Let’s talk about dirt. It’s everywhere, and we like to wash it off, vacuum it up, and keep it out of the house – but we can’t have a healthy planet (or people!) without healthy soil too. (Tell your parents next time they ask you to vacuum. )
How can soil be unhealthy? It’s full of nutrients, minerals, organic matter, and plenty of little critters like fungi, bacteria, and even worms. All of these living things in the soil break down organic matter – like dead plants and animals – and recycle it back into the ground for new plants to use and grow. Think of earthworms – they help digest things like fallen leaves, and loosen up the soil by creating paths through it, which all helps new plants grow.
Healthy soil is important, not just because we grow our food in it and get our nutrients from it, but also because the soil helps trees and plants take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it below ground, helping them to fight climate change!
Though you’re probably not an earthworm, you can help the soil too! Here are some fun ways to get out and enjoy the outdoors while helping out planet, and the dirt, stay healthy.
Plant a Tree
You probably know trees need soil, but soil needs trees too! Tree roots can grow deep down into the ground to carry nutrients back up to the surface to keep topsoil healthy. At the same time, tree roots make spaces for water to filter down deep into the soil which helps keep water in the earth and prevent droughts. Which leads us to our next suggestion…
Why is drought a problem? Drought doesn’t just mean you haven’t gotten any rain in a while, it also means the water supply below ground is running low. If you get your water from a well, it might run out of water during a drought. When there’s not enough water in the ground, plants will die, and the soil can dry out and die as well. Dry, dusty soil is likely to erode – to blow away with the wind, or to wash away when the next rain comes – which makes it harder for new plants to grow, and the soil even more likely to erode… Yikes! So what can we do to stop the cycle?
We can make sure we’re not wasting water. You probably already know the basics, like shutting off the faucet when your brush your teeth and not taking long showers. You can also look at this helpful list from the NRDC. But here are a few other fun ideas to keep water from just going down the drain.
- Do you like nice cold drinking water? Try keeping a pitcher of water in the fridge so you don’t have to run the faucet until it gets cold.
- Put a bowl in the sink next time you wash vegetables, and use the water you save to water your houseplants!
- Set up a rain barrel to collect runoff from you roof to water a flower garden – but don’t use roof runoff for gardens you eat from because the water may contain chemicals from your roof. Or, set up a freestanding rain barrel away from your roof to collect water for your veggie garden! What veggie garden, you ask?…
When you grow plants in the ground, you can help build healthy soil! Many large industrial farms will grow just one crop in the same area year after year which damages the soil, but small local farms will grow many crops, and rotate where they plant them each year which keeps both plants and dirt happy and healthy. And while supporting local farms is great too, there’s no place more local than your back yard!
Here are some tips for healthy garden soil:
- You can keep your garden soil healthy by making a no-till garden (tilling is digging up and flipping over the dirt, which breaks up the soil structure that holds it together so it will more easily erode and not absorb as much water ). In no-till gardening, you pile compost and new soil on top of the existing dirt. Have your parents help you research how to make a no-till garden!
- Some plants, like beans and peas, help fix nutrients back into the ground instead of just using them up. If you rotate where you plant each year, you can use your crops to make sure the plants you grow next year will get the nutrients they need. Find out some more helpful info on crop rotation here.
- Veggies need lots of water to grow, but you can make sure you’re not wasting it by mulching your plants – use grass trimmings to cover the dirt around your plants which will help keep water in the soil when it’s hot and sunny out.
- If you don’t have space in your backyard for a garden, you can still grow a garden! Try out a container garden – you can grow things like carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers, or flowers if you prefer. You can grow plants inside in pots too, but you will probably need to set up a grow light for them, or they won’t get enough light on their own indoors.
Plants also love compost – food scraps and plants that have decomposed into nutrient-rich organic matter that’s great for your garden soil! Where are you supposed to get this compost for your garden? You can buy compost, or you can make it yourself. If you make it at home, you also keep a lot of food scraps out of the landfill which helps our planet too. Check out some guides online for home composting – you only want to add your compost to your garden after it’s been fully decomposed. You can even compost indoors if you’re brave enough!
Keep a compost bucket in your kitchen so food scraps won’t be thrown in the garbage instead. While most foods can be composted, some are not good for home composting, like meats, because they may attract animals that you don’t want in and around your home. Use Sunsquatch’s guide at the bottom of the article to know what you can and can’t compost at home!
Now that you know how important the soil is, and some fun ways to take care of it, you have our full blessing to go forth and play in the dirt! If you try out some of these fun projects, have your parents help you take some pictures and share with us on social media!