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My childhood experience: learning about life through the soil


I am not a farmer or a scientist.  I'm just an ordinary person who happened to start learning things through the soil. For this, I have to thank the empty and uncovered plot of land beside our house that served as my playground during my childhood. 

During my years in pre-school (early nineties), I was fond of catching beetles and earthworms by digging into the soil with my bare hands. I enjoyed tracing the extremely organised ants (red and black) that carried their food back into little holes deep in the soil. I also liked to plant flowers (not the stem and roots), thinking they would grow fast- only to find out that the flower withered thirty minutes later. Lastly, I disliked grass because I always got "grass cuts" when I touched it and would react angrily, pulling it from the ground and hoping that it would never grow back.

During monsoon season, that vacant lot was submerged with water-just a few inches deep and I would observe different living things, from snails and their pink eggs to tadpoles. There were also some leeches, I remember touching them and feeling no pain. I loved the tadpoles because they were active and playful and I associated their vitality with mine.

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Projet académique


Dans le cadre de l’Année internationale des sols, le professeur de Sciences de la vie et de la terre a demandé à notre classe de seconde de réaliser un projet académique, sous la forme de notre choix, dont le but est d’informer et de sensibiliser sur la gestion durable nécessaire à la protection de cette ressource menacée et difficilement renouvelable. Avec l’aide de quelques camarades, nous avons donc mis au point un diaporama informatif qui renseigne sur les rôles fondamentaux des sols et  leurs fonctions écosystémiques, ainsi que sur les défis actuels à l’égard de la conservation des sols qui supposent une gestion durable. 

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90 seconds to discover a new "Hope in healthy soil"


I am proud to be a “soil health geek.” I didn’t seek to become a geek, but the more I’ve learned about our living and life-giving soil, the more I’ve become convinced this miracle under our feet holds the promise of our future.

That’s why I was genuinely excited to write and produce a new 90-second web public service ad titled The Hope in Healthy Soil, which is part of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Unlock the Secrets in the Soil Campaign. The video is also part of our agency’s International Year of Soils celebration.

Like many of you, I have come to realize that without healthy soil, life as we know it would not exist. However, for years it was believed that the best hope for our precious soil was to slow its rate of erosion—to retard its inevitable decline.

Fortunately, a growing number of pioneering farmers, researchers and conservationists have shown us that we can actually build our soils—make them more productive, profitable and resilient to weather extremes like drought. 

By farming using soil health principles and practices like no-till, cover cropping and diverse rotations, farmers are actually increasing organic matter in their soil, increasing microbial activity, sequestering more carbon, improving wildlife and pollinator habitat—all while harvesting better profits and often better yields. Off the farm, these practices are improving water and air quality, too.

Increasingly, these farmers are adopting soil health management systems, and in so doing, they are growing a new hope in healthy soil.

Which makes me a very proud and optimistic “soil health geek.” Long live the soil!



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Building humus: watch the time-lapse video here!


I started the humus formation experiment in response to repeatedly asked questions about how humus forms in the soil and how it affects plant growth and agricultural production. The overwhelmingly positive responses from the public and powerful images of microscopic living organisms in the soil, were the motivation for providing a new edition of  Annie Francé-Harrar 's book 'Humus – Soil Life and Fertility' (Austrian writer and scientist) and for starting the humus formation experiment.

I tried to combine all my knowledge about soil microbial ecology to set up this experiment. As far as I know, this type of experiment has never been done before! My initial plan was to to make a time-lapse video about the visual development of humus. Later, I decided to buy a microscope and document the formation of clay-humus clusters and the related microbial community. I planned to run the experiment for three years. To my surprise, I observed the appearance of stable humus complexes after about 8 months – clear proof that the processes for humus and soil formation had already started.

I do not know how the humus layer will evolve over time but the results achieved so far are a success!


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Soil moisture: The missing piece of the puzzle


Dara Entekhabi, a hydrologist and faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, United States, reminds us that ‘Earth is a unique place.’ It is the only planet (that we are aware of) where ‘water exists in all three phases: liquid, solid and vapor.’ This lucky position is maintained because of the cozy distance of the Earth’s orbit to the sun, as well as the protective blanket of our atmosphere.

The sun also provides the energy source for these phase transitions; the sun heats the land and liquid water evaporates from the surface before re-condensing as clouds in the atmosphere. Whenever water changes forms, energy is either used or released which, as Entekhabi points out, ‘means that the hydrologic cycle is a major conveyor of energy.’

Running parallel to the global water and energy cycles is the carbon cycle. The sun’s radiation is used by Earth’s plant community to biochemically combine carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) and water to produce plant matter. The water needed for plants to complete this photosynthetic process is stored in the porous medium that anchors their roots – the soil. Soil moisture, a component of the water and energy cycles, thus regulates the carbon cycle by managing plant growth. ‘Soil moisture is the piece of the water cycle which links the energy and carbon cycles,’ states Entekhabi. And together, ‘these three cycles maintain life on Earth.’

On January 31, 2015 the Soil Moisture Active Passive, or SMAP, satellite was launched  on a three year mission to observe and collect global soil moisture data to a 5 cm depth.  Dara Entekhabi is the lead scientist for the SMAP mission, and has been working on its realization for over a decade. SMAP is one of the first satellites to be developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in response to a National Research Council survey to assess top priority space-based Earth observations. Soil moisture received such high priority because of the insights it may provide into the water, energy and carbon cycles. 

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La protección del suelo en zonas con pendiente a través de prácticas agroecológicas


En este año internacional del suelo mi familia ha desarrollado algunas estrategias para conservar este valioso recurso.

Tenemos una pequeña unidad de producción familiar, ubicado en la ciudad de Cantagalo, en el estado de Paraná, Brasil. La región tiene terreno con fuerte pendiente, lo que dificulta la producción de alimentos, debido a la alta precipitación, lo que resulta en la pérdida de suelo por la erosión.

Una estrategia era construir mulch (mantillo o acolchado para mejorar el suelo), después de la eliminación de la yuca para el consumo humano y animal, hubo la necesidad de proteger el suelo. Así que se decidió cavar una zanja de unos 30 centímentros de profundidad, donde se colocaron restos vegetales (rastrojo de maíz, restos de césped rechazado por el ganado), como en la figura 1.

Entonces utilizamos las ramas de yuca (Figura 2). Luego se colocó suelo sobre la materia orgánica (Figura 3). Resultando en una barrera cuya función principal es ralentizar el agua en su descenso y evitar la fuga de suelo con el agua, además de proporcionar materia orgánica al suelo, mejorando su fertilidad.


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Eddie Redelinghuys leads the way in creating a sustainable environment for all


Eddie Redelinghuys, the Founder of Reliance Compost is a passionate man. He believes in creating a sustainable environment where all living organisms and beings, both above and below the ground, can flourish and feed populations of the future. And this is where his passion flows from … taking care of our soils.

To this end, he has initiated a historic soil improvement program that is currently underway just outside of Cape Town, in the picturesque vineyards and mountains of the Paarl region. It is a critical part of the Corona Farm development, a joint venture between Reliance Compost and the Corona Family Trust to address major concerns affecting the surrounding farmland. The ultimate objectives are to build an Organic Waste Recycling facility and an Agricultural Division, however the priority is to rehabilitate and restore the soil to its former glory.

For the past 16 years, Reliance Compost has been changing the views and methodologies in working with organic waste and has through its service to the City of Cape Town over the last 12 years, saved over 13 million cubic meters of landfill space through the composting of garden refuse. The construction of the facility at Corona Farm will process organic waste from the City as well as private sources to generate energy and compost.

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Pequeña experiencia de la Ecoescuela CEIP San Ignacio


Hola a [email protected]:

Durante el presente año dedicado al valor e importancia del suelo, queremos compartir con vosotros una pequeña experiencia que realizamos con el alumnado del centro. Para empezar, realizamos un pequeño estudio del tipo de basura que generábamos en el centro, estableciendo como tres tipos principales: 

- orgánica (restos de alimentos del desayuno y del comedor)

- papel y cartón (servilletas, papel seca manos, folios, cartón y cartulina)

- papel de aluminio (envoltorio de los desayunos, película protectora de los bricks de zumos, batidos, ...)

Por equipos, el alumnado realizó una observación sistemática de los resultados obtenidos al "plantar" en tres contenedores pequeños un residuo distinto y regarlos semanalmente. Se apuntaban las observaciones en un pequeño diario de la experiencia a lo largo de un trimestre. Las conclusiones fueron aplastantes:

- No todas las basuras son iguales y por tanto hay que tener cuidado con los residuos que generamos.

- La tierra no puede "asimilar" todas las basuras que generamos.

- Es necesario reducir el volumen y el tipo de determinadas basuras.

- Es necesario educar en el separado, reutilización y reciclado de los materiales que empleamos.

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Video: my interview with a soil scientist


Kate Buckeridge met with me in January in Lawrence, Kansas to discuss her research on soil microorganisms in the Arctic. In January, when much of the United States is covered with snow, it is easy to imagine that the soil is frozen and inactive. But Kate, who works in some extremely cold northern locations, is finding that there is a robust microbial community just below the snow. For more background on soil microorganisms and their role in the environment, please see the previous post*.

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An ecosystem ecologist's search for soil microorganisms in the Arctic


Kate Buckeridge, an Ecosystem Ecologist, has worked in some of the most remote regions on Earth. Places like Toolik Lake in Alaska, La Pérouse Bay in Canada, the Boreal Forest in Newfoundland, Thule Air Base in Greenland and Daring Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The route to these locations can be arduous. La Pérouse Bay requires a long ride in a ‘Tundra Buggy’, an all-terrain vehicle with large wheels that keep passengers safely elevated above the frozen tundra (and polar bears). Daring Lake is perhaps even more remote. After arriving in Yellowknife, the capital city of the Northwest Territories, Kate and her fellow researchers fly 300 km northeast in a small propeller plane over countless glacial lakes and ponds, before finally landing on Daring Lake.

Kate has been traveling to these grand arctic locations because she studies the tiny creatures that lie below the snow and ice: soil microorganisms. Soil microorganisms are responsible for the most basic functions of our planet. Even in the cold arctic tundra they are busy at work decomposing plant matter, filtering water and recycling nutrients. In the early twentieth century both Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work which mechanized the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen into a form of the element that can be taken up by plants. Soil microorganisms, such as bacteria which form nitrogen absorbing nodules on legume roots, have been completing the same process for millennia. Contributing to the same search for nutrients, protozoa and nematodes cannibalize other nitrogen-containing microbes and convert their biomass into plant-available nutrients.  Mycorrhizal fungi, another important form of soil microorganisms, attach to plant roots and by doing so increase the root’s surface area and ability to take up water and nutrients.

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