Soil & Fertility

Introduction  

 

Conventional agriculture deals with soil chemistry rather than the soil biology Conventional agriculture thinks of soil as little more than an anchor for plants BD thinks of soil as a living/breathing entity BD focuses on soil health rather than plant health and hence taking care of the soil is given the highest priority

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Is Soil Living 
 

Has Digestive System
±

Composting/Decomposition Soil breathes (aerobic processes) Every 100 years 1 inch layer of top soil is generated

Has Respiratory System
±

Has Reproductive System
±

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Soil Formation 
  

Mother rock broken down by the chelating action of fungi and algae that grow in the cracks Plant roots further break the soil Process takes millions of years Earth is a blue planet i.e. primarily covered by water. Relatively small land area and a very thin layer (topsoil) available for growing food

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Basic Components of Good Soil 

Minerals (45% by vol.)
±

Primary minerals in parent material (rocks) & secondary compounds formed by these 

 

Air ± 25% Water ± 25% Organic Matter (2% - 5% by vol.)
±

In Punjab, Organic Matter today is less than 1% compared to 5% before the Green Revolution

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Soil Characteristics 

Useful to determine what kind of soil we have on our farms
±

Soil Colour 

Determined by the colour of the primary minerals and their compounds Relative portions of sand, silt & clay Aggregation of soil particles
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±

Soil Texture 

±

Soil Structure 

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Soil Colour 
 

Colour due to the primary minerals and the secondary compounds present in the soil Red ± Secondary compounds of iron Black ± Secondary compounds of manganese, sulphur and nitrogen

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Soil Texture 

Mineral part made of 3 distinct particle sizes  



Sand - Largest; Quartz; No Nutrients; Cannot hold water; Heats & Cools very fast Silt ± Medium; Mostly Quartz but smaller; Clay ± Smallest; Holds appreciable nutrients and water Coarse textured Fine textured Sand Loamy Sand Sandy Loam Fine Sandy Loam Silty Loam Silt Silty Clay Loam Clay Loam Clay 

Texture is the relative portions of Sand, Silt & Clay
± ±

Loam 

Does not change with agricultural activity

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Soil Structure  

 

Structure refers to the aggregation (clumping together) of soil particles into larger secondary clusters Good structure when soil crumbles easily in your hand Structure improves when it contains organic material & humus Can be improved/destroyed by choice and timing of farm practices

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Organic Portion of Soil 
 

Contains dead organisms, plant and organic materials in various phases of decomposition Contains Humus ± Relatively stable organic matter Contains a living eco-system of micro and macro organisms

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Organic Portion - Humus 
    



The relatively stable organic matter (steady state) Made up of dark coloured organic matter in final stages of decomposition Formed by gummy/gluey substances ± the by-products of the decomposition Gives lightness to the soil and improves aeration Chelating acids are present that dissolve minerals in the soil and put them in a colloidal state making them available to the plants Helps build soil structure because of cementing of the soil particles/aggregates by the gummy/gluey substances Can hold water very efficiently

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Organic Portion ± Living EcoSystem 

Contains enormous diversity of micro/macro organisms
± ± ± ± ± ± ±

Bacteria ± nitrogen fixers; phosphor solubilizing; release growth hormones; Actinomycetes ± release antibiotics Fungi ± mycorhyzzia & their hyphae extend the reach of the root hair Cyanobacteria & Algae ± produce own food via photosynthesis; produce glue Protozoa ± feed on bacteria & provide soil nutrients after death Nematodes ± Microscopic round worms; eat decaying litter, fungi etc. Earthworms 

The best labourers one can have. They work day and night and eat dirt for a living. Tunnels aerate the soil. The casts are rich in nutrients. The health of a farm can be measured by the number of ant hills on that farm. Break down the cellulose

± ±

Termites 

Manure Worms/Grinders etc. - Efficient Shredders Store & upon their death release the nutrients This slow/controlled release of nutrients leads to less leaching Convert bound up minerals into plant available forms Interact with one other in a million different ways in the soil ecosystem Convert N2 to Nitrates; Sulphur to Sulphates & so on 

These living systems are the true builders and keepers of the fertility of the soil
± ± ± ± ±

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Soil Testing ± Taking Samples

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Experimental Evidence

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Hyphal Network ± VAM Fungi

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Vesicles-VAM Fungi

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Effects of Modern Agricultural Practices on the Soil Ecosystem 

Tractors compact the soil and the ploughing that follows creates a talcum powder consistency
± ±

Soil gets blown away easily and with it the fertility and the wealth of the land Farmer¶s most precious capital thus gets eroded Soil loses its vitality and life and it becomes little more than an anchor for the plants 



The fertilizers & pesticides cause the micro/macro organisms in the soil to die
±

The practice of not returning the organic matter back to the soil severely depletes the humus in the soil
± ± ±

Soil cannot retain water efficiently The farm¶s water needs (and hence the expenses incurred) increase substantially The nutrients leach more easily eventually polluting and poisoning our water systems

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