Soil is much more than the dirt we walk on and a medium for planting. In fact, soil is a living ecosystem, a complex biological system made up of a mixture of organic matter, minerals, gasses, liquids, and organisms that all work together to support life. It is this mixture of materials, matter, and organisms that creates and builds soil structure. There are several types of soil structures and variances can be seen across countries, regions, and even fields. Ultimately, soil structure plays an integral role in promoting the overall fertility of farm fields and beds, range lands, gardens, landscapes, and just about anywhere plants grow.
Soil structure is the arrangement of parts within soil, the formation of soil granules and the pore space between them. The quantity, density and integrity of porous spaces between soils impacts the soils ability to support plant growth, as porosity improves air, water, and root travel through the soil. Soil structures are classified based on the form or shape of individual aggregates, which are called peds. Soils classified as ‘platy’ are composed of flat and plate like aggregate units. While ‘columnar’ soils are filled with prism-like units bounded by flat or rounded vertical faces. In ‘prismatic’ structures, the individual units are bounded by flat to rounded vertical faces, and in ‘blocky’ structures the units are, well you guessed it, block-like. Lastly, ‘granular’ soil structures are composed of units that are spherical and bounded by curved or irregular faces.
Soil structure affects plant growth in a variety of ways. It impacts erosion and chemical exchange rates, the movement and storage of water, the temperature of the soil, the acidity level of the soil, as well as nutrient cycling and the capacity for biological activity! Key soil performance characteristics that promote germination, plant emergence, overall crop yields and plant quality depend on the physical structure of the soil.
The discussion of soil structure then begs the question: what can we do to improve it? Soil structure can be improved, or optimized, by supporting the aggregation ability of the soil. Aggregation is influenced by soil organic carbon, biology, and chemical exchange and activity. Naturally occurring soil structures do not always provide the optimal environment for plant growth, so Cool Planet has developed Cool Terra®, a biochar-based soil amendment featuring Engineered Biocarbon™ technology, to improve key soil performance characteristics and support aggregation.
To understand how Cool Terra works, think of a coral reef. Just like a coral reef supports sea life by providing structure, resources and habitat in an otherwise barren ocean floor, Cool Terra can support plant life by improving soil structure, increasing water and nutrient availability, and creating a unique habitat for soil microbes. Cool Terra works to unlock the potential of the soil through three basic mechanisms: physical, chemical, and biological. The physical mechanisms are designed to enhance the soil structure. Its highly porous, beneficial for water and nutrient holding. It has an expansive surface area which creates free air space in heavy soils and can improve infiltration. And, its water holding capacity improves plant available water and reduces evaporative loss in highly evaporative soils.
Cool Terra’s chemical mechanisms are designed to enhance nutrient efficiency. Its high ion exchange capacity can promote nutrient exchange and availability, holding nutrients in the root zone longer. The porous structure of recalcitrant carbon can delay leaching giving the plant more time to use available nutrients.
The biological mechanisms are designed to support activity in the root zone which can promote a healthy and harmonious microbial environment. The strong and durable cell walls, neutral pH, and pore size distribution provide a microbial habitat than can optimize microbial populations that protect against stressors and diseases and support efficient nutrient cycling.
Not only does Cool Terra promote healthier soil, it aids in the overall sustainability of our lands through carbon sequestration.
Next time you are in a field, garden, or park, dig into the soil. Investigate the structure found within, smell the living ecosystem, feel the particles and clumps and appreciate the complex biological system for the benefit it provides in supporting plant and human life.