top of the food chain. If the soil has less nutritive value, fruits and vegetables produced in it will have less nutritive value. Overall soil quality has diminished as a result of large-scale single crop agriculture that employs chemically derived fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Natural soil is alive with bacteria, fungi, insects and other organisms that coexist and have balanced food chain roles, which result in the creation of a rich growing environment for plants. When plant nutrients are bound with chemically derived salts, the plants take up the nutrients and leave the salts behind to make the soil toxic to beneficial organisms in it. It in essence becomes dead. Herbicides and pesticides destroy helpful organisms on plants and in the soil, as well as the pests. The pests and weeds become resistant to the chemicals, which are repeatedly applied, so ironically, they become the only things that can survive in the lifeless soil. Wind and rain remove the topsoil year after year and diminish the amount of biomass that previously existed. It is shown that chemical runoff from major agricultural areas, has poisoned large river systems such as the Mississippi. Conversely, undisturbed, healthy forests have some of the richest soils that can be found.

How Soil Developed / The Biologic Cycle & Biotic Community

The long-term evolution of life on earth (3.5 billion years) has created a delicate balance of coexisting organisms. Larger, more complicated organisms depend on smaller organisms and plants for food. Larger numbers of these smaller organisms are required to sustain the lives of the larger organisms. Plus, the population of food source organisms must be large enough to reproduce as well as feed the predator pool. With each consecutive group of organisms down the food chain, a larger number of those being eaten is required. There is a balance where species survival is protected, and you can see a pyramid model of critter interdependancy. It is a finely tuned cycle of birth and consumption. Living soil is made up of many organisms and materials. There are as many as six horizons of soil: [illuvial zone] of bedrock; unconsolidated parent rock material; accumulated weathered rock products (clays, silica, silicates, carbonates, oxides, aluminum, iron, humus material and salts like gypsum); [eluvial zone] leaching zone; mixed leached minerals with high organic matter content; [above soil surface] organic litter (undecomposed, decomposing and humus).

The Rot

Dead, decaying matter that smells bad isn't dead and dying. The decomposition process is one of life and recycling organic matter. Death is meal time for many things.

Primary Consumers (eat organic residues)

Earthworms (Lumbricus terrestris)-They are burrowing, tunneling, eaters of non-living organic materal. They aerate and enrich the soil. They are responsible for the concentrating of nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium, as well as bacteria and enzymes in their casts (feces), which is one off the greatest sources of fertilizer. They neutralize organic acids in the soil, making it a rich growing environment. Earth worms do not do well in mechanically compacted soil and are extremely vulnerable to the use of pesticides and herbicides.
Whiteworms- (Phylum Analida, Class Oligochaeta) - like earthworms.
Fungi, molds and yeasts- These organisms break down tough debris. These process even dry, acidic or low nitrogen content materials. Saprophytes feed on dead, decaying material.
Mites- Two segmented arthropods with sucking mouth parts and four legs. They eat vegetable matter under.
Nematodes-Small worms that are the size of a human hair
Snails & Slugs-
Bacteria-Generate heat through the decomposition process. Mesophilic (2-3 day temperature increase), thermophilic (Thermus bacteria) (maximum temperature phase, 3 days to 4 months) - breakdown of complex carbohydrates, fats and proteins and destruction of pathogens at a temperature range of 90° - 140° F., Cooling and maturation (2-3- months) - return of meophilic organisms. Bacteria are 80% of the life forms found in compost and are made of one cell.
Actinomycetes- Fungi-like bacteria that create the recognizable smell of soil.- exist in outer 10 - 15 cm of soil and grow during cooling period.

Secondary Consumers (eat primary consumers)

Protozoa- Single-celled animals consuming bacteria and fungi.
Rotifers (Rotifera)- Microscopic animals living in aquatic environments in slime, lichen and moss.
Soil flatworms- considered a pest in soil as it preys on earthworms.
Springtails- spring-like tail appendage (furcula) under abdomen launches them up to 4 inches upwards. They eat fungi and algae, as well as, vegetable matter in compost. They are the only insect able to break down DDT.
Feather-winged beetles- feed on spores of fungi

Tertiary Consumers (eat secondary consumers)

Centipedes- Feed on arthropods (insects and spiders), as well as worms and larvae. They poison their prey.
Predatory mites- - Two segmented arthropods with sucking mouth parts and four legs. They eat other insects.
Rove beetles (Staphylinidae) - Prey on smaller insects. They have small elyta (wing covers and large jaws)
Formicid ants
Carabid beetles- ground beetles
Pseudoscorpians- shaped like scorpians, but have no stinger.
Earwigs (Dermaptera)- they eat dead or living vegetable matter and insects. Characterized by forceps at end of thorax that is used in capture of prey, defense and mating.


Chemical derived from the organic processes of decomposition, which aid plant growth.


Our efforts to assist the natural process of decomposition of organic materials by means of controlling conditions of moisture, air, temperature and acidity. Turning materials with a pitch fork, adding water and sometimes needed amendments to speed up soil making.

Soil Nutrition Maintenance

Compost is added to existing soil to enrichen it.

Green Waste & Dry Waste

Green waste includes kitchen scraps, fresh cut grass, fallen fruit and soft leaves(green or colored); basically wet materials containing enzymes and higher concentrations of nitrogen and potassium.

Dry waste materials include dried leaves, grass, hay and other organic litter. It can also include newsprint without non-organic colored inks (much of the print industry is now using soy based or other natural inks). This is a high source of carbon matter.

Turning & Mixing

Turning the compost mixture is important for the sake of aerating it. Decay is an aerobic process, since most organisms breathe air. Once a week with a pitchfork is usually sufficient, however, the rotting process is accelerated with increased oxygenation.

Moisture & Heat

A compost mix will not decompose if it either is soaking or dried out. Heat is a natural byproduct of bacterial breakdown of biogenic materials.

Composting Techniques

Worm Bins - great for obtaining castings (vermicompost - worm waste) as soil fertilizer. A box (wooden, glass or plastic), strips of newspaper and kitchen vegetable waste (not cooked). You want to create a warm, moist, aerobic and dark environment for the worms. Cover inside of wooden boxes with plastic Two species of worms to use include Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus. Boxes should be no more than 6 inches deep and lids should be loose to allow air flow. Process takes 3-5 months. Then take worms out of their waste into a new environment, i.e., second worm box, or just separate compost from unprocessed material and ad more kitchen waste and newspaper. Worms will leave waste and go to new food source. The lifespan of earthworms is about a year. They are hermaphrodites.

Use a shallow 8-12 gallon container. Tear newsprint without color print to strips _ to 1 inch wide. Spray the paper to make it damp, but not wet. Fill box to 75% and sprinkle 2 to 5 cups of good soil(previously composted) on top to introduce bacteria and fungi to the system. Keep track of number, weight or volume of worms added to the system. They consume three times their weight in food. Do not include dairy, meat, oil, bone or cooked products. Citrus and banana rinds are also too large or dense to process. Gently bury the food in the bedding of newspaper. Periodically change out a whole sheep of newsprint of control moisture balance. Once a week feed worms and keep the bedding moist and lofty. Keep temperature between 50 and 80° F.

1 million worms in 1 acre of soil will produce 700 pounds of castings per day. Reproductive gestation 7-10 days. Eggs hatch in 14-21 days. 1-5 worms emerge from an egg. They are mature in 2-3 months. There are 3,000 species of worms worldwide.

Compost Tea - 1-2 cups of worm castings to 2 - 3 gallons of water and allow to steep for 24 hours. Use as rich fertilizer.

Above Ground, Open Composting
A simple 3' x 3' x 3' pile of combined materials will suffice for composting.
Wind can be an issue, so fastening chicken or gardening fence wire around four garden stakes with an opening on one side will take care of this.
Setting up side-by-side compartments will allow you to separate composted materials from remnant unprocessed leaves, etc., turning them in the process.
Also, Smith and Hawkins has a recycled plastic 3' x 3' x 3', tri-stack, covered compost bin that makes turning easy.
Barrel composters are highly effective at speeding up the turning process with the crank of a handle. Do it yourself with an oil barrel or purchase one of many models made commercially.
A simple open pit midden (hole in ground) with some sort of cover may suffice for you. You may end up bending over more,
In situ composting by digging deeper holes, placing manure or other rich material in at depth, placing soil and then planting works well. The plant grows and sends down roots. When the roots reach the nutrients, the plants take off. Native American tribal peoples used to put a fish in the ground when they planted.


Add a mixture of some or all of the following
Vegetable peels and seeds
Egg shells
Fruit peels and seeds
Nut shells
Coffee grounds
Any other vegetable or fruit scraps

Note: (Do not add meat scraps, bones, dairy
products, oils, or fat. They may attract pesty


Add a mixture of some or all of the following
Hay or straw
Wood chips
Grass clippings
Weeds and other garden waste
(if you are composting a lot of weed material, you may need to compost for an extended period of time to destroy all of the seed material, i.e., up to seven years).
Shredded paper

This needs to be composted for longer durations as well, as it is acidic and may have pathogenic substances that composting will destroy. Chicken manure is excellent, followed by horse, cow or other farm animal byproducts.

If getting the composting process going is a challenge, or it is not working fast enough, an innoculant is helpful. Organic innoculants are commercially available.

The benefits of mulching are numerous. The main ones include erosion prevention, weed control and soil health through breakdown of the materials.

Happy growing!,

Mark Goddard.

Goddard Organic Landscape Design

Goddard Organic Landscape Design

Soil Health - Where does our food come from? Soil health has an eventual impact on our health because it is the most basic foundation of the planet's web of life, and humans are the ultimate top of the food chain. If the soil has less nutritive value, fruits and vegetables produced in it will have less nutritive value... READ MORE

Winterizing Your Garden - The yearly growing cycle is coming to a close yet the work of nature continues. For all of us who enjoy the rewards of gardening during warm months of the year... READ MORE

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EarthSpiritHealing.org contents © Mark Goddard. Website Design, Artwork, Photography & Layout © Mark Goddard. Last update 3/7/08.