Many has been the day we received a soil sample that was just too dry.
With bone-dry soil, one never knows what might remain in there, still somehow alive and kicking, or maybe recently gone dormant, awaiting the return of moisture. But by and large, clients who send dry samples receive back a familiar report: Not much biological activity here. Just a few bacteria.
The connection between active soil biology and soil moisture may often be missed by growers in conventional practice. It is, after all, common to allow soil to dry a bit. It ensures roots’ access to oxygen, and for a range of reasons can be important to the proper cultivation of various plant products.
However, as we’ve said before: That’s conventional farming. To receive all the benefits offered by soil biology, we need other techniques. Chief among them: don’t let soil dry out. Don’t saturate it either. Keep it in the range to which active soil microbes are best suited: right around 50-percent water content.
For gauging moisture levels, any plant producer should be familiar with the squeeze test. Grab a large handful of soil and squeeze hard. Are there a few drops of water escaping your hand? Too wet. No water emerging at all? Too dry. There should be enough moisture to form only a drop, just barely squeezing out between two fingers. That’s about 50 percent.
Now, that said, it is true that at lower moisture, various denizens of the Soil Food Web can remain healthy and active. This is important to remember when dealing with soils that are easily compacted – namely those high in clay, and especially when those soils have suffered from generations of compaction-inducing farm practices. In such conditions, it may be prudent to maintain moisture as low as 30 percent.
Of course, if all goes well, the job of maintaining moisture will quickly become easier for the simple reason that microbes retain water. When a soil harbors not only diverse bacteria but also fungi and an array of predators and grazers, it holds moisture because all those billions of microbes use and hold moisture. It’s been well-demonstrated that water usage can shrink by 50 percent in the first season implementing biology-based techniques.
We pursue these techniques not only to help solve our modern environmental challenges, but also because they can quickly and efficiently boost farm health and farm profits. Microbial inoculum, like water, represents a monetary investment; when the two assets are combined properly, one outlay protects the other.
It’s just one example of our overall approach: combine high-quality inoculation with proper field techniques to boost soil biology and achieve profitable regenerative farming in a short period of time.