“Soil was made to produce crops to nourish and sustain humans and animals. Therefore its essential nature is that of a fertilizer. We could even say that it is no less than a great mass of fertilizer.” ––Mokichi Okada
Soil: A Complex Microcosm
Soil is composed of ground rock particles, organic matter or humus (decayed living matter), air, water, and a multitude of living organisms. These organisms range from microscopic microbes and micro-arthropods such as mites and springtails, to macro arthropods such as earthworms and spiders. This web of chemical, physical, and biological materials functions as a complex system to make the soil a living entity. The gatekeepers of soil processes are the living organisms, or biota, which degrade the decaying organic matter and rock particles. Along with physical root pressures and exudates, the organisms pass dissolved particles down the soil food chain. Eventually the bacteria and fungi process and recycle nutrients that are then available to be taken up by plants roots for plant growth. Over the millennia, this cycle has made available the nutrients from degraded rock and humus and has nourished the growth of plants and animals. This process is the key to support all living things and builds lasting soil fertility.
Natural Agriculture practices support the entire cycle. A multitude of plants, animals, insects, and microbes live in and grow in soil, adding to the complexity of a functioning soil ecosystem. After completing their life cycle, their remains mix with the soil particles transferring their energy or life force back into the soil. When humus or organic matter from decomposing biotic (living) materials is a part of the soil, the soil texture and nutrient levels are enhanced for both plant and soil organisms’ growth. As this process continues year after year, this organic matter and the soil particles blend to become a rich humus improving soil structure and releasing nutrients and energy to nurture the growing plants. This cycle continues indefinitely without the need for intervention by man. The Natural Agriculture farmer’s role is to support this natural soil cycle. Farmers need to understand that revitalizing the power of soil is essential for Natural Agriculture farming. Over time and under Natural Agriculture practices, the soil’s structure and texture will improve to become favorable for the best growing conditions and environment for soil biota.