Keep The Dirt Clean

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015 is the International Year of Soils.  Soil health is important for crop health (for both commercial farming and back yard gardening) as well as the health of forests and fields. Dirt is amazing stuff! Here’s a great page from Exploratorium that explains the basics of dirt.

But sometimes dirt gets dirty. Contaminated soil can’t feed our food. Here’s a quick rundown from the Environmental Protection Agency that outlines how soil can get contaminated. For a more in-depth read, check out this page from Cornell University.  The enemies of healthy soil are everywhere- even from the distant past when lead paint and leaded fuels were the norm. What can a DIYeter do to make sure the dirt around us stays healthy and able to support us? According to the internet-plenty!

  • Fertilize your yard and garden with care. Over application of chemical fertilizer increases run off and the chance of heavy metal contamination. Uncomposted manure can cause bacterial contamination. Neither is good for you or the soil.
  • Use minimal pesticides and herbicides. Read the labels on the products you buy and apply only as directed. Remember that “organic” products may contain metals like copper or iron.
  • Dispose of household chemicals properly. Contact your local Department of Sanitation or Department of Public Works to find out how to throw away old paint, motor oil, solvents, expired medications and electronics. Generally, these items cannot go in the regular trash. Nasty stuff can leak out of trash dumps and contaminate the surrounding soil.
  • Maintain your sceptic system, if you have one. Again, both chemicals and bacteria can leak out of a faulty tank.
  • Prevent contaminants that are already in the soil from getting into you by washing fruits and vegetables before you eat them. (You do that already, though, right?) Wear gloves when working in the dirt and wash your hands well afterwards.

Dirt is a finite resource, one we cannot live without. Celebrate your soil and keep it healthy. Here are some resources to help you:

Here’s a nicely illustrated and practical guide from wikihow.

Simple Approach to Healthy Living has some adaptable approaches for soil health.

From the EPA: your tax dollars at work cleaning up great swaths of dirt.

Also from the EPA- the impact of agriculture.