Soil is a living media which supports plant life best when it contains biological diversity, good fertility and good drainage properties.
Soil is a complex of living and non living components, forming communities of diverse organisms that are interdependent and generally supportive of plant life. Our folly is expecting to have healthy soils through abusive methods. Composts, green manures, and replenishment of other components in the soil, such as mycorhyzal fungi are methods for reinvigorating soils and protecting their productive potential for generations to come.
By neglecting to care for the soil, industrial agriculture leads us to a future of depleted soils and eventual desertification. One contributing factor, for example, is the common practice of plowing up the ground in the fall and then leaving it with no cover until spring planting, resulting in vast amounts of soil blowing away. Cover crops are a well known solution to this problem, but apparently large scale farmers are not sufficiently ‘incentivized’ to use them.
We ask much of plants when we expect them to live in pots, year in and year out, with finite root space, vulnerable to our whims or forgetfulness. I liken it to a fish in a tank. There is only so much room to grow; survival depends on care from outside.
In nursery production for trees, shrubs and the like, a great deal of mechanization is increasingly used and ‘soil-less’ mixes are favored. Citrus, specifically, seems to enjoy a mix that is heavy on fir and redwood shavings. You just add a LOT of extra N to make sure the roots keep growing, creating a powdery compost that melts away, as they grow. Profit wise, growers find this acceptable, but there are environmental costs. In my work with Organic citrus nursery production, I have found that it is possible to cultivate a living soil in pots, with the help of natural additives such as soil endo-mycorhyzae, and liquid and granular feeds derived directly from natural sources.
This is all to point out that plants are amazingly resilient and tolerant of our attempts to mechanize, industrialize and generally exploit them. We can do it, but does that make it right? And when will we acknowledge that there has been a price to be paid? I cannot help but be concerned that our disregard for the true fragility of agricultural lands will result in irreversible soil losses.
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