Soil health management principles focus on four major categories: minimize soil disturbance, increase soil cover, maximize living roots, and increase natural biodiversity. When it comes to minimizing disruption of the soil, the most common management practice is the no-tillage method of planting. The soil structure is not disrupted by the plow or rototiller or any other mechanical device that turns the soil. When you turn over soil, you can disrupt the symbiotic relationship with the microorganisms and plant roots. Overgrazing is another common way to disrupt the soil structure. Overgrazing will reduce root mass, increase runoff, increase the soil temperature, and compact the soil. Do not allow the livestock to remain in the same pasture for too long to keep your soil in the best health.
Increasing the soil cover helps retain moisture, regulates the soil temperate, suppresses weed growth, and creates habitat for the local creatures of the ecosystem. A method to increasing your soil cover is to grow cover crops along with your main crops. The soil cover can also be a crop residue meaning the decomposing crops and plants. It is important to have some sort of plant cover on your fields at all times. This also helps with erosion issues. If weed control is an issue, keeping a soil cover makes it difficult for weeds to penetrate through. Encouraging the natural species to your growing area can add more nutrients to your soil. Planning a crop rotation can help with keeping a cover on your soil.
Similar to increasing the soil cover, keeping living roots growing throughout the year has a huge impact on the health of your soil. To keep the members of the soil food web fed, growing plants that have an active roots at different times of the year is your best bet. The rhizosphere is the concentrated area of microbial activity close to the root of the plant. Sugars come from the living plant roots which in turn feed members of the soil food web. The crop residue as well as other soil organic matter also help feed the members of the soil food web such as earthworms, nematodes, and other microscopic organisms. Growing a long season crop or a cover crop after the short season crop is one way to keep a living root growing in an extended period.
The final principal to soil health is increasing your plant diversity. All plants have different nutrient requirements and growing a variety of plants attracts many members of the food soil web to your soil. Plants have different types of roots that grow to different depths. By growing a variety of plants, you will benefit the soil by pulling nutrients from different sections. Monoculture is not a natural phenomena and increasing biodiversity is a much more natural way of growing. Incorporate native plants when applicable as they are best suited to improve the soil health in that particular location. Many plant species are natural pest and disease repellents for other crops. When you grow a similar crop in an area, you are more susceptible to pests and soil-borne diseases. It is important to follow soil health principles that work best for you and your specific conditions. Following the four major components of soil health management will increase your productivity as well as your soil health when it comes to needed amendments for production.