Soil isn't a dirt-y word

by Peter LaFontaine
Good soil means cleaner waters. (Photo: Down and dirty by echilds41; CC BY 2.0)

As any good gardener or farmer knows, there's dirt, and then there's soil. You can tell, intuitively, just by smelling and crumbling a handful of rich, dark soil that it's doing nature's work.

The difference is life, or "soil organic matter" — a mixture of decaying plant and animal cells, beneficial microbes and other components that together make a welcoming environment for a healthy network of plants, invertebrates and fungi.

Having high soil organic matter doesn't only improve crop and vegetable yields. Soil with more organic matter actually holds on to significantly more water, which means that a heavy rain won't cause as much runoff, and a dry spell won't leave plants as parched.

To understand why this is so, Minnesota's Soil Health Specialist Anna Cates takes us deep into the maze of particles underneath our feet in this explainer.

It's not quite "Honey, I Shrunk The Kids" but you can see that even a small boost in a field's soil organic matter can make a big difference. As more farmers come to prioritize soil health each year, everyone downstream will reap the benefits.

One good way to improve your own garden's soil organic matter is by composting. Check out FMR's composting guide for do-it-yourself instructions and resources!

Read more from the water blog.