Plants (plant foods) are at the base of a food pyramid and are crucial to the existence of life. Plants need soil for survival. Soil is one of the three main factors responsible for plant growth, the others being sunlight and water. Plants extract water and nutrients from the soil. So soil is an important constituent of the ecological system and its conservation is essential.
However, the importance of soil conservation is relatively less talked about as compared to conservation of water and other natural resources. The almost-omnipresent soil is taken for granted. We ignore its existence, disregard its importance and hardly take efforts to conserve it. We rarely even think of it as a natural resource or as a part of the natural wealth that needs to be preserved.
To conserve soil is to prevent it from being eroded and from losing its fertility due to alteration in its chemical composition. Planting trees and terracing are two of the best ways to prevent soil erosion. Similarly, certain farming practices like no-till and contour plowing help prevent loosening of the soil. Preventing pollution of soil helps maintain soil health, contributing to the conservation of this precious natural resource. Here are ten good ways to conserve soil.
We all know that roots of trees firmly hold on to the soil. As trees grow tall, they also keep rooting deeper into the soil. As the roots of trees spread deep into the layers of soil, they hold it tightly, thus preventing soil erosion. Soil under a vegetative cover is saved from erosion due to wind as this cover acts as a wind barrier.
Terracing is a very good method of soil conservation. A terrace is a leveled section of a hilly cultivated area. Owing to its unique structure, it prevents rapid surface runoff of water. Terracing gives the landmass a stepped appearance, thus slowing the washing down of soil. Dry stonewalling is a method used to create terraces in which stone structures are made without using mortar for binding.
The process of preparing soil for plowing is known as tilling. No-till farming is a way of growing crops without disturbing it through tillage. The process of tilling is beneficial in mixing fertilizers in the soil, making rows and preparing the surface for sowing. But the tilling activity can lead to compaction of soil, loss of organic matter in the soil and the death of soil organisms. No-till farming is a way to prevent the soil from this harm.
This practice of farming on slopes takes into account the slope gradient and the elevation of soil along the slope. It is the method of plowing across the contour lines of a slope. This method helps in slowing the water runoff and prevents soil from being washed away along the slope. Contour plowing also helps in percolation of water in the soil.
Some pathogens tend to build up in soil if the same crops are cultivated again and again. Continuous cultivation of the same crop also leads to imbalance in the fertility demands of the soil. To save the soil from these adverse effects, crop rotation is practiced. It is a method of growing a series of dissimilar crops in an area. Crop rotation also helps in the improvement of soil structure and fertility.
Maintain Soil pH
The contamination of soil by addition of acidic or basic pollutants and due to acid rains has an adverse effect on the soil pH. Soil pH is an indicator of the level of nutrients in soil. The uptake of nutrients by plants also depends on the pH of soil. Maintaining the correct value of soil pH, is thus essential for soil conservation.
The salinity of soil increases due to excessive accumulation of salts in the soil. This has a negative effect on the metabolism of crops. The salinity of soil is detrimental to the vegetative life in it. The death of vegetation leads to soil erosion. Hence, salinity management is an indirect way of conserving soil.
Promote Helpful Soil Organisms
Nitrogen-fixing and denitrifying bacteria are major constituents of the nitrogen cycle. They live in soil. Bacteria and fungi help keep the soil healthy. Organisms like earthworms help decompose organic material in the soil, aid soil aeration and help it maintain porosity. Rodents help soil the same way. This increases the soil's absorbing capacity. Earthworms, through soil aeration enhance the availability of macronutrients. These organisms boost soil fertility and help in soil conservation.
Some More Tips
- Soil conservation efforts are mainly aimed at preventing soil erosion and keeping it conducive for plant growth.
- Contouring and terracing are methods prescribed by the US Natural Resources Conservation Service.
- Developing or maintaining riparian zones helps conserve soil, as these zone prevent soil erosion from the banks of rivers or streams. A riparian zone is an interface between a waterbody and landmass. Vegetation on the riparian zones helps maintain biodiversity and serves as a food source for animals inhabiting the area.
- Mulch is a covering placed over soil to protect it from erosion and help the soil retain water content. Mulch also serves as a good source of nutrients for plants and helps them sustain in times of drought and dry weather. Mulching is a good practice for conservation of soil moisture.
Harmful gases and solid wastes that pollute air and water, also pollute land, rendering the soil infertile. Excessive deposition of salts in the soil makes it unsuitable for plant growth. In the absence of vegetation, soil is exposed to erosion due to wind and water. Good farming and gardening practices can help restore soil health and preserve this natural resource. If not anything else, we can at least resort to a simple way of soil conservation - planting trees.