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Rugby Youth Learn About Value of Our Soil

By Staff | Feb 26, 2016

This week I had the wonderful privilege of spending Tuesday morning and afternoon helping my partners from the Pierce County Soil Conservation introduce Rugby grade school classes to the wonders of the soil beneath their feet!

Every day we walk on soil, but since we cannot readily see what is in the soil beneath our feet many of us don’t fully understand or appreciate the value of our soil. Soil is not the same as dirt. There’s a big difference. Soil is the foundation of life on our planet Earth. Without soil there can be no life. Dirt is the stuff we sweep under the rug.

As more and more people become disconnected from the process of growing their own food, or even gardening, there is an increasing need to understand and appreciate how necessary it is to protect and nurture our soils because the food, fiber, and fuel we depend on daily are all connected back to soil.

The Soil Tunnel is a colorful, hands-on display that allows visitors to crawl through an underground world using the aid of a flashlight to see images and objects on the walls and ceiling which illustrate the important functions of soil.

The five important functions of soil illustrated inside and outside the soil tunnel were:

1.Habitat for organisms (rodents, worms, microorganisms)

2.Water purification (septic system and well)

3.Nutrient recycling (soil food web)

4.Medium for plant growth (roots, carrots, etc.)

5.Material for humans to use (gravel miner)

Students also learned about soil formation from parent material, composition (sand, silt, and clay) and what a “healthy” soil is.

Healthy soils are:

Full of life! This includes organisms such as plants, animals, and microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria, and protozoa. Microorganisms in the soil help plants get nutrients from the soil, help plants resist pathogens, recycle plant nutrients, and help to decompose toxic compounds in the soil

High in organic matter. Organic matter can be described as anything that once lived most familiar to us is decomposing plant and animal matter. The carbon in organic matter is the main source of energy for soil microbes and also contributes to soil structure.

Covered all the time. Soil should always be covered by growing plants, their residues, or a combination of the two. After all, the microorganisms living in the soil have the same needs as other living creatures in that they also need food and cover to survive.

Well structured. Soil structure is the arrangement of the solid parts (sand, silt and clay) of the soil and the pore space between them, is critical to how the soil functions. Well-structured soils allow rapid infiltration and easy movement of both water and air through the soil and provides habitat for soil organisms.

The formation of soil is a long and slow process. It has been said that it can take 500 to 1000 years for an inch of topsoil to form. While soil is constantly being eroded and formed there will likely be no new soil formed during our lifetime or in the lifetimes of many generations that follow us. So the future productivity of our Earth’s soil to meet the needs of our future generations as the world population continues to grow will be determined by how we use and care for our soils today.

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