Soil Improvement & Soil Conservation

Note:  Both of these (improvement and conservation of soil) are for gardens and farms, where they make sense.  We have made the mistake of extending these concepts to wildlands as well, where they do not make sense).


Fabaceae—especially herbs? (Trifolium etc.) also trees and shrubs (Robinia, Genista, etc.)




Mulching—the universal way to better soil.  Good for heavy clay and just as good for sand.  How often can one kind of treatment correct two completely opposite problems?

I keep remembering that little backyard vegetable/fruit garden in France—soil producing for how may centuries, and improved for all that rather than impoverished.  Soil you could dig with your fingers—loose, friable, rich, sweet, with a real look of life to it—I swear it actually sparkled.  And the carrots it grew seemed as sweet, tender, crisp, and juicy as watermelons, or so it seemed by contrast with the bland, woody things we put up with here.  Early March, somewhere in France, with backyard pear trees in flower, old, old stone buildings and sunlit low garden walls, a little plot ready for planting, not a green leaf in sight—a paradise painted in shades of gray, silver, brown, and white.  Quiet, mellowed with the constant care of centuries, a real Home.  We have a long, long way to go.

Erosion-control—that bugaboo.  

  • When not even to bother
  • When (i.e. always) to rely first on proper soil contour, including vertical
  • Mechanical, like netting (good) and riprap (not as good)
  • Seed mixes (never)—NEVER if they claim to be “native”
  • Native soil (with netting) with seedbank
  • Willow puncheons
  • Check dams (good)
  • Straw bale (OK if done right)
  • Scattered straw (not so good)
  • Annuals (if non-renewing, like Trifolium incarnatum and Hordeum vulgare)
  • Hydromulch, with or without seed
  • Potted plants (silly)

Philosophy—soil enrichment is NOT always desirable (e.g. Nitrogen from freeways ruining serpentine outcrops by making them more congenial to weeds).

Some (many) kinds of erosion are good—they make canyons and beaches and rich valleys and waterfalls and scenery and cliffs.

This is one of that little brotherhood of counterintuitives that are in need of an open-minded reexamination—a lot of basic wisdom is waiting not to be discovered, but rediscovered.  Generations have been led to accept notions like:

  • Fire is nothing but destructive.
  • Floods are nothing but destructive.
  • Erosion is nothing but destructive.
  • Cows are nothing but destructive (and grazing in general).
  • Drought? is nothing but destructive.
  • Disturbance is nothing but destructive.
  • Predators are nothing but destructive.

And more recently even . . .

  • Human presence is nothing but destructive.

Most people have already come around about the predator issue (i.e. that they are a natural and even essential part of a healthy system), and more recently about fire, but the rest still have a long way to go before generations? of brainwashing are reversed and their ecological roles are appreciated again.

All of these above come under the general heading of “disturbance”.  They are the broken eggs that make the ecological cake (the breaking of eggs to make the c?).  They go hand in hand with words like: Process, Dynamic, Succession, Diversity, and (biological if not economic) Health.

The absence of these “disturbances” in certain (most?) ecological systems leads to stagnation, decreased diversity, and monopoly by the most aggressive species (= “weeds” as often as not?).

Other common misconceptions:

  • More is better
  • Bare ground is a sign of failure (a lawn-centric or golfcourse-centric notion)
  • The highest diversity and most natives are found where the total green biomass is greatest (a forest-centric notion)
  • Dense, thick, uniformly bright-green vegetation=a “healthy environment”
  • [Drawing]=uniformly healthy forest; [Drawing]=sick forest, or euphemistically “overmature”