Importance of Soil Quality to Health and Sustainable Land Management

If you are just getting into gardening, you might be wondering, "why does soil quality matter?" To fully answer this question, you must first acknowledge that soil is a living and a rather dynamic ecosystem in and of itself. It is mostly made up of organic matter that comes from living organisms.

Ideal soil quality not only allows for the germination of plants but also prevents soil erosion, which in turn supports all kinds of land management activities such as farming, building, and so on.

What is Good Soil Quality?

While the comprehensive answer to this question is as complicated as it is lengthy, there is a much shorter version that covers all the bases. For soil to be considered good quality, it must have most, if not all, of the following qualities:

  • Sufficient depth: A thin upper layer won't do. It must be deep enough for cultivation.
  • Sufficient nutrient supply: Plants tend to thrive on consuming decaying plants as well as other decaying organisms. These form the bulk of the nutrients in the good soil.
  • Insects and pests: These are a huge part of the living organisms that help give the soil nutrients and make it porous.
  • Good soil drainage: The best kind of soil isn't too hard for water to pass through nor too porous for any water that passes through to quickly runoff. It's just right.

This dynamic ecosystem is made up of all these things, including spaces between the soil particles. While good soil quality is relative to the intended use of the soil in question, when it comes to farming, the amount of organic matter and spaces between the soil particles matter a great deal.

Clay soil, for example, is too thin and, therefore, despite having spaces in between the particles, hold water way too tightly and is therefore not ideal for aeration. Which is necessary for the germination of plants.

Good soil also needs an extensive array of organic matter from insects, leaves, lawn clippings, lichens, manure, algae, and pretty much anything that contains carbon compounds. That is why farming often demands loamy soil. This kind of soil is high in organic matter, has just the right kind of porous spaces, and is either neutral or just slightly acidic on the pH scale.

How Can You Tell the Quality of Soil?

The simplest, most rudimentary test for the quality of soil is to take a handful of it and squeeze. If the soil stays together but easily crumbles when you poke at it, then it is loamy and relatively good. However, if it either stays bunched up in a ball or disintegrates as soon as you open your fist, then the soil either has too much clay or sand in it and is therefore not good enough for gardening purposes.

What Affects Soil Quality?

Have you ever wondered why people say things like "this used to be good farming land?" This happens because, even though your property might have had good soil quality before, it might not now be healthy soil now because of a few factors.

The most important of those factors is soil erosion. This is the sweeping away of the top layer of soil by wind and water. This sandblasting effect can rob soil of its nutrients and leave it barren or too dry to hold the kind of porous quality necessary for it to foster plant life.

Other factors that come into play include things like:

  • Compacted soil
  • Accumulation of salt
  • Toxic chemicals
  • Excessive nutrients or chemicals that ruin the soil pH

How Can You Improve Soil Quality?

Good soil quality tends to occur naturally. There are just some places that have better soil than others. However, just as human activity can ruin soil quality, the same can improve it. Here are some tips on how you can improve the quality of your soil:

Aerate the Soil

This simply means just digging it up and loosening it. You can easily do this by using a tiller such as the Fiskars Long Hand Tiller.

Use Compost

The type of compost you add will depend on the kind of soil that is in your area. If the soil has more clay than it does sand, then you can add finished compost as well as some sand to it (equal parts). If it has more sand, then you can use twice as much compost as soil.


Using mulch has a host of benefits to your soil. For starters, as it breaks down the mulch forms part of the all-important organic matter content that feeds the soil. Secondly, mulch keeps off weeds, and thirdly, it can help the soil retain water.

Plant a Few Perennials

These plants have deep root systems that help to hold your soil in place, thus preventing erosion. 

Also, using the right kind of manure and rotating the crops you plant can help your soil regenerate and improve in quality.

How Can You Protect Soil Quality?

While you can improve the quality of your soil by doing the above things, you can also reduce the chances of needing to do that by simply putting measures in place to help protect that quality.

One way to do that is to plant perennials, which will reduce soil erosion, making sure that the good soil doesn't get swept away in the first place. The other ways to protect your soil quality include:

  • Not walking on your garden to reduce the compacting of the soil
  • Prevent water runoff by creating permeable pathways within your garden bed
  • Plant more shrubs and trees to act as windbreakers, thus slowing down erosion
  • Maintain the right soil pH by using a soil tester, then adding whatever is needed to achieve the right balance
  • Add earthworms to encourage the decomposition of organic material

All these efforts you put in place to both improve and protect your soil quality directly tie into your sustainable land management endeavors. Not only does it make it possible for you to maintain good farming land, but it also allows you to make good use of that land by growing a wide variety of crops that wouldn't thrive on otherwise barren land.

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