Soil Health Initiative

Examining soil

The SWCD’s Soil Health Initiative is designed to help diversified and small farms, backyard growers, and community gardens regenerate soil health and improve water quality.

The District provides workshops, events, hands-on demonstrations, and soil health technical assistance.

The Soil Health Initiative encourages growers to use a suite of conservation practices. The goal of these strategies is to improve soil health, plant health, nutrient efficiency, and the soil’s ability to infiltrate, store, and clean water.

Contact us for more information about soil health grant opportunities and technical assistance.

1-acre soil health farm

Soil Health

Soil health is “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.”

Soil health is protected and enhanced by creating the conditions in the garden or farm for natural biological processes to occur. In natural (ecological) systems, organic matter is maintained, water conserved, nutrients cycled, and biological activity thrives.

The soil health system is founded on 4 core principles, which motivate specific conservation practices.

Principles

This ecological system incorporates 4 core soil health principles. These 4 principles create a recipe for regenerating soil health. Keep in mind that all 4 principles work together as a system. Growers will achieve maximum soil health benefits when all 4 are in practice.

  1. Minimize Disturbance – Disturb the soil as little as possible.

  2. Maximize Soil Cover  Keep the soil covered as much as possible. 

  3. Maximize Biodiversity – Using crop rotation and cover crops.

  4. Provide Continuous Living Roots – Keep plants growing throughout the year. 

Benefits

When growers are practitioners of the 4 principles of soil health, there are many positive results. Soil health benefits people and the land. Key improvements include:

  • Increased plant health

  • Increased plant productivity

  • Increased soil organic matter

  • Increased soil water-holding capacity

  • Increased soil aggregate stability

  • Increased water infiltration

  • Improved nutrient use efficiency

  • Enhanced and diversified soil biology

  • Reduced weed pressure

  • Reduced pest pressure

Conservation Practices

Conservation practices are methods growers can use to put the 4 principles into action on the ground.

These practices are also often referred to as conservation cropping techniques, conservation farming, or soil health management systems.

The results of soil health practices can vary based on soils, climate, weed pressure, and other factors in the garden.

Conservation practices are a suite of strategies that regenerate soil health and include:

  • Cover crops

  • Mulching

  • Crop rotation

  • No-till / Low-till

  • Nutrient management

  • Native and targeted plantings for beneficial insects and pollinators

For more guidance and information on soil health, visit the Marion County SWCD’s Soil Health Guide.