Soil is a complex system that is deeply interconnected with minerals, plants, and animals.
Its formation is a very slow process, extremely slow for human perception, and results from the interaction between the different forces present on this planet.
According to the Indian cosmological system, the Pancha Mahabhuta or the five great elements form the basis of any material manifestation. Within this system, it is described that the creation started with the element of space or ether (Akash), then came air (Vayu), then fire (Agni), then water (Jal), and then earth (Prithvi). Thus the element of Prithvi is a culmination of all the elements and cosmological forces.
The interplay between the Geosphere (rock or the parent material), Hydrosphere (erosion from flow of water), Atmosphere (erosion from wind), Biosphere (animals, plants, and microorganisms) and the Cosmosphere (sun’s energy manifesting as heat and temperature, and the effect of celestial bodies on several earthly elements) continuously creates and influences the soil and we can only observe this over long periods of time.
Rudolf Steiner, one of the most profound thinkers and visionaries of the 19th century, explains in his lectures on agriculture how the energy that human beings require for their consciousness to evolve will come from the food they eat. In essence, our spirit is linked to the spirit of the food. And the spirit of the food is linked to the spirit of the soil.
This is not difficult to understand for even the most scientific and analytic mind. A healthy human body requires wholesome food which can only grow in healthy soil.
Hence, anybody interested in the growth and evolution of their beings and consciousness needs to understand about soil and its interconnectedness with our lives through food.
Soil formation in different climates
Climate sets the template on which soil and vegetation communities evolve. In nature 1” of top soil can take a thousand year to form.
– Hot temperatures and high rainfall near the equator produce lush rainforests. The nutrients in such a climate are concentrated in the biomass of the ecosystem and not in the soil itself which is prone to leaching because of high rainfall.
– Moderate temperatures and rainfall in temperate latitudes support forests that produce organic-rich soil by dropping their leaves to rot on the ground. These soils are predominantly fungal in nature.
– Drier grasslands receive organic matter from dead roots and leaves and manure from animals and thus support soils with high organic matter and microbial activity. These soils are predominantly bacterial in nature.
– Arid environments typically have thin rocky soils with sparse vegetation.
What does soil contain?
Soil contains mineral particles and organic material which also contribute to nutrients in the soil. Healthy soil will have about 50% of its volume as empty space or voids. These empty spaces are where air and water stay. Thus healthy soil is like a sponge with a complex matrix of mineral particles and organic material bound together by bacteria and fungi into micro and macroaggregates. This is called the soil structure.
A good soil structure ensures:
1. That the microbial life can grow and thrive enriching the soil and facilitating nutrient cycling.
2. That the plant roots go deep in the soil and can access water and nutrients also from lower layers of the soil.
3. Water (from rain or irrigation) can infiltrate the soil and stay there so that it is available to the plants when they need it.
The health of the soil has come to be seen from a very narrow perspective in the last century by giving importance to only some macro and micronutrients. This is the same thinking which has reduced human health to numbers and standardised measurements.
The health of the soil depends on the health of its ecology- its microbial diversity and population.
If a soil has a good diversity of microbes and a good number of them, it will naturally develop a good structure, a balanced nutrient profile, high water infiltration, resistance to pest and diseases among other qualities necessary to maintain and grow its fertility.
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