Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What do bees have to do with soil?

What is a picture of a flower doing on a soil blog? I'll tell you!  I'm hoping that by letting my collard greens flower out, and get taller and taller and taller, that the roots will get deeper and deeper and deeper.  I'm hoping that these roots will help improve the sad soil structure of my villainous vertisol.  Now, I didn't ask a real soil scientist if this would work.  I'm just guessing based on what I've read here (Reference #1).  So why do I think this will help my plants down the line?  Let's read bullet points!

  • Soil texture*  and soil structure* determine the ability for a soil to hold and conduct the air and water that plants and soil animals need.
  • Vertisols (high clay) are known to be massive* under wet conditions.
  • My clayey soil, with no structure (massive), might not have enough structure to allow proper drainage and aeration. 
  • One step in getting good structure is getting some good macropores* going.  They will allow space for roots to grow and to allow for flow of water and air.
  • Macropores can be made by roots and other living organisms, they are called biopores.
  • Other things help structure too:
    • Minimizing tillage, 
    • timing your soil traffic on drier days (don't crush those precious soil peds), 
    • mulching, 
    • adding organic matter to promote microbial decomposition, 
    • using cover crops or rotating crops which promote root growth, and
    • adding gypsum or other soil conditioners (works best in irrigated soils).
I wish you the best of luck with your soil structure!

Soil texture: the relative proportions soil particle sizes (e.g. sand, silt, and clay)
Soil structure: the arrangement of soil particles into larger units, or peds.  Link to examples
massive: No visible structure, or aggregation of soil particles.
macropores:  Soil pores large enough to allow water to drain readily by gravity.  They generally have a diameter larger than 6 mm.  You can consider this useful void space.
biopores: Large soil pores that were made by roots, earthworms or another soil organism.


  1. Best thing is compost, you can also use composted steer manure (pretty cheap at most big stores) dug down into the top two feet of soil. Most roots don't go below this, except tomatoes and some trees. Usually with the compost you get worms, which are pretty good too. I don't think just plants without doing all the work as well.

  2. Thanks Joein Vegas, I agree with you. Maybe one day I'll get more into the details about the role that roots and fungus play in soil structure- it's pretty neat and involves words like glomalin. Funny that you mention steer manure, I'm also hoping to get some info on the nutritional differences between different manures- specifically, elephant and donkey (my friend has some unique sources of manure). Lemme know if you have a resource for that ;-) Thanks again for the visit.