Soil Erosion is a world wide problem

Research shows that after soil erosion (especially after over use of agricultural land or tillage erosion) has taken place, the remaining soil is not appropriate for food crops. This is taking place in many countries. Normally other crops are planted which can survive harsh conditions and the soils that are left behind. These crops are normally cash crops which can be quickly sold because food crops need more nutrients to grow. With the current rate of soil erosion, many parts of the world lack the capacity to produce food crops and rely on other countries to produce food crops for them. This is has a negative impact on the worlds food supply since the initially food productive areas can easily be over farmed leading to soil erosion.
As David Montgomery, professor of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington stated during an interview, "One of the things that became very clear in doing the research for the book is that if you look at the things that influence human societies, you can break them into two parts. There are long wave length trends in history, and the way we treat soil is one of those."

As the epidemic of soil erosion occurs, depleting fertile soil, another stain on the food supply is taking place, which is population growth. Each year there are more people to feed with less fertile soil to grow the food they require. If this trend continues, we will see food prices rise as food supplies dwindle.

Check out David Montgomery's interview at:

You can read David Montgomery's paper Soil Erosion and Agricultural Sustainability at:

For a different perspective on soil erosion visit:

Kenya's Soil Erosion leads to Famine

In Kenya agriculture is literally the life blood of the country. The country was initially self sufficient and able to supply enough food for its people. Unfortunately this changed. One of the main reasons for the change was the use of unsustainable agricultural practices that exposed soil to erosion and deforestation. These practices combined with the fact that Kenya has many hilly regions which are highly prone to erosion by gravity led to a decrease in food production. As the situation continued to worsen, Kenya's fertile top soil was extensively carried away leaving behind soil that lacked the needed nutrients for agricultural food production. This led to famine.
Due to lack of produce in the year 2007 and later rains were not sufficient in the year 2008 a great famine ensued. Kenya was forced to use all its food reserves and now must rely on emergency relief food from international organizations.
To gain more information of the causes of Kenya's famine go to:

What can you do?

Go to the American Red Cross site to learn more and donate:

Or go to Kenya's Red Cross site to gain more information and donate:

The Dirt on Soil

Soil is one of the world’s most valued resources Soil erosion triggers land degradation affecting the world’s food supply. As Sean Willet wrote in his book, Soil Erosion and Land Degradation, “The loss of this resource, through land degradation processes such as wind and water erosion, is one of the most serious environmental problems we are faced with as it is destroying the means of producing food”.

Erosion, takes away the best organic matters, it tempers with the depth of the top rich soil, reduces the soils capacity to hold water, and affects the soil biota. The beneficial impact of rain is then reduced too due to increases in water runoff and reductions in the soil's water holding capacity. Taken together or separately, these factors limit the soil's productivity and, as a result, can reduce crop yields and thus endangers our food supply.

For more information on erosion and land degradation check out this link:

What you can you do?

Support organic farming by purchasing organic foods and encourage your local retailer to stock organic produce. Find out where the produce you buy comes from and encourage your local Super Market to supply produce which is farmed by using environmentally friendly methods.
To find out more about what you can do go to the United States Department of Agriculture's ask the expert page. Find it at:

What Determines Crust Formation

Physical crusts form when organic matter is depleted from the surface layer, soil aggregates become weak, and raindrops disperse the soil into individual particles that clog soil pores, seal the surface, and form a layer that is dense when dry. A physical crust consisting of numerous thin bands can form when sediment from erosion is carried downslope and buries the soil surface. Physical crusts are more common on silty, clayey, and loamy soils and are relatively thin or weakly expressed, if present at all, on sandy soils. Soils with a high content of sodium disperse readily in water and are more susceptible to crust formation than other soils.

To examine a crust, lift the soil surface with a knife tip and look for cohesive layers or thin bands parallel to the soil surface. These layers have no apparent binding by visible strands of organic material, such as cyanobacteria. Fragments of physical crusts disperse or “melt” when placed in water. A vesicular crust is a type of physical crust with many small, unconnected air pockets or spaces similar to those in a sponge.

A biological crust occupies a large amount of the surface of calcareous and gypsiferous soils. Soil texture, moisture, temperature, season of precipitation, and history of disturbance largely determine the dominant organisms in the crust. For example, moss tends to be dominant in the Columbia Basin, whereas cyanobacteria and lichen are dominant in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts.

Prevent crust formation by keeping organic matter on your garden. Adding a healthy layer of organic matter to your garden from time to time will help prevent soil erosion.


CO2 Soccer...Play Ball

Soccer, for all intensive puroses, is the worlds game and will be hitting South Africa this summer.

With the world cup 2010 comes more garbage, carbon, and use of the land. Due to this, a project has been set up by The Soil & More Reliance compost project. This project has already gotten over half of the nations that have qualified for the worlds cup to commit to offset their carbon emissions for their time at the game. In addition to this, which is a huge success in and among itself, the project also is dedicated to take all of the trash and turn it into compost to help reduce the environmental problems which already exist due to the agriculture in South Africa.

The Soil & More also heads up projects to help prevent soil erosion, water scarcity, and waste production.

Even if you're not a huge fan of soccer this is a great thing The Soil & More project is undertaking. If you want to learn more about what the project is all about, check out their website:

Are you going to watch the world cup? Does knowing that the event is going to do everything it can to reduce it's footprint on the world?

Saving the ball!!!

Self Destructive Cycles

As if the Gulf Oil spill wasn't bad enough, now there may be a secondary disaster looming in the near future. Erosion of the low lying areas in the Gulf States is undermining the support for the oil pipeline infrastructure.

Currently, much of the oil distribution network for the oil platforms in the gulf is supported by pipelines that run through very unstable earth in the form of marshes and swamps. This land is held in place by a network of plants and weather conditions that keep small amounts of land from eroding into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

The current influx of highly toxic oil residues is headed straight for these areas and has a high probability of wiping out much of the plant life therein. Without the network of roots and plants keeping the earth stable, the pipelines built upon this ground face a shaky future.

The Root System – What Goes on Under the Surface of Your Soil

The root system is the network of all the roots of a plant. It is the system of the roots and related organs that the plant develops.

The picture on top shows the many looks and types of the planting root system. The two main/basic types of root system types are:

1. TAPROOT system: this is a single primary root that dominates as the center in which branch roots develops around it growing laterally. This type of root grows vertically downward. Usually when a taproot system plant is pulled, the long taproot stays in the ground and re-sprouts.

2. FIBROUS root system: this is a network of fine roots with no central dominant root. These roots do not go as deep as the taproots, but they spread laterally growing from the stem.

What Are Soil Crusts and Why Are They Important

Biological Crust

A physical crust is a thin layer with reduced porosity and increased density at the surface of the soil. A biological crust is a living community of lichen, cyanobacteria, algae, and moss growing on the soil surface and binding it together. A chemical crust or precipitate is white or pale colored and forms in soils with a high content of salts. Both chemical and biological crusts can form on and extend into a physical crust. This information sheet deals only with physical and biological crusts.

Physical crusts generally indicate that the amount of organic matter in the soil has decreased and/or erosion has occurred. They have low aggregate stability, disperse readily when wet, and are easily reformed by raindrop impact or flowing water. They seal the soil surface, reduce the rate of water infiltration, and can increase runoff. Physical crusts generally have a very low content of organic matter and support little soil biological activity. The dense nature of the crusts can impede seedling emergence. Water that ponds in flat, crusted areas is likely to evaporate, reducing the amount of water available to plants. Physical crusts generally help to control wind erosion, but they do not protect the soil from water erosion.

Biological crusts stabilize the soil surface, protecting it from erosion. Depending on soil characteristics, biological crusts may increase or reduce the rate of water infiltration. By increasing surface roughness, they reduce runoff, thus increasing infiltration and the amount of water stored for plant use. Some organisms in biological crusts can increase the amount of nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil. In semiarid ecosystems biological crusts can provide a significant amount of nitrogen for plant growth. The germination of plants may be enhanced or inhibited, depending on the nature of the biological crust and the plant species. In general, the relative importance of biological crusts increases as annual precipitation and the potential plant cover decrease.


Physical Crust

Manufacturing Nature

For years scientists and engineers have been studying "natures materials" and trying to replicate them. An example of this is the silk web created by a spider. When comparing gram to gram, a spiders web is 5 times stronger than steel! Can you imagine a building made up from a spider web? Other than you sticking to the floor and waiting a LONG time for the elevator, that would be amazing. The only problem so far with replicating natures building tools is that scientists haven't found a way to do it.

While some processes have tried to replicate nature, such as the industrial ceramics man has created to copy the inside coating on an abalone shell, nothing has come close or used an environmental friendly way of producing it. However, these road blocks aren't stopping engineers and biologists from continually looking into ways they can replicate nature in order to have a positive effect on the environment.

One of these ways is to build roofs in a style that replicates a forest canopy which would protect against soil erosion by, according to an article on, "dissipating the energy of monsoon rains and by creating wind currents that essentially push the rain back up into the atmosphere."

While this is only being experimented with for the time being, the possibilities are very real that we could see the evolution in manufacturing from large plants who create CO2 gasses and other harmful emissions, to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes.

I think that by studying the way birds build nests using natural materials is fascinating. I think by studying the woven patterns and the way birds put together a strong nest is something we can learn from in terms of creating structurally sound buildings with less harmful materials.

What kinds of products would you like to see come out that replicate nature? What animals do you think are the best candidates to study in order to replicate? (not animal testing, just observational study of course.)


Significant Financial Losses From Coastal Erosion Anticipated Along U.S. Coastlines

Within the first few hundred feet bordering the Nation’s coasts, property owners face as large a risk of damage from erosion as they do from flooding.

Approximately 25 percent of homes and other structures within 500 feet of the U.S. coastline and the shorelines of the Great Lakes will fall victim to the effects of erosion within the next 60 years, according to a study released today by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Roughly 1,500 homes and the land on which they are built will be lost to erosion each year, on average, for the next several decades. Costs to coastal property owners will average $530 million per year. Additional beach nourishment or structural protection might lead to lower losses; additional development in the most erosion prone areas will lead to higher losses.

Especially hard hit will be areas along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines, which are expected to account for 60 percent of nationwide losses.
The Atlantic and Gulf coasts account for 45 percent of the U.S. coastline and they are home to 63 percent of the structures within 500 feet of the shoreline. The nation's highest average erosion rates - up to six feet or more per year - occur along the Gulf of Mexico coastline. The average erosion rate on the Atlantic coast is about two to three feet per year. However, actual erosion rates can vary widely from one location to another and from one year to another. A hurricane or other major storm can cause the coast to erode 100 feet or more in a single day.

Costs to U.S. homeowners will average more than a half billion dollars per year, and additional development in high erosion areas will lead to higher losses, according to the report

At current enrollment levels, the National Flood Insurance Program will pay $80 million per year for erosion related damage, about 5 percent of today’s premiums. Total losses will rise with hoped-for enrollment increases.

Today’s property values within the areas most susceptible to coastal erosion have been lowered by a total of $3.3 billion to $4.8 billion nationwide as a result of erosion, a loss of about 10 percent.

Most of the damage from erosion over the next 60 years will occur in low-lying areas also subject to the highest risk of flooding. Some additional damage will also occur along eroding coastal bluffs.

Although certain types of erosion damage are not eligible under National Flood Insurance Program rules, most erosion-related losses sustained by policyholders is reimbursed by the program. However, erosion damage is not fully reflected in flood insurance rates; current rates are primarily based on flood risk alone.

Thus erosion losses will be subsidized by policyholders in non-eroding areas or general taxpayers.

To fully reflect risk, insurance rates in the highest risk coastal areas must be, on average, twice today’s rates.

Rate increases could be spread uniformly to offset soil erosion payout claims.
It would cost about $44 million for FEMA to identify, map, disseminate and maintain information on erosion hazards nationwide.

Assuming that enrollment in the federal flood insurance program holds steady, NFIP's tax payer payout for erosion-related losses over the next few decades is likely to be about $80 million per year.
If all currently empty lots in areas most susceptible to erosion are built on, damage from erosion would rise by roughly $100 million per year for the value of the structures alone.

Development density in several of the high-risk coastal areas increased by more than 60 percent over the last 20 years. Roughly 15 percent of this increase appears attributable to the influence of the National Flood Insurance Program.

The Heinz Center-Evaluation of Erosion Hazards. 2000

What Affects Aggregate Stability and How it is Managed

The stability of aggregates is affected by soil properties that change relatively little and by properties that change in response to changes in vegetation and management. As a result, measurements of the aggregate stability of a given soil should be compared only with measurements for the same or similar soils with similar textures.

Soil properties.—Soil properties that change relatively little include texture and type of clay. Expansion and contraction of clay particles as they become moist and then dry can shift and crack the soil mass and create or break apart aggregates. Calcium in the soil generally promotes aggregation, whereas sodium promotes dispersion. The quantity of calcium and sodium is specific to each type of soil.

Vegetation.—Management affects the plant community. Changes in the composition, distribution, and productivity of plant species affect aggregation-related soil properties, including aggregate stability, the amount and type of organic matter in the soil, and the composition and size of the soil biotic community. The amount of plant cover and the size of bare patches also are important. The centers of large bare spaces receive few inputs of organic matter and are susceptible to degradation.

Grazing.—Disturbance of the soil surface by grazing animals has both beneficial and detrimental effects on aggregate stability. It breaks the soil apart, exposing the organic matter “glues” to degradation and loss by erosion; however, it also can incorporate litter and standing dead vegetation into the soil, increasing the content of organic matter in the soil. Heavy grazing that significantly reduces plant production disrupts the formation of aggregates by reducing the inputs of organic matter. Grazing is more likely to increase aggregate stability in areas where an unusually large amount of standing dead material is on the soil surface and the risk of erosion is not increased by removal of plant material and disturbance of the soil surface.

You can improve the productivity of rangeland through good range management which normally increases aggregate stability. A few practices that you could use include:

• Maintain the optimum amount of live vegetation and litter
in order to maintain the content of organic matter and soil
structure and control erosion.
• Decrease the number and size of bare areas.
• Minimize soil surface disturbances, especially in arid

Try putting these practices into action on land that you have access too.


Water Erosion Control

Soil loss due to water erosion reduces crop yields and reduces nutritional value of the foods grown. Good management of soil and water resources is the best way to prevent soil from being washed away. There are well-known methods of farming which will help to maintain soils, but they must be used deliberately. For example, crop rotation, terracing, and plowing around hills rather than up and down (see picture) to slow erosion. Unfortunately, these methods take more time and effort and are simply more difficult to do with highly automated equipment; therefore, large agribusiness operations are hesitant to use them even though it would be in its best interests, long-term.

Snowmelt and rainfall are the driving forces for water erosion. Bare soils are very vulnerable to erosion. Steep slopes and long, uninterrupted slopes are especially prone to water erosion especially when plowed up and down the slope. Silty soils, soils low in organic matter, and soils with an impermeable subsoil layer are also more susceptible to water erosion. The harder soil is used and reused without crop rotation, the lower it becomes in organic matter and essential nutrients; therefore, more susceptible to erosion. Once topsoil is gone it is very hard to reestablish, even with serious efforts.

This tells us that current farming methods are not sustainable and must be changed if we are to maintain the planet’s ability to provide food for everyone. Unfortunately, farmers are already struggling to earn a living wage and changes in farming methods will increase their costs. Such costs must be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices. Stores do not want to increase prices so they will resist higher prices from the farmers and distributors. This keeps the pressure on farmers to continue nonsustainable farming practices. It is important for the public to educate themselves about how food is produced and to be willing to pay a little more for foods produced in more healthy ways. As a start to that consumer education, the following website offers some useful information.$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex2074

Create Your Own Rain Garden

I saw this article when I was surfing around on the web about building your own rain garden and wanted to share it.

If you're like me, you're probably thinking to yourself right now, what's a rain garden? Is it a garden where I plant rain? If the heck am I going to find a rain seed?!?

Ok, so you probably weren't thinking those last two, but thanks to the article on, a rain garden is "a shallow depression that is designed to intercept, treat and infiltrate storm water at the source before it becomes runoff." This is a cool concept because you are able to manage the runoff water that funnels down your rooftop, gutters, driveway ,etc. This allows you to use the water for your lawn and let it soak back into the ground instead of the water going into the storm drain.

Rain gardens are a perfect way to help improve the water quality while, in a sense, recycle the water for use on your lawn without increasing your water bill.

Would you build a rain garden if you knew it could save you money as well as help the environment? If you have a rain garden please leave a comment and let us know how you built it and what advantages you are seeing from it.

To learn more about rain gardens, check out


Oil Spill Impacts on Soil Quality

The recent oil spill catastrophe in the gulf has cast new importance on the quality of the shore line and how that affects our lives. The cleanup effort has only just begun and mediation procedures are coming up short.

Quoted from

The fate of oil residues on shore depends on the spilled oil's composition and properties, the volume of oil that reaches the shore, the types of beach and coastal sediments and rocks contacted by the oil, the impact of the oil on sensitive habitats and wildlife, weather events, and seasonal and climatic conditions. Some oils evaporate, disperse, emulsify, weather, and decompose more easily than others. The weather and seasonal and climatic conditions may accelerate or delay these processes.

Since this is happening pre-hurricane season, the weather will only helping with minimal wave action and evaporation of the lighter hydrocarbons. This means that most of the toxic sludge will be floating its way onshore.

Oil waste that coalesces into a tar-like substance or that saturates sediments above the surf and tide level is especially persistent. Efforts to remove the oil and clean, decontaminate, and remediate an oil-impacted shoreline may make the area more visibly attractive, but may be more harmful than helpful in terms of actual recovery.

Contour Cropping

Contour Cropping is a conservation farming method that is used on slopes to control soil erosion. Contour cropping involves planting crops across the slope instead of up and down the slope. Using contour cropping helps against erosion by keeping valuable topsoil and by slowing down water so that it soaks in the ground. Long, smooth, even slope speed up water runoff water and fast moving water has the power to cut deep into the ground. Contour cropping helps shorten slope lengths and slow down water. Contour cropping is most effective on slopes between 2 and 10 percent. Often strip of hay are planted in between rows of crops to help further slow runoff water. It is important that crop be planted along the contour and your local office of the USDA NRCS can show you how to lay out contour lines to get started. This is a very effective practice and is used in such places as the Palouse region of Washington and the Coon Creek Watershed in Wisconsin.

For more info:

Food Shortages and Soil Erosion

Food Shortages and Soil Erosion
Last night, while flipping through channels, I ran across an interview on OPB with Frances Moore Lappe. I remembered her revolutionary boo, “Diet for a Small Planet,” which was very inspirational to me in my younger years. I had been a dedicated vegetarian for may years, and then became am on and off vegetarian, and am now a meat eater. This seems to follow the trend of many of my friends and associates.
While it seemed before, almost everybody I knew was a vegetarian, a vegan, and some were even into raw food diets, currently it seems very hip to be a meat eater, even a proud meat eater. One significantly newer trend with younger folks is eating locally and humanely raised meats, and eating and using all parts of the animal. I met a guy last night that is raising rabbits for meat, which he will slaughter himself.
While the new outlook on meat eating is certainly refreshing, after listening to the interview I am reflecting on this new fervor for meat eating. Lappe insists that the situation with world hunger has not improved, but rather gotten worse. She says that the continued problems with global hunger, combined with the ever looming water crisis, demands that our food practices must be questioned even more urgently than when her “Diet for a Small Planet” came out in 1975. Lappe asserts that there is no food shortage, but rather the problem is wasted resources involved in meat production and the lack of distribution of grains is the problem, not lack of availability. Specific to soil erosion, Lappe claims that 85% of topsoil erosion is directly linked to destructive land use from livestock practice. While her newer work offers multiple solutions to the global hunger problem as well as the destruction of the planet, her basic thesis of “Diet for a Small Planet,” is that the hunger problem would be solved if humans stopped wasting resources feeding livestock, and produced grain and vegetables for their own consumption instead. She insists there is enough grains and vegetable to feed the entire planet, and points out the statistics on wasted water, grain, and land to produce comparatively small amounts of meat.
Lappe stated in her interview that using sustainable practices to produce grains and vegetables could refurbish the soil and reduce soil erosion. She explains that humans can work with soil microstructures and create abundance of food without damaging the earth and wasting vital resources. Her new book, “Hope’s Edge,” is written with her daughter, and revisits many of the issues brought up in her original work from the 1970’s. She focuses on Democracy, and explains that megacoporations monopolizing the global food economy do not fit into the basic tenets of democracy. On a positive note, her new work does outline many positive changes happening all over the world in empowering individuals and communities to take charge of their food security and return to traditional food harvesting techniques that work with the earth and protect soil integrity.
What can you do? You can take part in this newer movement of sustainable farming-that can nourish the family and replenish the earth. Low-income families can look into the local agency Growing Gardens, which works to assist low income families in growing their own food to reduce hunger and encourage self sufficiency. Low-income mothers on WIC should also look into the WIC program “Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program,” which allows low income mothers to use their WIC vouchers at the Farmer’s Market to buy nutritious, local foods. Families that are not low income can check the plethora of literature on home gardening. You can also consider only eating free range meats and poultry, and buy produce from farmers that use sustainable practices.

Growing Gardens-2003 NE 42md Ave #3. PDX OR 97213. 503-284-8420

Gardening in the Pacific Northwest-

Why aggregate stability is important

Stable aggregates are critical to erosion resistance, water availability, and root growth. Soils with stable aggregates at the surface are more resistant to water erosion than other soils, both because soil particles are less likely to be detached and because the rate of water infiltration tends to be higher on well aggregated soils. Unstable aggregates disperse during rainstorms, then form a hard physical crust when the soil dries. Physical crusts restrict seedling emergence because they have few pores for air and water entry into the soil. The crusts result in more runoff, more erosion, and less available water. Aggregated soils hold more water than other soils and provide pores for root growth. Large, stable aggregates can resist degradation and removal by wind better than small, weak ones.

Aggregate stability is a good indicator of the content of organic matter, biological activity, and nutrient cycling in the soil. The amount of organic matter increases after the decomposition of litter and dead roots begins. Stable aggregates result from this process because soil biota produce material that binds particles together. “New” organic matter stabilizes the larger aggregates, while the smaller aggregates are more likely to be bound by “old” organic matter. New organic matter holds and can release more nutrients. Changes in aggregate stability may serve as early indicators of recovery or degradation of soils and, more generally, of ecosystems. Perennial plants can often persist long after the soil and plant community have become too degraded to support.


Green Destruction

One of the key questions which need answered when you hear about a building being demolished is, "what are they going to do with the land?"

Hopefully in the case of the GE plant in Bridgeport, won't hurt the nearby wetland.

GE is currently seeking approval from the Inland Wetlands Commision (IWC) to tear down the building which according to GE, "had no practical use." The IWC needs to give it's approval to the demolition because of how close it is to the Stillman Pond which feeds into another pond, which eventually ends in the Long Island Sound. Accroding to Thomas P. Cody, the attorney representing GE, "there should be no adverse environmental impact." However, when has anyone trusted what a lawyer said?!? GE needs to provide proof that the demolition will have no impact on the wetland area.

What do you think GE should do with this building? Should more studies be conducted about the environmental impact that tearing it down will have? Sound off by taking the survey below.

Soil Quality

Soil quality is the ability of a soil to perform functions that are essential to people and the environment. Soil quality assessments focus on the dynamic, or management-affected, properties of soil, such as nutrient status, salinity, and water-holding capacity. Soils support plant growth, recycle dead material, regulate and filter water flows, support buildings and roads, and provide habitat for many plants and animals. Depending on the land use, many of these functions occur simultaneously. Soil functions provide private benefits such as crop production or structural support for buildings. Simultaneously, the same soil may provide societal benefits such as carbon sequestration, water quality protection, or preservation of soil productivity for future generations. Doran,, (1994) states: “A soil is not considered "healthy" if it is managed for short term productivity at the expense of future degradation.”
Unfortunately,managing for short term productivity is what many people do. They take what they need from the soil, for their own benefit, and leave damage which will negatively affect the ability of the soil to provide for future generations. Most of us don’t even realize that this is what we are doing. We all need to know more about how to preserve our soil quality and provide a sustainable environment for future generations. To learn more about what you can do, see the following website:

What Soil Aggregates Are and How its Stability Affects Soil Erosion

Soil aggregates are groups of soil particles that are bound to each other more strongly than to adjacent particles. Organic matter “glues” produced when soil biota break down dead roots and litter hold the particles together. Threadlike strands of fungi also bind particles into aggregates. Microscopic aggregates are the building blocks of larger aggregates. The larger aggregates and the arrangement of them, along with chemical attraction between particles, determine soil structure. The structure of the surface layer commonly is granular or blocky, but a degraded surface layer can be crusted, platy, or structureless. Pores important for the movement of air, water, and plant nutrients occur within and between aggregates. Pores also provide thoroughfares for soil organisms.

Aggregate stability refers to the ability of aggregates to resist degradation. Additions of organic matter to the soil enhance the stability of aggregates. Raindrops, flowing water, and windblown sand grains can break apart soil aggregates, exposing organic matter to decomposition and loss. Physical disturbances, such as vehicle traffic and trampling, can break down soil structure. Soils can resist degradation differently when wet or dry. For example, dense, cloddy soils can be very stable when dry but unstable when wet.

Listen to this short video that explains soil aggregates.

Soil & Compost:
What are soil 'aggregates'?


Measure the Effect

I was reading a letter to the editor in a South American publication which was calling for measurement of the effect buildings were having on erosion and run-off. It got me thinking that something like a measurement system in the U.S. would be really helpful in, not only finding ways to prevent run-off, but also in creating sustainable land long after the business is gone.

If the government department in charge of codes and overseeing land use were to add on additional regulations such as run-off measurement or area erosion when businesses looked to build on a land, if the run-off or erosion overly exceeds that amount which may be set by the government department, then taxes or additional penalties would be assesed to the business in order to repair damage done to the land by their building.

What do you think about this? Take a quick survey below and let us know!


What Affects Soil Organic Matter and Soil Management Strategies

The amount of organic matter in the soil is a balance between additions of plant and animal materials and losses through decomposition and erosion.

Environmental factors interacting over time affect the amount of organic matter in soil. Rainfall and temperature affect plant productivity and the rate of organic matter decomposition. Increasing levels of organic matter promote a higher waterholding capacity, which results in increased plant growth and thus an increased amount of organic matter and plant nutrients.

Roots are the primary source of organic matter. Dead roots and gelatinous materials exuded by plant roots as they grow through the soil are decomposed by soil organisms and converted into organic matter. Since much of what is produced above ground is lost through photo-oxidation, the amount of root production is very important. Every year, about 25 percent of the total root biomass in areas of tall prairie grasses dies and becomes available for incorporation into the soil as organic matter. In the drier areas, such as areas of short prairie grasses, about 50 percent of the root biomass becomes available, but the total amount is less than that in the areas of tall grasses.

Plant composition and distribution control the distribution of organic matter. The horizontal and depth distribution of roots, the distribution of plants across the landscape, and the susceptibility of roots to decay vary among species. The roots of forbs and shrubs generally contribute less organic matter to the surface layer of the soil than the roots of grasses. Changes in the composition of plant species, especially from grasses to shrubs, affect the contribution of roots to soil organic matter. The organic matter is enhanced by litter beneath shrubs in areas of arid and semiarid rangeland. Fire initially reduces the amount of plant residue added to the soil. If the fire results in a shift from shrubs to grasses, however, the long-term effect can be an increase in soil stability and organic matter.

Soil organisms break down litter, dead roots, and organic matter into smaller fragments and compounds. As they decompose organic matter, they convert nutrients into plant-available forms and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Warm, moist soil supports higher decomposition rates than waterlogged, dry, or cool soil.

Wind erosion and water erosion increase losses of organic matter. Erosion breaks down soil aggregates, exposing physically protected organic matter to decomposition and loss. Organic-rich soil from the surface layer is carried away by runoff or wind. Litter redistribution by wind or water from or to surrounding rangeland also affects the content of organic matter.

Grazing can change plant composition and distribution and increase or decrease the amount of organic matter in the soil. Grazing can increase the rate of root turnover, but overgrazing reduces the amount of plant energy available for the growth of new roots. Trampling by livestock can help to incorporate the plant material above the ground into the soil. In arid ecosystems, however, little plant material is available for incorporation. Trampling also breaks up soil aggregates, exposing organic matter to decomposition and loss through erosion.

Try some of the following management strategies in your garden this Summer. Your garden will thank you by providing you with a larger harvest. If the following information helps you please post a comment about it.

Management strategies

The following strategies can help to maintain the optimum content of organic matter in rangeland soils:

• Increase or maintain plant production.
• Promote the growth of species with high root production and promote a mix of species with different rooting depths and patterns.
• Promote the incorporation of above-ground plant material in moist plant communities with large amounts of standing plant material (e.g., areas of tall prairie grasses).
• Protect the soil from erosion by maintaining or increasing the plant cover and reducing the amount of bare soil.
• Properly manage grazing, fire, and vehicle use and thus promote the desired plant community and protect the soil
from erosion.


What is Organic Matter and Why it is Important

What is soil organic matter?

Soil organic matter is carbon-rich material that includes plant, animal, and microbial residue in various stages of decomposition. Live soil organisms and plant roots are part of the carbon pool in soil but are not considered soil organic matter until they die and begin to decay. The quantity and composition of soil organic matter vary significantly among major ecosystems. Soil in arid, semiarid, and hot, humid regions commonly has less organic matter than soil in other environments. The total content of organic matter ranges from less than 0.5 to more than 8 percent in the surface layer of rangeland soils.

Soil organic matter includes three main components; light fraction, physically protected, and chemically stable. Light fraction is more biologically active than the other two and includes relatively fresh plant fragments. Physically protected organic matter is locked within aggregates of mineral particles, where it is protected from microbial decomposition. Chemically stable organic matter gives soil its dark color and is generally the largest pool of organic matter in soil. Physically protected organic matter may also be chemically stable.
Why is organic matter important?

Soil organic matter enhances soil functions and environmental quality because it:

• binds soil particles together into stable aggregates, thus improving porosity, infiltration, and root penetration and reducing runoff and erosion;
• enhances soil fertility and plant productivity by improving the ability of the soil to store and supply nutrients, water, and air;
• provides habitat and food for soil organisms;
• sequesters carbon from the atmosphere;
• reduces mineral crust formation and runoff; and
• reduces the negative water quality and environmental effects of pesticides, heavy metals, and other pollutants by actively trapping or transforming them.

Attempt to use organic matter in your soil. Try it out. It will help the garden produce a better plant. If you have ever used organic matter feel free to post a comment about your experiencing.


Chocolate Pudding

Believe it or not, we were all children at one time or another, and as children some of you may recall playing in a neighborhood stream, throwing the mud around and making "chocolate pudding" out of the small pools that collected on the sides of stream beds. Ever notice how cloudy the water got so easily? Well that same cloudy water, though interesting to a child...or maybe even an adult, is actualy near deadly to the natural wildlife that inhabits that stream. In fact that cloudy water/muddy water is like sadpaper going into the gills of coinhabitant fish and frogs alike. Furthermore this sediment often times covers fish and insect eggs which are layed and fertilized in the small pools alongside these streams. Most of the time this sediment washes away the eggs layed by local wildlife but more than likely it entombs young fish and insects before they have a chance to live.

Many of you might be saying, "so what, so some muddy water is hurting poor little fishies" well, if your saying that then your obviously not up-to-date on certain terms such as "eco-system" which definately defines the way of life along nearly every river or stream bank from here to the sudan.

On top of destroying the wildlife by way of mud, when eroded soil particles find they're way into this streams they can carry with them pollutants like oil, fertilizers, pesticides and most importantly bacteria, which can spread disease and decay to much of the plant life in and around the stream.

Destroying the eco system is one of the most common causes of global warming, and it starts....with soil....or chocolate pudding.

Dark Soil

When discussing soil erosion these days, many people are quick to accuse this often times natural occurance on humans. Though we as humans are responsible this day in age for many occurances of soil erosion, we are not the only causes. Soil erosion is believe it or not a natural occurance which can happen if the right set of circumstances are met. Furthermore, worse than mere soil erosion is the end result you get from it, which is infertile soil, and infertile soil can be found in just about any evironment on the planet.

In order to battle the age old problem of infertile soil, the natives of the Amazon Basin have devised a system for fertilizing otherwise useless soils. They used of charred organic materials or biochar to transform the soil into fertile ground for growing crops, and it worked. In fact the soil that they replenished is still fertile with rich nutrients to this day after 500 years!

Biochar is currently being researched by scientists all over the world, and is seen as an important tool for not only soil replenishment, but a tool to combat global warming as well. "The potential of biochar lies in its ability to sequester-capture and store-huge amounts of carbon while also displacing fossil fuel energy, effectively doubling its carbon impact," Christoph Steiner, a soil scientist.

Biochar is often refered to as dark soil, and is so good at storing carbon in the soil, it can sequester carbon and prevent soil degredation for thousands of years.

This research I believe is one thing I believe to be vital to the survival of humanity, the possibilities alone could extend to other planets, (if we get there some day) and enable us to grow food in un-forgiving environments anywhere!

To make Biochar from home:
1. Start by digging a trench in your garden bed, use a fork to soften the soil at the bottom of the trench.
2. Pile brush such as leaves, pine needles, and other rubbish into the trench and light it on fire. The idea is to have a fire that starts out hot and quickly dies out because of a reduced oxygen supply.
3. Next, watch the fire's smoke, white smoke is water vapor, yellow smoke is sugar and other resins burning, and greyish blue smoke is what you want. When you see this greyish blue smoke, smolder the fire with about an inch of soil and leave it to cook.
4. After a while of smoldering, the dirt will form into charcole like chunks, when this happens put an equal amount of water ontop to put the fire completely out. Now you have Biochar!!!

Bad Crops? Replant? Maybe...

The problem with soil erosion is that it takes away land where food can be planted for us to eat. If there is no land or the land is not able to be used, then prices for goods go up and supply for goods goes down. No matter where you stand on the topic of the environment, this is an issue of economics. Simple supply and demand from erosion is what will ultimately drive change!

Think about how much you are willing to pay for something like ketchup or even bbq sauce. The horror!!! Don't raise the price of my bbq sauce. Well unfortunately it will happen if the land that grows the crop which yields the ingredients to make my beloved bbq sauce.

Would you be willing to pay more for your favorite goods because of an issue that could be resolved if we just banded together to create solutions to curb soil erosion? What are some of your favorite foods you would be sad to live without?

Rangeland Soil Quality—Water Erosion

One of the ways that soil erodes is from water erosion. When soil is not anchored by trees, plants, grass, or some other means of keeping it from washing away, it can be seriously eroded by rain, runoff and other types of water flow. Once topsoil, the layer of soil with the greatest amount of organic matter, biological activity, and nutrients, is eroded, the plants which remain may not be able to recover. Thin or non-topsoil may only support less desirable plants as air, water and nutrients are less available. The sediment moved by erosion can accumulate in streams, rivers, and reservoirs, damaging water quality.
To save topsoil, it is important to use the area properly when clearing trees, plants and grass in order to create buildings or farmland. Use of land must be done in a sustainable manner which protects the land and the water. It is important that we, as a people, recognize the damage we do by our use of the land cannot be repaired. Recent reports indicate the earth is at a tipping point where we will not be able to reverse this damage if we do not stop immediately and start to rebuild. It has become critical that people recognize what they are doing and not only stop creating more problems but also start to reverse their actions.
For more information on soil and water erosion, see and related links.

How Soil Compaction can be Identified and Managed

The following features may indicate a compacted soil

• platy, blocky, dense, or massive appearance;
• significant resistance to penetration with a metal rod;
• high bulk density; and
• restricted, flattened, turned, horizontal, or stubby plant

Because some soils that are not compacted exhibit these features, refer to a soil survey report for information about the inherent characteristics of the soil. Each soil texture has a minimum bulk density (weight of soil divided by its volume) at which root-restricting conditions may occur, although the restriction also depends on the plant species.

Management strategies that minimize

• Minimize grazing, recreational use, and vehicular traffic
when the soils are wet.
• Use only designated trails or roads; reduce the number of
• Do not harvest hay when the soils are wet.
• Maintain or increase the content of organic matter in the
soil by improving the plant cover and plant production.

Please put these tactics into action. Include the minimization of soil erosion in your daily lives.


No-till? No Erosion!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has conducted a study on the effects of no-till farming. The findings suggest that by performing this, the soil will be more stable and have less erosion than plowed soil. Research also showed that more carbon is stored in the soil when the land is no-till.

While previous blogs postings on this site have explained what no-till farming is, this is the first study to explain the benefits of this type of farming.

To read more about this study, click the link below.

Plant a tree to combat soil erosion: Arbor Day Foundation

Arbor Day is a nationally-celebrated observance that encourages tree planting and care. Founded by J. Sterling Morton in 1872, it's celebrated each Spring. It's not too late to plant a tree and celebrate Arbor Day in your neighborhood.

Did you know that trees fight soil erosion, conserve rainwater, and reduce water runoff and sediment deposit after storms?

The roots of a tree make gaps in the soil so that when it rains the water has space to move around in the soil before being absorbed. When trees are removed and the heavy machinery used in logging compacts the soil and fills all the spaces that allow air and water to get to the roots of plants, it becomes difficult for plants to continue growing or for new plants to grow.

(Compacting soil is similar to when the first snow falls. At first the snow is light and fluffy but once you start walking on it, it becomes hard and close to the ground. It is much more difficult to shovel snow when it is compacted!) When the soil is compacted, and the trees are removed, soil is not held in place by the roots and water is not absorbed by the soil and so during heavy rainfalls, it runs over the compacted soil causing floods.

Eventually, heavy rains lead to soil erosion, as the running water strips the top layer of soil away. The top layer of soil is the most nutritious and without it, it is hard for plants to grow. So, take part in Arbor Day this May by planting a tree. The Arbor Day Foundation has inspired people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees for since 1972 and was established to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Arbor Day.

The cost of becoming a member is only $10.00 and with that you get 10, yes ten free trees to plant in your yard or give to your neighbors to improve your neighborhod.

Visit the Arbor Day website at to get involved and start planting trees today!

Become a Weekend Gardener

You can help prevent soil erosion by planting vegetation, trees, ground cover, shrubs and other plants. Roots from these plants will help hold soil in place on the ground. Soil will not blow away due to wind, or be washed away from rain as easily. Here are six easy ideas to get started today in preventing soil erosion
  1. Step1

    Create windbreaks, which are barrier rows planted along the windward exposure of a plot of land. Windbreaks made out of trees, such as evergreen trees or bushes help prevent erosion by preventing wind from blowing across your land.

  2. Step2

    Grow cover crops on farm land. When land is not being used during the off season, cover crops can help prevent soil erosion due to wind and rain. Legumes (beans) are often used as cover crops.

  3. Step3

    Apply mulch to retain moisture and also help prevent soil erosion. Topsoil is not as likely to be washed or blown away when it is covered by mulch. Mulch is often used in flower beds.

  4. Step4

    Construct surface runoff barriers, such as edging made of bricks or stones, can help prevent soil erosion by minimizing runoff. If runoff is minimized, soil is less likely to be carried away by groundwater runoff.

  5. Step5

    Use contour farming when farming on sloped areas. This conservation technique is to follow the actual topography of a slope when planting crops. Using the natural lay of the land in this way can also prevent soil erosion.

  6. Step6

    Try terrace farming and gardening to decrease groundwater runoff. Create nearly level layers of crops on a hillside.

For more info on where to buy gardening supplies, go to this link:
The 2010 Chinook Book has lots of local gardening coupons to save you money and get you started on your weekend gardening project.

Save a Tree/ Pull Ivy

No Ivy Day 2010 Saturday, October 9

English ivy is a woody, climbing vine that has been used extensively in the Pacific NW. Research has shown the problem ivies to be Hedera hibernica, Hedera helix 'Baltica', 'Pitttsburgh' and 'Star'. The ivy basically strangles the trees and suffocates them, ultimately causing soil erosion when the trees fall or die.

Why is English ivy a problem?

English ivy is not native to the United States and has no natural predators or pests to keep it in check. It easily escapes from planting areas and invades natural areas, parks and urban forests. It creates "Ivy Deserts" - areas so dominated by ivy that no other vegetation survives. Ivy affects trees negatively, especially when it climbs into the canopy. By adding weight to limbs and reducing air flow around the tree's trunk, ivy makes a tree more susceptible to canopy failure, wind stress and disease. It can also strangle trees around their base and reduce the flow of nutrients up and down the tree.

English ivy does not provide a significant food for native wildlife, but does provide habitat for rats.

What can you do?

Do not plant ivy. Remove ivy, especially from vertical surfaces where it seeds and is spread further by birds. Remove ivy from your yard. Join community out-reach and volunteer-based removal work parties.

Be active!

Take part in No Ivy Day 2010 work day, on Saturday October 9th. Mark your calendars now!

Traditionally, this event has been held on the first Saturday in May. It is often a day of great weather but it is after the native plants have bloomed for the spring, which makes it hard for volunteers to avoid them as we move through the forest. This year, the No Ivy League is moving the date of this event into the fall as a response to feedback we have received about the ecological sustainability of ivy removal in spring. Holding the event in the fall will allow us to remove the hated English Ivy with less damage to native vegetation. It will also help to limit damage to ground-nesting birds during a sensitive time.
We hope you will be able to join us as we celebrate our region's natural areas by removing the invasive English ivy on No Ivy Day - October 9, 2010. We will have ivy removal work parties at various locations, followed by a celebration. More information can be found at:

In addition to October 9th, you can get involved!
Drop-in work parties are hosted the first and third Saturdays of each month, except major holiday weekends, from 8:45 AM to noon. Join us for ivy removal and trail maintenance. Meet at our Field Headquarters near the Lower Macleay trailhead before 8:45 AM. Wear weather-appropriate, grubby clothing. We'll provide gloves and tools. For more info, call 503-823-9423.

You can help restore the native habitat of Forest Park and other natural areas with efforts in removing invasive plants, youth development programs, environmental education, and community participation, promoting research, providing technical assistance, and seeking relevant societal changes.