Begin with soil

Sep 12, 2022

by Carole Kent

The power of caring and acting, and I emphasize EVERY action to care for the Earth (capital E) and earth (small e) is necessary and important. Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist from Sweden puts it this way, "no one is too small to make a difference".

Climate change is obvious and it affects everything. We can all work to stop and reverse this damage, and it all begins with soil. We can cultivate an attitude of caring and relationship with soils as we understand more about the life of the soil.

Healthy soil is teeming with life: approximately 8 billion microorganisms live in 1 tsp. of soil. Healthy soil has highly complex and organized relationships where everything is connected. Carbon is essential to all life and carbon use and sequestration is out of balance. By improving the health of our soil we help correct the imbalance, at the same time strengthening plant's ability to withstand increasing heat. Plants draw down and sequester carbon, carbon helps feed the microbial life in the soil which helps feed the plant, a true win (slowing climate change), win (feeding the microbes), win (feeding the plant).


There are many ways to increase soil health with innumerable benefits:

  1. Increase soil organic matter: All types of soil benefit:sand, clay & silt, because organic matter increases water retention,4" of compost can decrease water use by 40%, and compost attracts and feeds soil microorganisms.
  2. Keep soil covered: It can reduce soil temperatures dramatically, reduce evaporation, reduce weeds, reduce compaction and erosion.
  3. Practice judicious water use: Water in early morning and use drip irrigation, it reduces evaporation and places water next to roots
  4. Avoid chemical fertilizer and herbicides and pesticides: Chemicals kill the life in the soil, birds, bees, beneficial insects, leach into streams and lakes, contaminating water sources
  5. Maximize living roots, plant cover crops: Soil organisms need to be fed carbon, carbon comes from plants roots, roots enable carbon sequestration
  6. Increase plant diversity: Nature loves diversity, monocrops invite pests and disease. greater diversity above ground increases diversity below ground
  7. Minimize soil disturbance-no  till: Disturbing the soil destroys the life in it and breaks up the soil food web, requiring rebuilding of fungal hyphae that link plants sharing water, nutrients and warnings of pest invasions. It breaks up aggregates and releases carbon into the atmosphere, allows water to evaporate and brings up weed seeds and creates hard pan
  8. Avoid soil compaction-don't walk on soil: It squeezes air out and soils have less ability to hold water, and thus can cause erosion

Our future depends on us taking action. Taking action depends on knowledge, caring and being aware that everything is connected.  We are part of, not apart from this magnificent web of life. Deborah Koons Garcia, a documentary filmmaker says, "soil is one of the true miracles of the planet and we treat it like dirt."

Our calling is to change that.

Napa Master Gardeners are available to answer garden questions by email: or phone at 707-253-4143.  Volunteers will get back to you after they research answers to your questions.

Visit our website: to find answers to all of your horticultural questions.

Photo credits: Opensource image

Information links:

UC ANR Healthy Soils for California

Healthy Soil Basics

Tips to improve your garden soil

Soils and Nutrients