Skip to content

Agriculture on living soil

Important Facts About Living Soil, and 5 Ways to Farm on Living Soil

Soil is life because it is the valuable basis for food production. From the beginning of time, the history of farming reveals how man has tried very many forms of farming to get more yields from our earth’s crust. One such agricultural practice is permaculture, which we discussed in our previous article. Today, you will learn about living soil, what the living soil is, the pros and cons of farming on living soil, plus other important facts about the living soil.


What is Living Soil?


Let us try to explain the living soil using the simplest description possible. The top layer of the earth’s crust is the habitat for many living microorganisms. Hence, living soil contains billions of microbes like bacteria, fungi, algae, and protozoa, and hundreds of thousands to millions of soil animals such as nematodes, earthworms, mites, isopods, springtails, and insect larvae. These living organisms work together to enrich the soil with valuable nutrients by breaking down organic matter. The nutrients derived from the decomposed organic matter are very beneficial for bountiful crop yield.

How is Living Soil Derived?

It takes many thousands of years for such a living soil to develop. In the beginning, there is the bare rock that makes up the earth’s crust. Rain and air bathe the rock, heat, and cold also wear it down. These natural weather effects continue to grind even the hardest granite until they become the smallest stones and sand grains.

It takes many thousands of years for such a living soil to develop. In the beginning, there is the bare rock that makes up the earth’s crust. Rain and air bathe the rock, heat, and cold also wear it down. These natural weather effects continue to grind even the hardest granite until they become the smallest stones and sand grains.

After this

 weathering process, we need the activities of living organisms to turn these crusts of rock into soil. The actual soil formation begins with colonization by microorganisms by lichens, which comprise a fungal and an algal partner.

The highly specialized

 lichens sometimes grow directly on the bare rocks. They can excrete acids that break down the rock and release the nutrients it contains. Nutrients that are not available through the air and rainwater

Mites and springtails in bird plumage come hitchhiking. They are the first soil animals to colonize the lichens, eat the remains of fungi and algae and excrete them as feces.

Together with the rock flour, the droppings collect in cracks and crevices and then also offer mosses and higher plants a basis for life. In this way, over long periods, individual tiny oases finally form a coherent cover of vegetation, under which a growing soil develops.

Soils can differ significantly in their structure and thickness. They often comprise several layers that are distinguishable from one another simply by their color and are superimposed (soil horizons).

Factors such as

 parent rock, climate, vegetation, water content, the period of soil development, and the location (e.g. on a slope or in a river valley) handle the respective soil development.

Soil scientists distinguish the variety in different classification systems and speak of the so-called soil type. The transitions between the soil types are fluid, both spatially and temporally. In nature, one often finds different ‌soil types next to each other in a relatively small space.


Importance of humus to Living Soil

Humus is of essential importance for the soil ecosystem. Without it, the soil would not be soil, but only material for the sandbox or pottery.

Humus protects the soil from erosion, ensures a granular soil structure, stores water, and evens out temperature fluctuations. It is also a constant source of nutrients for soil life and the plants that grow there.

The formation of humus goes hand in hand with the development and colonization of the soil by living organisms. Because without soil life (edaphon) there would be no humus either.

An entire army of creatures uses the resulting organic matter like the remains of plants and animals, as food. In doing so, they transform them into humus in which they decompose, eat and excrete the organic matter.

They quickly break down components such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into water form, carbon dioxide, and mineral salts. We know this rapidly degradable fraction of organic matter as nutrient humus and usually only lasts a few weeks or months in the soil before it is complete decomposition.

Other components of the organic matter, such as cellulose and lignin from the woody parts of the plant, are difficult to crack. Only special food specialists can use these substances. They are therefore present in the soil much longer and sometimes last for centuries.

This so-called permanent humus makes up the bulk of the organic matter in the soil and handles the typical dark color of the soil. Because of the slow breakdown of humus, it constantly supplies the plants with nitrogen and phosphorus; two nutrients that are fundamental to plant growth

Why Agriculture on Living Soil is Better than other Types of Agriculture

It takes around 250 years for a centimeter of soil to develop on our earth’s surface. Humans consume around ten times as much in the same period, with agriculture playing a major role. During farming, high-performance machines compact the soil, making it difficult for water to seep into the ground, but to run on the surface. The unprotected bare earth surface bows to the intensity of soil erosion, which washes valuable soil. The wind also blows away large quantities of the fine-grained and very fertile soil particles on exposed and dry farmland.

From the above, we see that intensive agriculture threatens other important functions of nature in the long term – including agricultural production itself.

In the long term, it has serious influences on all areas of our lives, especially the soil. It is often no longer a living organism; it becomes dead, dehydrated, damaged soil that only guarantees a harvest if you add a lot of other substances and artificial fertilizers to it. The ability of such a floor to retain water is of course minimal. The surface is often so encrusted that the water runs off very quickly. This means that the moisture does not even penetrate properly into the soil. This then has a major impact on biodiversity, in a very broad sense of the word: from the biodiversity of bacteria and diseases to the biodiversity of large mammals.

It is already clear that agriculture is coming under increasing pressure as a result of ongoing climate change. In this context, it is also evident that the current model of agriculture – based on intensive production – is not sustainable in the long term.

Agriculture on living soil is the only way to salvage these damages, which are enormous for both nature and agriculture. As stated earlier, there are billions of microorganisms on our soil’s surface. The activities of conventional agricultural practices upset this natural habitat, killing most of these living organisms, and upsetting the soil’s flora. However, agriculture on living soil does things the direct opposite. Organisms flourish and adapt to the conditions prevailing in soil.

What Human Activity aids Living Soil?

Going from one system to another requires an obvious phase of transition, so is the time needed for the damages linked to human activities to be replaced by a more permanent biological repair. One way that we can help promote the activity of living soil is by feeding the soil right. Feeding the soil means providing it with enough food so that significant biological activity can develop, thus creating fertile soil in which the plants you are going to grow can flourish.

Garden owners can help foster this process through the following ways:

Mulch or cover the ground with organic matter

Introduce a large quantity of fresh carbonaceous organic matter (up to 300 tons per hectare) through the straw, fragmented wood, shredded material, or leaves.

The biological activity of the soil will make it possible to slow down the process of damages and collapse caused by inimical agricultural activities while waiting for the biological repairs to take over.  When these repairs take effect, the microbial life flourishes and raise the level of organic matter suddenly.



The transition can take 4 to 5 years, but the significant addition of organic matter allows for stabilization and even an increase in the progressive yields if things go well. This activity, which is sometimes costly in terms of time and resources, must be considered as an investment for the future. The biological activity takes over gradually until reaching a stabilization phase.




Plant covers or green manures

The role of the plant cover will be to structure the soil through the action of the root system of the cover plants and then to nourish the soil by restoring the sugars of the cover plants at the end of the crop’s life when the cover is destroyed.



The 2 basic Living Soil Rules

Do not Till Living Soil

Tillage has the effect of upsetting the soil ecosystem ‌violently. Experts assert that over 80% of the biological activity of soil is destroyed by the process, which involves the passage of a plow. Let us paint a vivid picture; have you ever imagined the state of the earthworms, and their habitat house after plowing?

Shield Living Soil from Extreme Sun Scorch

Maintaining a permanent soil cover, on the model of the forest or the peerage, is essential for the development of intense biological activity. Sheltering the soil from the direct ultraviolet rays of the sun allows underground activity to flourish and gives room for the soil to come alive.