We need to reconnect with our soil

Waterloo Region Record

At last, a major organization is taking notice, proposing action against abuse that takes place daily. Back on Dec. 5, now World Soil Day, the 68th UN General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. Since the UN is concerned with the whole world, their choice of that date for the announcement most suited its agenda, but it couldn’t be a worse time for Canada when early December is the least likely time anyone in the country is thinking about soil. We’re thinking about snow, freezing rain, winter tires or Christmas shopping, while there’s little chance of soil even providing a visible reminder of its existence.

Regardless, this is important, so well done UN for launching this initiative. It’s time to remind the world of the importance of soil as it is in crisis. We now live in a world where most of the ever-increasing population lives in cities, have never seen soil, and think food originates somewhere in backrooms at the grocery store. Not only is soil essential for food supplies, it also produces animal feed, fibre for clothing and crops for fuel.

Soil is ignored and abused, and there really isn’t that much of the good stuff. Where it is present on the Earth’s surface, it can only be measured in centimetres (and it can be up to 1,000 years to produce just one centimetre). It’s not an exaggeration to say it’s only skin deep; however, it’s estimated that a third of all soils are facing degradation and depletion from erosion, loss of organic matter, pollution and poor management.

Throughout history, soil has been regarded as an inert substance, yet it is teeming with essential life — as much as a quarter of the Earth’s biodiversity. Only in recent years has the importance of the millions of species of insects, microbes and fungi that live in the soil become apparent. This is why the UN is proposing to restore awareness and respect for soil on a global scale.

Until recently, we’ve been led to believe that dousing lawns and gardens with chemicals was necessary if plants were to grow well and be productive, but there’s a growing realization that it’s not a healthy approach — not healthy for us, and definitely not healthy for the organisms in the soil.

This area was settled by people who recognized that it held some of the best soil in the world. They saw it on the floor of the forests, produced through eons of undisturbed growth and decomposition of vegetation. It was rich, dark and friable, unlike what now lies beneath most suburban lawns. In earlier times, soil was well cared for. Fields were allowed to lie fallow, crops were rotated, and organic matter incorporated into the soil. This was and still is the basis of good gardening practice.

And so, as we begin 2015, the International Year of Soils, I encourage gardeners and non-gardeners alike to respect the soil. It’s as simple as avoiding the overuse of chemical fertilizer, feeding the soil with organic matter, and making use of mulches to conserve moisture and reduce weeds. You may even hear the microbes cheering.

To support this UN initiative, more than 120 soil-related projects have been implemented around the world. A digital soil map of the world has been produced, and there is a beautiful, 104-minute documentary feature film that explores the complexity and mystery of soil. It’s called “Symphony of the Soil” — ” … an intriguing presentation that highlights possibilities of healthy soil creating healthy plants creating healthy humans living on a healthy planet.” It’s a film that deserves to be shown in every school in the hope it will help restore the connection between soil and humanity. Information and details for rental or purchase at www.symphonyofthesoil.com.

David Hobson gardens in Waterloo and is happy to answer garden questions, preferably by email:garden@gto.net . Reach him by mail c/o Etcetera, The Record, 160 King St. E. Kitchener, Ont. N2G 4E5

Source: http://www.therecord.com/living-story/5234594-we-need-to-reconnect-with-our-soil/