SOIL CARE – Don’t forget to look after our soils.

Landcare photo - Sturt Desert Pea as groundcover
By Landcare Broken Hill

Landcare Broken Hill celebrated World Soil Day last week. Established as an annual event on 5th December by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2014, World Soil Day provides a means to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and to advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources.

As part of the international process led by the UN, there is a World Soil Charter (WSC) which was negotiated and adopted by the FAO member countries. The World Soil Charter, with its 13 agreed principles, is seen as the vehicle to promote and adopt sustainable soil management at all levels of society. One of those principles identified what we as individuals can do: “All individuals using or managing soil must act as stewards of the soil to ensure that this essential natural resource is managed sustainably to safeguard it for future generations”.

Have you ever seen white crusts on soil around Broken Hill? Yes, it is what you think – salt coming to the surface. Walking around town, we can often spot white crusty signs around the footings of buildings, along footpaths and often where there are shallow bare patches. Going down the Wentworth Road, you can spot salt impacted soils not too far out of town. Salts are present naturally in soils and water, and they move freely through the soil. Naturally saline soils may support rich ecosystems, but natural processes such as droughts and human activities, especially improper irrigation, can increase how many salts are in soils, a process that is called salinization. Soil salinization breaks down our soils and reduces their ability to help our food grow.

Soil salinization and sodification are major soil degradation processes threatening ecosystem and are recognized as being among the most important problems at a global level for agricultural production, food security and sustainability in arid and semi-arid regions. Around the world, soil salinization takes up to 1.5 million ha of farmland per year from production. The annual loss in agricultural productivity caused by salinization is estimated to be about US$ 31 million per year. It is estimated that there are more than 833 million hectares of salt-affected soils around the globe (8.7% of the planet).

So what can we, the ordinary Broken Hill citizen do to safeguard our soils? First, we need to treasure our soil, treat it kindly.

We should create compost out of our food scraps and our green waste and dig the compost deep into the soil. Digging deep, breaks up the hard crust, and allows water in, air in and natural processes to start working. This will encourage micro-organisms to do their job. It will encourage worms – essential for healthy soil.

We should cover our soil with a deep layer of mulch, shredded vegetative or organic material, so as to retain moisture and prevent erosion of the soil due to wind or surface water flow. We should not be afraid of leaf litter – rather heap it up under your shrubs and trees and thereby protect your soil. Mulch will break down over time and blend with soil.

We should nourish our soil, in addition to the compost, with good organic soil nutriments. Having a worm farm in your back yard will enable you to produce “worm tea” from the food scraps that the worms will have broken down. There are many good organic products on the market, especially those with a seaweed base. Liquid natural fertilisers can really improve your soil and promote plant growth.

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We should ensure the watering of your soil is in balance, don’t overwater or underwater. Study your plants and understand what they need and then water appropriately. Overwatering encourages the salts in the soil to rise and concentrate, causing harm.

We should cover all bare soil surfaces with a diversity of plants, from ground covers, to bushes to trees. Creeping ground covers are excellent means of managing the soil surface and they will help, rather than compete, with the larger plants. Growing ground covers keeps the soil temperature down, as we must prevent sun from baking the soil.

We should understand that biodiversity in your garden does lead to healthier soil. Worms in your soil are critically important, but a wide range of other species, particularly in the insect world have important roles to play. Ants for instance break down organic material and take it down into the soil. Likewise, slaters and like insects are constantly managing your soil. Of course, at times, it is necessary to reduce the numbers of harmful insects, like deterring some ants, but try to do so without poisoning the soil with insecticides. In using too many chemicals, you may tackle your immediate problem, but at the same time you may be killing every other small critter living in the soil. So if you do have a particular problem, don’t adopt the ‘sledgehammer’ approach, rather use natural deterrents. For instance, if you do have too many ants in one location, plant the herb pennyroyal – they hate it and keep away.

Successful AGM & new Executive Committee.

Landcare Broken Hill had its AGM last Sunday afternoon. Members were really pleased to hear an overview of all the great advances over the last year, despite the restraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. Members enthusiastically endorsed all the Greening the Hill Mk2 initiatives, in particular looking forward to 2022 with the likely commencement of the first stages of the Sustainability Hub at the Jubilee Oval. The new Executive Committee was elected with newcomers Abbie Kelly, Sophie Angell and Caitie Clisby warmly welcomed. Returning members elected: Simon Molesworth as president; Travis Nadge as vice-president; Dianne Nixon as secretary and Linda Nadge as assistant secretary; Sharon Hocking as treasurer; together with members: Ellen Day, Chris Hayhoe, Semitj Hopcraft, Wayne Lovis, Lindy Molesworth, Estella Nagas, Andrea Roberts and Sally Heathcote.

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