Soil consists of a multitude of physical substances, biological entities, and chemicals. These components constantly interact with each other. The study of interactions of physical substances and chemicals with organisms in the soil, or the abiotic and biotic components, is known as soil ecology. Soil ecology works by cycling nutrients, spreading pathogens, and causing rich biological growth.
Soil is an uneven mixture of weathered broken minerals, and decomposing organic matter. With an appropriate mixture of air and water, it supplies nutrients for the sustenance of plants. It also provides mechanical support to plants. The diversity of life found in soil is more than that found in any other ecosystem. The establishment of plants, their growth, and competition for survival largely depends on the ecology below the ground.
Understanding the Soil Ecosystem
Soil ecologists use a number of advanced techniques to analyze the importance of soil’s food webs as the primary indicator of an ecosystem’s health. Plants are greatly affected by (and also affect) the cycling of nutrients and organic matter. The food web nutrient cycling starts with root exudation and varies with the amount of nitrogen and carbon needed at every trophic level.
Every crop needs a quantifiable ratio of bacterial or fungal biomass, beneficial nematodes, and protozoa in the soil for sustainable growth. The aim of studying soil ecology is to develop bioassay techniques and a database that will manage the soil’s food webs in order to biologically control and improve plants’ health. A biological control below the ground, which is maintained efficiently, supports biological growth above the ground. The best way to maintain a good ecosystem is to use humus soil. It is the most nutritious type of soil for planting and treating other varieties of soil.
Making the Soil “Healthy”
Humus consists of not just soil, but also a group of living organisms. The organic matter acts as a breeding ground for a variety of microbes and fungi. These organisms break down the organic matter, which is mostly plant material, and facilitate the absorption of nutrients.
Healthy humus contains all the nutrients that are needed for the survival of a plant. Nitrogen and oxygen are abundantly present in humus soil, along with varying amounts of magnesium, potassium, and other essential minerals. Humus contains more than 25 nutrients and minerals that are required for the growth of a plant.
Adding a cubic foot of clay to the soil every 3 to 4 months introduces trace metals and important inorganic compounds within the soil. These metals and compounds regulate the acidity of the soil. Soil acidity is an important factor in a determining the fertility of a given soil. Many plants require acidic soil for their growth.
Aluminum, sulfates, and sulfur can be added to the soil to decrease its pH value and therefore increase its acidity. It is important to know the pH value of the soil before planting as it significantly affects the health of the plant. The pH of the soil is measured on a scale of 1 to 14. If the pH value is less than 7, the soil is acidic, and if it is more than 7, it is alkaline or basic.
Research on the interplay between fauna, microorganisms, plants, and biochemical processes is still being carried out. Knowledge from these studies can go a long way in improving the fertility of the soil and help in resolving a lot of environmental problems.