Keep That Soil Alive

Background InformationKeep That Soil Alive

Soil performs many important jobs for us. We are inextricably linked to soil because we use it to grow plants that provide the food, fiber and the materials we need to live. Did you know that soil is ALIVE? Just one shovel full of soil contains seven billion living things!

Soil is teeming with a diverse ecosystem of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and many other living things that feast on organic matter. As these microorganisms digest the organic matter, they convert nutrients to a usable form for plants and change the soil structure around them. A soil that is alive can help water infiltrate through the soil profile instead of running off the land.

Farmers can help keep soil alive by feeding soil microbes and protecting soil from erosion by wind and water. Planting cover crops, keeping crop residue in the field and limiting tillage are all management practices that can support soils that are alive.

Questions to Consider

What are some of the bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms that healthy soils contain?
What is tillage? What are some of the reasons farmers till their fields?
What is erosion?
How does tilling impact soil organisms?
What is nutrient cycling in soil?
How might healthy soil help with water infiltration through the soil?
What is soil pore space?
What are soil aggregates?
What kinds of changes can farmers make to build healthier soil?
What do you think the video means by “conservation pays?”

Enhanced Learning Activities

Compost Creatures Up Close (Grades 6-12)
The Ties That Bind Soil Together (Grades 9-12)
You Can Count On Earthworms (Grades 6-12)

Related Activities

Personal History and the Land (p. 4 in Culture of Conservation book)
The Future (p. 10 in Culture of Conservation book)
Farming Soil Management Practices (p. 36 in Culture of Conservation book)
Soil Functions (p. 40 in Culture of Conservation book)
Agricultural Soil Management Practices (p. 40 in Culture of Conservation book)
Effects of Erosion (Grades 6-8)
SOS, Saving Our Soil (Grades 6-12)

Additional Resources

Soil Food Web (USDA-NRCS)
Composting Yard Waste (Iowa State University Extension and Outreach)
Explore the Science of Soil Health
video series (USDA-NRCS)
“Healthy Soils Are..." fact sheets (USDA-NRCS)
Soil Food Web (p. 21 in Culture of Conservation book)
Who is Part of the Ideal Soil Community? (p. 21 in Culture of Conservation book)
Analyzing Soil Health (p. 22 in Culture of Conservation book)
Farming Practices to Reduce Erosion (p. 25 in Culture of Conservation book)





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