Soil conservation efforts are mainly aimed at preventing soil erosion and keeping it conducive for plant growth. It is important to note that soil is one of the most important natural resources and hence the need to devise and implement ways of conserving it.
Plants meant for subsistence are at the base of a food pyramid and are crucial to the existence of life. Plants need soil for survival. Soil is one of the three main factors responsible for plant growth, the others being sunlight and water. Plants extract water and nutrients from the soil. So soil is an important constituent of the ecological system and its conservation is essential.
To conserve soil is to prevent it from being eroded and from losing its fertility due to alteration in its chemical composition. Planting trees and terracing are two of the best ways to prevent soil erosion. Similarly, certain farming practices like no-till and contour plowing help prevent loosening of the soil. Preventing pollution of soil helps maintain soil health, contributing to the conservation of this precious natural resource.
Ways to conserve soil
Plant grass and ground cover:
Bare ground and soils are frequently eroded by strong winds and heavy rainfall. The intact roots of lawn grass or ground cover will help retain the soil when these areas are exposed to strong winds and rains.
We all know that roots of trees firmly hold on to the soil. As trees grow, their roots also grow deep into the soil. As the roots of trees spread deep into the layers of soil, they hold it tightly, thus preventing soil erosion. Trees also act as wind barriers and breakers hence preventing the surface soil from wind erosion.
A terrace is a leveled section of a hilly cultivated area. Owing to its unique structure, it prevents rapid surface runoff of water. Terracing gives the landmass a stepped appearance, thus slowing the washing down of soil.
The process of preparing soil for plowing is known as tilling. No-till farming is a way of growing crops without disturbing it through tillage. The process of tilling is beneficial in mixing fertilizers in the soil, making rows and preparing the surface for sowing. But the tilling activity can lead to compaction of soil, loss of organic matter in the soil and the death of soil organisms. No-till farming is a way to prevent the soil from this harm.
This practice of farming on slopes takes into account the slope gradient and the elevation of soil along the slope. It is the method of plowing across the contour lines of a slope. This method helps in slowing the water runoff and prevents soil from being washed away along the slope. Contour plowing also helps in percolation of water in the soil.
Some pathogens tend to build up in soil if the same crops are cultivated again and again. Continuous cultivation of the same crop also leads to imbalance in the fertility demands of the soil. To save the soil from these adverse effects, crop rotation is practiced. It is a method of growing a series of dissimilar crops in an area. Crop rotation also helps in the improvement of soil structure and fertility.
Maintain Soil pH:
The contamination of soil by addition of acidic or basic pollutants and due to acid rains has an adverse effect on the soil pH. Soil pH is an indicator of the level of nutrients in soil. The uptake of nutrients by plants also depends on the pH of soil. Maintaining the correct value of soil pH, is thus essential for soil conservation.
Water the Soil:
We water plants, we water the crops, but do we water the soil? We seldom do. Watering soil is a good measure of soil conservation. Watering the soil along with plants growing in it is a way to prevent soil erosion caused by wind.
The salinity of soil increases due to excessive accumulation of salts in the soil. This has a negative effect on the metabolism of crops. The salinity of soil is detrimental to the vegetative life in it. The death of vegetation leads to soil erosion. Hence, salinity management is an indirect way of conserving soil.
Promote Helpful Soil Organisms:
Nitrogen-fixing and denitrifying bacteria are important constituents of the nitrogen cycle. They live in soil. Bacteria and fungi help keep the soil healthy. Organisms like earthworms help decompose organic material in the soil. They aid soil aeration and help it maintain porosity. Rodents too, help soil the same way. This increases the absorbing capacity of soil. Earthworms, through aeration of soil, enhance the availability of macronutrients. These helpful organisms boost soil fertility and help in soil conservation.
Grow Indigenous Crops:
Planting native crops is beneficial for soil conservation. If non-native plants are grown, fields should be bordered by indigenous crops to prevent soil erosion, thus achieving soil conservation.
More Tips to conserve soil
Mulch is a covering placed over soil to protect it from erosion and help the soil retain water content. Mulch also serves as a good source of nutrients for plants and helps them sustain in times of drought and dry weather. Mulching is a good practice for conservation of soil moisture.
Harmful gases and solid wastes that pollute air and water, also pollute land, rendering the soil infertile. Excessive deposition of salts in the soil makes it unsuitable for plant growth. In the absence of vegetation, soil is exposed to erosion due to wind and water. Good farming and gardening practices can help restore soil health and preserve this natural resource.