Welcome to the new Timberleaf website and blog!  I look forward to writing and chatting with you on various topics related to soil and ultimately to our good health!

With winter just around the corner and the promise of abundant rainfall, thanks to El Nino, I thought it may be fruitful to say a few words on the topics of soil structure and water.

There are a few items to consider when it comes to water and soil.  First, we want to make sure that any rainfall or irrigation that hits the soil is going to penetrate it.  Runoff equals erosion and the loss of valuable topsoil.  We want to avoid this at all costs.  And second, we want to preserve good soil structure.  We can’t discuss soil water without mentioning soil structure, as they go hand-in-hand!

Soil structure may be a new term for you, so let me explain.

Soil structure has to do with the way soil particles are arranged with one another.  Sand is an example of a structure-less soil because the particles are independent of one another, while finer soils consisting of silt, clay, and humus have a tendency to stick together in units of soil structure known as peds.  Peds are favorable because they allow air, water, and roots to move through the soil in the spaces between them.  This also helps limit the potential for erosion too.

Clods are something else entirely.  We want to avoid creating clods formed from poor tillage practices and the direct exposure of the soil to rain, wind, and extreme changes in temperature.

When we work compost into the soil and let nature do its work, thanks to the earthworms and microorganisms that live there, we are helping to create the most favorable soil structure we can have in the topsoil – a granular or crumb-like structure.  This type of structure does a great job of holding soil water, while still allowing air to enter the soil and carbon dioxide, needed for photosynthesis, to exit.

Preserving soil structure is the primary reason I favor minimal tillage once initial tillage for soil preparation is completed and why I’m not a big fan of roto-tillers.  They whip up the soil and break up the structure – similar to tossing your soil into a blender!

The other thing to remember is that the soil should never be left bare and directly exposed to the elements.  Always keep it covered in mulch or plant a cover crop when not in production.  Water hitting the soil particles directly breaks up the structure and potentially forms a crusty layer on the soil surface.  You may have seen this in your own garden.

You can probably deduce by now that whenever it rains or we irrigate our garden, we want to capture every bit of water that is being applied to our soil.  So get some mulch on that garden or plant a cover crop, and let your soil and plants benefit from the much-needed rains that will hopefully come our way this winter!  Be well and have a great Holiday Season!