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Loess field in Germany.
Surface-water-gley developed in glacial till, Northern Ireland

Soil is a natural body consisting of layers (soil horizons) of mineral constituents of variable thicknesses, which differ from the parent materials in their morphological, physical, chemical, and mineralogical characteristics.[1]

It is composed of particles of broken rock that have been altered by chemical and environmental processes that include weathering and erosion. Soil differs from its parent rock due to interactions between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and the biosphere.[2] [3].

It supports a complex ecosystem, which supports the plants on the surface and creates new soil by breaking down rocks and sand.[4]. This microscopic ecosystem has co-evolved with the plants to collect and store water and nutrients in a form usable by plants. [5]

Soil particles pack loosely, forming a soil structure filled with pore spaces. These pores contain soil solution (liquid) and air (gas).[6] Accordingly, soils are often treated as a three state-system.[7] Most soils have a density between 1 and 2 g/cm³. [8] Soil is also known as earth: it is the substance from which our planet takes its name. Little of the soil composition of planet Earth is older than the Tertiary and most no older than the Pleistocene.[9] In engineering, soil is referred to as regolith, or loose rock material.

Darkened topsoil and reddish subsoil layers are typical in some regions.


Soil forming factors

Soil formation, or pedogenesis, is the combined effect of physical, chemical, biological, and anthropogenic processes on soil parent material. Soil genesis involves processes that develop layers or horizons in the soil profile. These processes involve additions, losses, transformations and translocations of material that compose the soil. Minerals derived from weathered rocks undergo changes that cause the formation of secondary minerals and other compounds that are variably soluble in water, these constituents are moved (translocated) from one area of the soil to other areas by water and animal activity. The alteration and movement of materials within soil causes the formation of distinctive soil horizons.

The weathering of bedrock produces the parent material from which soils form. An example of soil development from bare rock occurs on recent lava flows in warm regions under heavy and very frequent rainfall. In such climates, plants become established very quickly on basaltic lava, even though there is very little organic material. The plants are supported by the porous rock as it is filled with nutrient-bearing water which carries, for example, dissolved minerals and guano. The developing plant roots, themselves or associated with mycorrhizal fungi,[10] gradually break up the porous lava and organic matter soon accumulates.

But even before it does, the predominantly porous broken lava in which the plant roots grow can be considered a soil. How the soil "life" cycle proceeds is influenced by at least five classic soil forming factors that are dynamically intertwined in shaping the way soil is developed, they include: parent material, regional climate, topography, biotic potential and the passage of time.[11]

Parent material

The material from which soils form is called parent material. It includes: weathered primary bedrock; secondary material transported from other locations, e.g. colluvium and alluvium; deposits that are already present but mixed or altered in other ways - old soil formations, organic material including peat or alpine humus; and anthropogenic materials, like landfill or mine waste.[12] Few soils form directly from the breakdown of the underlying rocks they develop on. These soils are often called “residual soils”, and have the same general chemistry as their parent rocks. Most soils derive from materials that have been transported from other locations by wind, water and gravity.[13] Some of these materials may have moved many miles or only a few feet. Windblown material called loess is common in the Midwest of North America and in Central Asia and other locations. Glacial till is a component of many soils in the northern and southern latitudes and those formed near large mountains; till is the product of glacial ice moving over the ground. The ice can break rock and larger stones into smaller pieces, it also can sort material into different sizes. As glacial ice melts, the melt water also moves and sorts material, and deposits it varying distances from its origin. The deeper sections of the soil profile may have materials that are relatively unchanged from when they were deposited by water, ice or wind.

Weather is the first stage in the transforming of parent material into soil material. In soils forming from bedrock, a thick layer of weathered material called saprolite may form. Saprolite is the result of weathering processes that include: hydrolysis (the replacement of a mineral’s cations with hydrogen ions), chelation from organic compounds, hydration (the absorption of water by minerals), solution of minerals by water, and physical processes that include freezing and thawing or wetting and drying.[12] The mineralogical and chemical composition of the primary bedrock material, plus physical features, including grain size and degree of consolidation, plus the rate and type of weathering, transforms it into different soil materials.


Soil formation greatly depends on the climate, and soils from different climate zones show distinctive characteristics.[14] Temperature and moisture affect weathering and leaching. Wind moves sand and other particles, especially in arid regions where there is little plant cover. The type and amount of precipitation influence soil formation by affecting the movement of ions and particles through the soil, aiding in the development of different soil profiles. Seasonal and daily temperature fluctuations affect the effectiveness of water in weathering parent rock material and affect soil dynamics. The cycle of freezing and thawing is an effective mechanism to break up rocks and other consolidated materials. Temperature and precipitation rates affect biological activity, rates of chemical reactions and types of vegetation cover.

Biological factors

Plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and humans affect soil formation. Animals and micro-organisms mix soils to form burrows and pores allowing moisture and gases to seep into deeper layers. In the same way, plant roots open channels in the soils, especially plants with deep taproots which can penetrate many meters through the different soil layers to bring up nutrients from deeper in the soil. Plants with fibrous roots that spread out near the soil surface, have roots that are easily decomposed, adding organic matter. Micro-organisms, including fungi and bacteria, affect chemical exchanges between roots and soil and act as a reserve of nutrients. Humans can impact soil formation by removing vegetation cover; this removal promotes erosion. They can also mix the different soil layers, restarting the soil formation process as less-weathered material is mixed with and diluting the more developed upper layers.

Vegetation impacts soils in numerous ways. It can prevent erosion from rain or surface runoff. It shades soils, keeping them cooler and slowing evaporation of soil moisture, or it can cause soils to dry out by transpiration. Plants can form new chemicals that break down or build up soil particles. Vegetation depends on climate, land form topography and biological factors. Soil factors such as soil density, depth, chemistry, pH, temperature and moisture greatly affect the type of plants that can grow in a given location. Dead plants, dropped leaves and stems of plants fall to the surface of the soil and decompose. There, organisms feed on them and mix the organic material with the upper soil layers; these organic compounds become part of the soil formation process, ultimately shaping the type of soil formed.


Time is a factor in the interactions of all the above factors as they develop soil. Over time, soils evolve features dependent on the other forming factors, and soil formation is a time-responsive process dependent on how the other factors interplay with each other. Soil is always changing. For example, recently-deposited material from a flood exhibits no soil development because there has not been enough time for soil-forming activities. The soil surface is buried, and the formation process begins again for this soil. The long periods over which change occurs and its multiple influences mean that simple soils are rare, resulting in the formation of soil horizons. While soil can achieve relative stability in properties for extended periods, the soil life cycle ultimately ends in soil conditions that leave it vulnerable to erosion. Despite the inevitability of soil retrogression and degradation, most soil cycles are long and productive.

Soil-forming factors continue to affect soils during their existence, even on “stable” landscapes that are long-enduring, some for millions of years. Materials are deposited on top and materials are blown or washed away from the surface. With additions, removals and alterations, soils are always subject to new conditions. Whether these are slow or rapid changes depend on climate, landscape position and biological activity.


Soil types by clay, silt and sand composition.
Iron rich soil near Paint Pots in Kootenay National Park of Canada.

Soil color is often the first impression one has when viewing soil. Striking colors and contrasting patterns are especially memorable. The Red River (Mississippi watershed) carries sediment eroded from extensive reddish soils like Port Silt Loam in Oklahoma. The Yellow River in China carries yellow sediment from eroding loessal soils. Mollisols in the Great Plains are darkened and enriched by organic matter. Podsols in boreal forests have highly contrasting layers due to acidity and leaching. Soil color is primarily influenced by soil mineralogy. Many soil colors are due to the extensive and various iron minerals. The development and distribution of color in a soil profile result from chemical and biological weathering, especially redox reactions. As the primary minerals in soil parent material weather, the elements combine into new and colorful compounds. Iron forms secondary minerals with a yellow or red color, organic matter decomposes into black and brown compounds, and manganese, sulfur and nitrogen can form black mineral deposits. These pigments produce various color patterns due to effects by the environment during soil formation. Aerobic conditions produce uniform or gradual color changes, while reducing environments result in disrupted color flow with complex, mottled patterns and points of color concentration.[15]

Soil structure is the arrangement of soil particles into aggregates. These may have various shapes, sizes and degrees of development or expression.[16] Soil structure affects aeration, water movement, resistance to erosion and plant root growth. Structure often gives clues to texture, organic matter content, biological activity, past soil evolution, human use, and chemical and mineralogical conditions under which the soil formed.

Soil texture refers to sand, silt and clay composition. Soil content affects soil behavior, including the retention capacity for nutrients and water.[17] Sand and silt are the products of physical weathering, while clay is the product of chemical weathering. Clay content has retention capacity for nutrients and water. Clay soils resist wind and water erosion better than silty and sandy soils, because the particles are more tightly joined to each other. In medium-textured soils, clay is often translocated downward through the soil profile and accumulates in the subsoil.

The electrical resistivity of soil can affect the rate of galvanic corrosion of metallic structures in contact with the soil. Higher moisture content or increased electrolyte concentration can lower the resistivity and thereby increase the rate of corrosion.[18] Soil resistivity values typically range from about 2 to 1000 Ω·m, but more extreme values are not unusual.[19]

Soil horizons

The naming of soil horizons is based on the type of material the horizons are composed of; these materials reflect the duration of the specific processes used in soil formation. They are labeled using a short hand notation of letters and numbers.[20] They are described and classified by their color, size, texture, structure, consistency, root quantity, pH, voids, boundary characteristics, and if they have nodules or concretions.[21] Any one soil profile does not have all the major horizons covered below; soils may have few or many horizons.

The exposure of parent material to favorable conditions produces initial soils that are suitable for plant growth. Plant growth often results in the accumulation of organic residues, the accumulated organic layer is called the O horizon. Biological organisms colonize and break down organic materials, making available nutrients that other plants and animals can live on. After sufficient time a distinctive organic surface layer forms with humus which is called the A horizon.


Soil is classified into categories in order to understand relationships between different soils and to determine the usefulness of a soil for a particular use. One of the first classification systems was developed by the Russian scientist Dokuchaev around 1880. It was modified a number of times by American and European researchers, and developed into the system commonly used until the 1960s. It was based on the idea that soils have a particular morphology based on the materials and factors that form them. In the 1960s, a different classification system began to emerge, that focused on soil morphology instead of parental materials and soil-forming factors. Since then it has undergone further modifications. The World Reference Base for Soil Resources (WRB)[22] aims to establish an international reference base for soil classification.


Orders are the highest category of soil classification. Order types end in the letters sol. In the US classification system, there are 10 orders:[23]

  • Entisol - recently formed soils that lack well-developed horizons. Commonly found on unconsolidated sediments like sand, some have an A horizon on top of bedrock.
  • Vertisol - inverted soils. They tend to swell when wet and shrink upon drying, often forming deep cracks that surface layers can fall into.
  • Inceptisol - young soils. They have subsurface horizon formation but show little eluviation and illuviation.
  • Aridisol - dry soils forming under desert conditions. They include nearly 20% of soils on Earth. Soil formation is slow, and accumulated organic matter is scarce. They may have subsurface zones (calcic horizons) where calcium carbonates have accumulated from percolating water. Many aridiso soils have well-developed Bt horizons showing clay movement from past periods of greater moisture.
  • Mollisol - soft soils with very thick A horizons.
  • Spodosol - soils produced by podsolization. They are typical soils of coniferous and deciduous forests in cooler climates.
  • Alfisol - soils with aluminium and iron. They have horizons of clay accumulation, and form where there is enough moisture and warmth for at least three months of plant growth.
  • Ultisol - soils that are heavily leached.
  • Oxisol - soil with heavy oxide content.
  • Histosol - organic soils.

Other order schemes may include:

  • Andisols - volcanic soils, which tend to be high in glass content.
  • Gelisols - permafrost soils.

Organic matter

Most living things in soils, including plants, insects, bacteria and fungi, are dependent on organic matter for nutrients and energy. Soils often have varying degrees of organic compounds in different states of decomposition. Many soils, including desert and rocky-gravel soils, have no or little organic matter. Soils that are all organic matter, such as peat (histosols), are infertile.[24]


Humus refers to organic matter that has decomposed to a point where it is resistant to further breakdown or alteration. Humic acids and fulvic acids are important constituents of humus and typically form from plant residues like foliage, stems and roots. After death, these plant residues begin to decay, starting the formation of humus. Humus formation involves changes within the soil and plant residue, there is a reduction of water soluble constituents including cellulose and hemicellulose; as the residues are deposited and break down, humin, lignin and lignin complexes accumulate within the soil; as microorganisms live and feed on the decaying plant matter, an increase in proteins occurs.

Lignin is resistant to breakdown and accumulates within the soil; it also chemically reacts with amino acids which add to its resistance to decomposition, including enzymatic decomposition by microbes. Fats and waxes from plant matter have some resistance to decomposition and persist in soils for a while. Clay soils often have higher organic contents that persist longer than soils without clay. Proteins normally decompose readily, but when bound to clay particles they become more resistant to decomposition. Clay particles also absorb enzymes that would break down proteins. The addition of organic matter to clay soils, can render the organic matter and any added nutrients inaccessible to plants and microbes for many years, since they can bind strongly to the clay. High soil tannin (polyphenol) content from plants can cause nitrogen to be sequestered by proteins or cause nitrogen immobilization, also making nitrogen unavailable to plants.[25][26]

Humus formation is a process dependent on the amount of plant material added each year and the type of base soil; both are affected by climate and the type of organisms present. Soils with humus can vary in nitrogen content but have 3 to 6 percent nitrogen typically; humus, as a reserve of nitrogen and phosphorus, is a vital component affecting soil fertility.[24] Humus also absorbs water, acting as a moisture reserve, that plants can utilize; it also expands and shrinks between dry and wet states, providing pore spaces. Humus is less stable than other soil constituents, because it is affected by microbial decomposition, and over time its concentration decreases without the addition of new organic matter. However, some forms of humus are highly stable and may persist over centuries if not millennia: they are issued from the slow oxidation of charcoal, also called black carbon, like in Amazonian Terra preta or Black Earths,[27] or from the sequestration of humic compounds within mineral horizons, like in podzols.[28]

Climate and organics

The production and accumulation or degradation of organic matter and humus is greatly dependent on climate conditions. Temperature and soil moisture are the major factors in the formation or degradation of organic matter, they along with topography, determine the formation of organic soils. Soils high in organic matter tend to form under wet or cold conditions where decomposer activity is impeded by low temperature[29] or excess moisture.[30]

Soil solutions

Different soils, under varying conditions, have diverse colloidal solutions. These solutions exchange gases with the soil atmosphere. These solutions can contain dissolved sugars; fulvic acids and other organic acids; plant micronutrients such as zinc, iron and copper, plus other metals; ammonium plus a host of others. Some soils have sodium solutions that greatly impact plant growth, calcium is common in forest soils. Soil pH effects the type and amount of anions and cations that soil solutions contain and exchange with the soil atmosphere and biological organisms.[31]

In nature

Biogeography is the study of special variations in biological communities. Soils are a restricting factor as to which plants can grow in which environments. Soil scientists survey soils in the hope of understanding controls as to what vegetation can and will grow in a particular location.

Geologists also have a particular interest in the patterns of soil on the surface of the earth. Soil texture, color and chemistry often reflect the underlying geologic parent material, and soil types often change at geologic unit boundaries. Buried paleosols mark previous land surfaces and record climatic conditions from previous eras. Geologists use this paleopedological record to understand the ecological relationships in past ecosystems. According to the theory of biorhexistasy, prolonged conditions conducive to forming deep, weathered soils result in increasing ocean salinity and the formation of limestone.

Geologists use soil profile features to establish the duration of surface stability in the context of geologic faults or slope stability. An offset subsoil horizon indicates rupture during soil formation and the degree of subsequent subsoil formation is relied upon to establish time since rupture.

A homeowner tests soil to apply only the nutrients needed.
Due to their thermal mass, rammed earth walls fit in with environmental sustainability aspirations.
A homeowner sifts soil made from his compost bin in background. Composting is an excellent way to recycle household and yard wastes.

Soil examined in shovel test pits is used by archaeologists for relative dating based on stratigraphy (as opposed to absolute dating). What is considered most typical is to use soil profile features to determine the maximum reasonable pit depth than needs to be examined for archaeological evidence in the interest of cultural resources management.

Soils altered or formed by man (anthropic and anthropogenic soils) are also of interest to archaeologists, such as terra preta soils.


Soil is used in agriculture, where it serves as the primary nutrient base for plants; however, as demonstrated by hydroponics, it is not essential to plant growth if the soil-contained nutrients could be dissolved in a solution. The types of soil used in agriculture (among other things, such as the purported level of moisture in the soil) vary with respect to the species of plants that are cultivated.

Soil material is a critical component in the mining and construction industries. Soil serves as a foundation for most construction projects. Massive volumes of soil can be involved in surface mining, road building and dam construction. Earth sheltering is the architectural practice of using soil for external thermal mass against building walls.

Soil resources are critical to the environment, as well as to food and fiber production. Soil provides minerals and water to plants. Soil absorbs rainwater and releases it later, thus preventing floods and drought. Soil cleans the water as it percolates. Soil is the habitat for many organisms: the major part of known and unknown biodiversity is in the soil, in the form of invertebrates (earthworms, woodlice, millipedes, centipedes, snails, slugs, mites, springtails, enchytraeids, nematodes, protists), bacteria, archaea, fungi and algae; and most organisms living above ground have part of them (plants) or spend part of their life cycle (insects) belowground. Above-ground and below-ground biodiversities are tightly interconnected,[32][33] making soil protection of paramount importance for any restoration or conservation plan.

The biological component of soil is an extremely important carbon sink since about 57% of the biotic content is carbon. Even on desert crusts, cyanobacteria lichens and mosses capture and sequester a significant amount of carbon by photosynthesis. Poor farming and grazing methods have degraded soils and released much of this sequestered carbon to the atmosphere. Restoring the world's soils could offset the huge increase in greenhouse gases causing global warming while improving crop yields and reducing water needs. [34] [35]

Waste management often has a soil component. Septic drain fields treat septic tank effluent using aerobic soil processes. Landfills use soil for daily cover.

Organic soils, especially peat, serve as a significant fuel resource; but wide areas of peat production, such as sphagnum bogs, are now protected because of patrimonial interest.

Both animals and humans in many cultures occasionally consume soil. It has been shown that some monkeys consume soil, together with their preferred food (tree foliage and fruits), in order to alleviate tannin toxicity.[36][1]

Soils filter and purify water and affect its chemistry. Rain water and pooled water from ponds, lakes and rivers percolate through the soil horizons and the upper rock strata; thus becoming groundwater. Pests (viruses) and pollutants, such as persistent organic pollutants (chlorinated pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls), oils (hydrocarbons), heavy metals (lead, zinc, cadmium), and excess nutrients (nitrates, sulfates, phosphates) are filtered out by the soil[37]. Soil organisms metabolize them or immobilize them in their biomass and necromass,[38] thereby incorporating them into stable humus.[39] The physical integrity of soil is also a prerequisite for avoiding landslides in rugged landscapes.[40]


Land degradation is a human-induced or natural process which impairs the capacity of land to function. Soils are the critical component in land degradation when it involves acidification, contamination, desertification, erosion or salination.

While soil acidification of alkaline soils is beneficial, it degrades land when soil acidity lowers crop productivity and increases soil vulnerability to contamination and erosion. Soils are often initially acid because their parent materials were acid and initially low in the basic cations (calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium). Acidification occurs when these elements are removed from the soil profile by normal rainfall, or the harvesting of forest or agricultural crops. Soil acidification is accelerated by the use of acid-forming nitrogenous fertilizers and by the effects of acid precipitation.

Soil contamination at low levels is often within soil capacity to treat and assimilate. Many waste treatment processes rely on this treatment capacity. Exceeding treatment capacity can damage soil biota and limit soil function. Derelict soils occur where industrial contamination or other development activity damages the soil to such a degree that the land cannot be used safely or productively. Remediation of derelict soil uses principles of geology, physics, chemistry and biology to degrade, attenuate, isolate or remove soil contaminants to restore soil functions and values. Techniques include leaching, air sparging, chemical amendments, phytoremediation, bioremediation and natural attenuation.

Desertification is an environmental process of ecosystem degradation in arid and semi-arid regions, often caused by human activity. It is a common misconception that droughts cause desertification. Droughts are common in arid and semiarid lands. Well-managed lands can recover from drought when the rains return. Soil management tools include maintaining soil nutrient and organic matter levels, reduced tillage and increased cover. These practices help to control erosion and maintain productivity during periods when moisture is available. Continued land abuse during droughts, however, increases land degradation. Increased population and livestock pressure on marginal lands accelerates desertification.

Soil erosional loss is caused by wind, water, ice and movement in response to gravity. Although the processes may be simultaneous, erosion is distinguished from weathering. Erosion is an intrinsic natural process, but in many places it is increased by human land use. Poor land use practices including deforestation, overgrazing and improper construction activity. Improved management can limit erosion by using techniques like limiting disturbance during construction, avoiding construction during erosion prone periods, intercepting runoff, terrace-building, use of erosion-suppressing cover materials, and planting trees or other soil binding plants.

A serious and long-running water erosion problem occurs in China, on the middle reaches of the Yellow River and the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. From the Yellow River, over 1.6-billion tons of sediment flow each year into the ocean. The sediment originates primarily from water erosion (gully erosion) in the Loess Plateau region of northwest China.

Soil piping is a particular form of soil erosion that occurs below the soil surface. It is associated with levee and dam failure, as well as sink hole formation. Turbulent flow removes soil starting from the mouth of the seep flow and subsoil erosion advances upgradient.[41] The term sand boil is used to describe the appearance of the discharging end of an active soil pipe.[42]

Soil salination is the accumulation of free salts to such an extent that it leads to degradation of soils and vegetation. Consequences include corrosion damage, reduced plant growth, erosion due to loss of plant cover and soil structure, and water quality problems due to sedimentation. Salination occurs due to a combination of natural and human caused processes. Arid conditions favor salt accumulation. This is especially apparent when soil parent material is saline. Irrigation of arid lands is especially problematic. All irrigation water has some level of salinity. Irrigation, especially when it involves leakage from canals, often raise the underlying water table. Rapid salination occurs when the land surface is within the capillary fringe of saline groundwater. Soil salinity control involves flushing with higher levels of applied water in combination with tile drainage.[43]

See also


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  12. ^ a b NSW Government
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  41. ^ Jones, J. A. A. (1976). "Soil piping and stream channel initiation". Water Resources Research 7 (3): 602–610. doi:10.1029/WR007i003p00602. 
  42. ^ Dooley, Alan (June 2006). "Sandboils 101: Corps has experience dealing with common flood danger". Engineer Update. US Army Corps of Engineers. Retrieved 2008-05-14. 
  43. ^ Drainage Manual: A Guide to Integrating Plant, Soil, and Water Relationships for Drainage of Irrigated Lands. Interior Dept., Bureau of Reclamation. 1993. ISBN 0-16-061623-9. 

Further reading

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Terms used in lieu of soil include terra, dirt, and, as applicable, land and ground.

  • “Man has only a thin layer of soil between himself and starvation.” ~ Bard of Cincinnati
  • “We all should fall upon our knees and sing out praise for manganese.” ~ Richmond Bartlett
  • “I saw all the people hustling early in the morning to go into the factories and the stores and the office buildings, to do their job, to get their check. But ultimately it's not office buildings or jobs that give us our checks. It's the soil. The soil is what gives us the real income that supports us all” ~ Ed Begley, Jr.
  • “History is largely a record of human struggle to wrest the land from nature, because man relies for sustenance on the products of the soil. So direct is the relationship between soil erosion, the productivity of the land, and the prosperity of people, that the history of mankind, to a considerable degree at least, may be interpreted in terms of the soil and what has happened to it as the result of human use.” ~ Hugh H. Bennett and W.C. Lowdermilk, circa 1930s
  • “... if this is to be a permanent nation we must save this most indispensable of all our God-given assets -- the soil, from which comes our food and raiment. If we fail in this, remember that much sooner than we have expected this will be a nation of subsoil farmers.” ~ Hugh H. Bennett (1933)
  • “Soil erosion is as old as agriculture. It began when the first heavy rain struck the first furrow turned by a crude implement of tillage in the hands or prehistoric man. It has been going on ever since, wherever man's culture of the earth has bared the soil to rain and wind.” ~ Hugh H. Bennett and W.C. Lowdermilk, circa 1930s
  • “The plain truth is that Americans, as a people, have never learned to love the land and to regard it as an enduring resource.” ~ Soil Conservation by Hugh H. Bennett
  • “The soil is the great connector of our lives, the source and destination of all.” ~ The Unsettling of America (1977) by Wendell Berry
  • “There be three things which make a nation great and prosperous: a fertile soil, busy workshops, easy conveyance for men and goods from place to place” ~ Francis Bacon Sr.
  • “The richest soil, if cultivated, produces the rankest weeds” ~ Plutarch
  • “... the soil of any one place makes its own peculiar and inevitable sense. It is impossible to contemplate the life of the soil for very long without seeing it as analogous to the life of the spirit.” ~ The Unsettling of America (1977) by Wendell Berry
  • “...soil is alive and is composed of living and nonliving components, having many interactions. It is a part of the larger unit, the terrestrial ecosystem, that soil must be studied and conserved....we must remember that the biota have been involved in [the soil system=s] creation, as well as adapting to life within it.” ~ (1996) D.C. Coleman and D. A. Crossley, Jr.
  • “We might say that the earth has the spirit of growth; that its flesh is the soil.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
  • “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
  • “The thin layer of soil covering the earth's surface represents the difference between survival and extinction for most terrestrial life.” ~ Defining and Assessing Soil Quality by John W. Doran and Timothy B. Parkin
  • “... the Latin name for man, homo, derived from humus, the stuff of life in the soil.” ~ Dr. Daniel Hillel
  • “Detachment has bred ignorance and out of ignorance comes the delusion that our civilisation has risen above nature and has set itself free of its constraints.” ~ Dr. Daniel Hillel (2004)
  • “I would rather be tied to the soil as a serf ... than be king of all these dead and destroyed.” ~ Odyssey by Homer
  • “It is not a coincidence the best farm soils in North America are in the same approximate locale as our most replete and consumptive metropolises.” ~ Justin Isherwood
  • “One of the great treasures of the world is to be found in the vast prairie soil covering parts of seven Midwest states together with a moderate climate and ample rainfall. Subtract these Midwest soils from the American experience and replace them with the drought-prone soils, and the course of our destiny and wealth might have been otherwise.” ~ Justin Isherwood
  • “Plowed ground smells of earthworms and empires.” ~ Justin Isherwood
  • “Soil is the last necessary thing. With air and water, a person can live 30 days; add but a comely pile of dirt and life expectancy expands a thousand times.” ~ Justin Isherwood
  • “The decline and abandonment of the family farm is the direct result of stripping soil of any identity and ethical or strategic value.” ~ Justin Isherwood
  • “While the farmer holds the title to the land, actually it belongs to all the people because civilization itself rests upon the soil.” ~ Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) quoted in the Des Moines Register, July 8, 1979
  • “ . . . (although) not an organism that can multiply, soil on the Earth is a living system.” ~ The Soil Resource by Hans Jenny
  • “Each soil is an individual body of nature, possessing its own character, life history, and powers to support plants and animals.” ~ Meeting the Expectations of the Land by Hans Jenny
  • “Soil isn't a granular medium suffused with chemicals, it is alive and must be alive to function.” ~ Gary Jones (2005)
  • “Essentially, all life depends upon the soil ... There can be no life without soil and no soil without life; they have evolved together.” ~ USDA Yearbook of Agriculture (1938) by Charles E. Kellogg
  • “Civilization has its roots in the soil.” ~ Charles E. Kellogg
  • “Dirt's a lot more fun when you add water!” ~ Dennis The Menace (2004) by Hank Ketcham
  • “Nature is perverse. Especially soils.” ~ D. Kirkham
  • “Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.” ~ A Sand County Almanac (1949) by Aldo Leopold
  • “Where the bottom layer of the sky rubs up against the top horizon of the soil, all terrestrial life is found.” ~ Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan
  • “...which no one knows very much about. We don't even know the etymology of the word.” ~ Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan
  • “A soil is not a pile of dirt. It is a transformer, a body that organizes raw materials into tissue. These are the tissues that become the mother to all organic life.” ~ Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan
  • “How can I stand on the ground every day and not feel its power? How can I live my life stepping on this stuff and not wonder at it?” ~ Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan
  • “Our motive for protecting the soil is our certainty that it is fragile. It does not have the same unchanging character as a mountain or a river; it is a recent and ephemeral product. We owe it our lives and our energy, and the bodies we give it back are not payment enough.” ~ Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan
  • “Probably more harm has been done to the science by the almost universal attempts to look upon the soil merely as a producer of crops rather than as a natural body worth in and for itself of all the study that can be devoted to it, than most men realize.” ~ C. F. Marbut, 1920.
  • “The soil itself must be the object of observation and experiment and the facts obtained must be soil facts before they can be incorporated into soil science. The science of zoology was developed through the study of animals, that of botany through the study of plants, and soil science must be developed through the study of the soil.” ~ C. F. Marbut, 1920.
  • “...only rarely have we stood back and celebrated our soils as something beautiful and perhaps even mysterious. For what other natural body, worldwide in its distribution, has so many interesting secrets to reveal to the patient observer” ~ Les Molloy
  • “The fate of the soil system depends on society's willingness to intervene in the market place, and to forego some of the short-term benefits that accrue from 'mining' the soil so that soil quality and fertility can be maintained over the longer term.” ~ Eugene Odum
  • “We are able to breathe, drink, and eat in comfort because millions of organisms and hundreds of processes are operating to maintain a liveable environment, but we tend to take nature's services for granted because we don't pay money for most of them.” ~ Eugene Odum
  • “The Nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” ~ Letter to all State Governors on a Uniform Soil Conservation Law (February 26, 1937) by Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  • “Tilth is something every farmer can recognize but no scientist can measure.” ~ Walter Russell
  • “We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable supplies of air and soil; preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say, the love we give our fragile craft.” Adlai Stevenson (1965)
  • “Ancient poetry and mythology suggest, at least, that husbandry was once a sacred art; but it is pursued with irreverent haste and heedlessness by us, our object being to have large farms and large crops merely. We have no festival, nor procession, nor ceremony, not excepting our cattle-shows and so-called Thanksgivings, by which the farmer expresses a sense of the sacredness of his calling, or is reminded of its sacred origin. It is the premium and the feast which tempt him. He sacrifices not to Ceres and the Terrestrial Jove, but to the infernal Plutus rather. By avarice and selfishness, and a grovelling habit, from which none of us is free, of regarding the soil as property, or the means of acquiring property chiefly, the landscape is deformed, husbandry is degraded with us, and the farmer leads the meanest of lives. He knows Nature but as a robber” ~ Walden (1854) by Henry David Thoreau
  • “. . . like any other reservoir this one too can be drained and left empty and useless; let but the winds and the rains strike at the fallowed fields; let but the naked soil be exposed to the elements - how soon and how tragic the loss.” ~ Our Soil and Water by J. A. Toogood
  • “This soil of ours, this precious heritage, what an unobtrusive existence it leads!...To the rich soil let us give the credit due. The soil is the reservoir of life.” ~ Our Soil and Water by J. A. Toogood
  • “People in cities may forget the soil for as long as a hundred years, but Mother Nature's memory is long and she will not let them forget indefinitely.” Henry Wallace
  • “I bequeath myself to the dirt, to grow from the grass I love; If you want me again, look for me under your boot-soles.” Walt Whitman
  • “For all things come from earth, and all things end by becoming earth.” ~ Xenophanes, (580 B.C.)
  • “To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil.” ~ Oeconomicus (400 B.C.) by Xenophon
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Look up soil in Wiktionary, the free dictionary

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

SOIL,' the term generally applied to that part of the earth's ' This word comes through O. Fr. soil from a Late Latin usage of solea for soil or ground, which in classic Lat. meant the sole of the foot, also a sandal. This was due to a confusion with solum, ground, whence Fr. sol. Both solea and solum are, of course, from the same root. To be distinguished from this word is " soil," to make dirty, to stain, defile. The origin is the O. Fr. soil or souil, the miry wallowing ground of a wild boar, whence the hunting phrase " to take soil," of a beast of the chase taking to water or marshy ground. The derivation is therefore from Lat. soillus, pertaining to substance which is stirred or tilled by implements such as ploughs and spades. Below this is the subsoil. The soil through being acted upon by the air, heat, frost and other agencies usually consists of finer particles than those. comprising the bulk of the subsoil. It contains more roots, and as a rule, is darker in colour than the subsoil on account of the larger proportion of decaying vegetable matter present in it: it is also looser in texture than the subsoil. The subsoil not unfrequently contains materials which are deleterious to the growth of crops, and roots descending into it may absorb and convey these poisonous substances to other parts of the plant or be themselves damaged by contact with them. On this account deeper tillage than usual, which allows of easier penetration of roots, or the carrying out of operations which bring the subsoil to the surface, must always be carefully considered.

At first sight few natural materials appear to be of less interest than the soil; yet its importance is manifest on the slightest reflection. From it, directly or indirectly, are obtained all food materials needed by man and beast. The inorganic materials within it supply some of the chief substances utilized by plants for their development and growth, and from plants animals obtain much of their sustenance.

Table of contents

Origin of the Soil

It is a matter of common observation that stones of monuments, walls or buildings which are exposed to the air sooner or later become eaten away or broken up into small fragments under the influence of the weather. This disintegration is brought about chiefly by changes in temperature, and by the action of the rain, the oxygen, and the carbon dioxide of the air. During the daytime the surface of the stone may become very warm, while at night it is speedily cooled. Such alterations in temperature produce strains which frequently result in the chipping off of small fragments of the material composing the stone. Moreover the rain penetrates into the small interstices between its particles and dissolves out some of the materials which bind the whole into a solid stone, the surface then becoming a loose powdery mass which falls to the ground below or is carried away by the wind. The action of frost is also very destructive to many stones, since the water within their cracks and crannies expands on freezing and splits off small pieces from their surfaces. In the case of limestones the carbon dioxide of the air in association with rain and dew eats into them and leads to their disintegration. The oxygen of the air may also bring about chemical changes which result in the production of soluble substances removable by rain, the insoluble parts being left in a loosened state.

These " weathering " agents not only act upon stones of buildings, but upon rocks of all kinds, reducing them sooner or later into a more or less fine powder. The work has been going on for ages, and the finely comminuted particles of rocks form the main bulk of the soil which covers much of the earth's surface, the rest of the soil being composed chiefly of the remains of roots and other parts of plants.

If the whole of the soil in the British Islands were swept into the sea and the rocks beneath it laid bare the surface of the country would ultimately become covered again with soil produced from the rocks by the weathering processes just described. Moreover where there was no transport or solution of the soil thus produced it would necessarily show some similarity in composition to the rock on which it rested. The soils overlying red sandstone rocks would be reddish and of a sandy nature, while those overlying chalk would be whitish and contain considerable amounts of lime. In many parts of the country soils exhibiting such relationships, and known as sedentary soils, are prevalent, the transition from the soil to the rock beneath being plainly visible in sections exposed to view in railway cuttings, quarries and other excavations. The upper layer or soil proper consists of material which has been subjected swine, sus. " To sully," to besmirch, to cover with " mire " (0. Eng.

sol. cf. Ger. siihlen) is a quite distinct word. Lastly there is a form " soil," used by agriculturists, of the feeding and fattening of cattle with green food such as vetches. This is from O. Fr. saoler, saouler, mod. solder, Lat. satullus, full-fed (satur, satiated, satis, enough).

to ages of weathering; the bulk of it is composed of finely comminuted particles of sand, clay and other minerals, among which are imbedded larger or smaller stones of more refractory nature. On descending into the substratum the finer material decreases and more stones are met with; farther down are seen larger fragments of unaltered rock closely packed, and this brash or rubble grades insensibly into the unbroken rock below.

In many districts the soil is manifestly unconnected in origin with the rock on which it rests, and differs from it in colour, composition and other characters. There are transported or drift soils, the particles of which have been brought from other areas and deposited over the rocks below. Some of the stiff boulder clays or " till " so prevalent over parts of the north of England appear to have been deposited from ice sheets during the glacial period. Perhaps the majority of drift soils, however, have been moved to their present position by the action of the water of rivers or the sea.

As fast as the rock of a cliff is weathered its fragments are washed to the ground by the rain, and carried down the slopes by small streams, ultimately finding their way into a river along which they are carried until the force of the water is insufficient to keep them in suspension, when they become deposited in the river bed or along its banks. Such river-transported material or alluvium is common in all river valleys. It is often of very mixed origin, being derived from the detritus of many kinds of rocks, and usually forms soil of a fertile character.

Quality of Soil

The good or bad qualities of a soil have reference to the needs of the crops which are to be grown upon it, and it is only after a consideration of the requirements of plants that a clear conception can be formed of what characters the soil must possess for it to be a suitable medium on which healthy crops can be raised.

In the first place, soil, to be of any use, must be sufficiently loose and porous to allow the roots of plants to grow and extend freely. It may be so compact that root development is checked or stopped altogether, in which case the plant suffers. On the other hand it should not be too open in texture or the roots do not get a proper hold of the ground and are easily disturbed by wind: moreover such soils are liable to blow away, leaving the underground parts exposed to the air and drought.

The roots like all other parts of plants contain protoplasm or living material, which cannot carry on its functions unless it is supplied with an adequate amount of oxygen: hence the necessity for the continuous circulation of fresh air through the soil. If the latter is too compact or has its interstices filled with carbon dioxide gas or with water - as is the case when the ground is water-logged - the roots rapidly die of suffocation just as would an animal under the same conditions. There is another point which requires attention. Plants need very considerable amounts of water for their nutrition and growth; the waterholding capacity is, therefore, important. If the soil holds too much it becomes water-logged and its temperature falls below the point for healthy growth, at any rate of the kinds of plants. usually cultivated on farms and in gardens. If it allows of too free drainage drought sets in and the plants, not getting enough water for their needs, become stunted in size. Too much water is bad, and too little is equally injurious.

In addition, the temperature of the soil largely controls the yield of crops which can be obtained from the land. Soil whose temperature remains low, whether from its northerly aspect or from its high water content or other cause, is unsatisfactory, because the germination of seeds and the general life processes of plants cannot go on satisfactorily except at certain temperatures well above freezing-point.

A good soil should be deep to allow of extensive root development and, in the case of arable soils, easy to work with implements. Even when all the conditions above mentioned in regard to texture, water-holding capacity, aeration and temperature are suitably fulfilled the soil may still be barren: plant foodmaterial is needed. This is usually present in abundance although it may not be available to the plant under certain circumstances, or may need to be replenished or increased by additions to the soil of manures or fertilizers (see Manure).

Chief Constituents of the Soil

An examination of the soil shows it to be composed of a vast number of small particles of sand, clay, chalk and humus, in which are generally imbedded larger or smaller stones. It will be useful to consider the nature of the four chief constituents just mentioned and their bearing upon the texture, water-holding capacity and other characters which were referred to in the previous section.

Sand consists of grains of quartz or flint, the individual particles of which are large enough to be seen with the unaided eye or readily felt as gritty grains when rubbed between the finger and thumb. When a little soil is shaken up with water in a tumbler the sand particles rapidly fall to the bottom and form a layer which resembles ordinary sand of the seashore or river banks. Chemically pure sand is silicon dioxide (SiO 2) or quartz, a clear transparent glass-like mineral, but as ordinarily met with, it is more or less impure and generally coloured reddish or yellowish by oxide of iron. A soil consisting of sand entirely would be very loose, would have little capacity to retain water, would be liable to become very hot in the daytime and cool at night and would be quite unsuitable for growth of plants.

The term clay is often used by chemists to denote hydrated silicate of alumina (Al 2 O 3 2SiO 2.2H 2 O), of which kaolin or china clay is a fairly pure form. This substance is present in practically all soils but in comparatively small amounts. Even in the soils which farmers speak of as stiff clays it is rarely present to the extent of more than I or 2%. The word " clay " used in the agricultural sense denotes a sticky intractable material which is found to consist of exceedingly fine particles (generally less than. 005 mm. in diameter) of sand and other minerals derived from the decomposition of rocks, with a small amount of silicate of alumina. The peculiar character which clay possesses is probably due not to its chemical composition but to its physical state. When wet it becomes sticky and almost impossible to move or work with farm implements; neither air nor water can penetrate freely. In a dry state it becomes hard and bakes to a brick. It holds water well and is consequently cold, needing the application of much heat to raise its temperature. It is obvious, therefore, that soil composed entirely of clay is as useless as pure sand so far as the growth of crops upon it is concerned.

Chalk consists, when quite pure, of calcium carbonate (CaC03), a white solid substance useful in small amounts as a plant foodmaterial, though in excess detrimental to growth. Alone, even when broken up into small pieces, it is unsuitable for the growth of plants.

Humus, the remaining constituent of soil, is the term used for the decaying vegetable and animal matter in the soil. A good illustration of it is peat. Its water-holding capacity is great, but it is often acid, and when dr y it is light and incapable of supporting the roots of plants properly. Few of the commonly cultivated crops can live in a soil consisting mainly of humus.

From the above account it will be understood that not one of the four chief soil constituents is in itself of value for the growth of crops, yet when they are mixed, as they usually are in the soils met with in nature, one corrects the deficiencies of the other. A perfect soil would be such a blend of sand, clay, chalk and humus as would contain sufficient clay and humus to prevent drought, enough sand to render it pervious to fresh air and prevent waterlogging, chalk enough to correct the tendency to acidity of the humus present, and would have within it various substances which would serve as food-materials to the crops.

Soil on

Bagshot Beds.

Soil on

Oxford Clay.

Coarse sand I-2 mm. .



Fine sand. 2-. 04 mm.. .

40 ,,

II „



oI mm.

12 „

19 „

Fine silt

01 -

004 mm.

8 „

19 „

Clay below. 004 mm.. .

8 „

40 „

Generally speaking, soils containing from 30 to 50% of clay and 50 to 60% of sand with an adequate amount of vegetable residues prove the most useful for ordinary farm and garden crops; such blends are known as " loams," those in which clay predominates being termed clay loalns, and those in which the sand predominates sandy roams. " Stiff clays " contain over 50% of clay; " light sands " have less than to %. In the mechanical analysis of the soil, after separation of the stones and fine gravel by means of sieves, the remainder of the finer earth is subjected to various processes of sifting and deposition from water with a view of determining the relative proportions of sand, silt and clay present in it. Most of the material termed " sand " in such analyses consists of particles ranging in diameter from .5 to. 05 mm., and the " silt " from 05 to 005 mm., the " clay " being composed of particles less than .005 mm. in diameter. The proportional amount of these materials in a sandy soil on the Bagshot beds and a stiff Oxford clay is given below: - The pore-space within the soil, i.e. the space between the particles composing the soil, varies with the size of these particles and with the way they are arranged or packed. It is important, since upon it largely depends the movement of air and water in the land. It is generally from 30 to 50% of the total volume occupied by the soil.

Where the soil grains are quite free from each other the smaller grains tend to fill up the spaces between the larger ones; hence it might be concluded that in clays the amount of pore-space would be less than in coarser sands. This is the case in " puddled " clays, but in ordinary clay soils the excessively minute particles of which they largely consist tend to form groups of comparatively large composite grains and it is in such natural soils that the pore-space is largest.
















Wheat. .. .






Meadow hay






Turnips. .






Mangels. .

1 49





Chemical Composition of the Soil

It has been found by experiment that plants need for their nutritive process and their growth, certain chemical elements, namely, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. With the exception of the carbon and a small proportion of the oxygen and nitrogen, which may be partially derived from the air, these elements are taken from the soil by crops. The following table shows the amounts of the chief constituents removed by certain crops in lb per acre: - Plants also remove from the soil silicon, sodium, chlorine, and other elements which are, nevertheless, found to be unessential for the growth and may therefore be neglected here.

Leguminous crops take some of the nitrogen which they require from the air, but most plants obtain it from the nitrates present in the soil. The sulphur exists in the soil chiefly in the form of sulphates of magnesium, calcium and other metals; the phosphorus mainly as phosphates of calcium, magnesium and iron; the potash, soda and other bases as silicates and nitrates; calcium and magnesium carbonates are also common constituents of many soils.

In the ordinary chemical analyses of the soil determinations are made of the nitrogen and various carbonates present as well as of the amount of phosphoric acid, potash, soda, magnesia and other components soluble in strong hydrochloric acid.

Poor sandy Soil

on Bagshot Beds.

Loam or


Nitrogen .



Phosphoric acid .




Carbonate of Lime .







Below are given examples of the analyses of a poor sandy soil and an ordinary loam: - Since the dry weight of the first foot of soil over an acre is about 4,000,000 lb the poor sandy soil contains within it: Nitrogen. 7,600 lb Phosphoric acid. 7,200 „ Potash.. 7,600 „ Lime .. ... .. 9,200 „ From the figures given previously of the amount of nitrogen, potash and phosphoric acid removed by a wheat or mangel crop it would appear that this soil has enough of these ingredients in it to yield many such crops; yet experience has shown that these crops cannot be grown on such a poor sandy soil unless manures containing phosphates, potash and nitrogen are added.

Many attempts have been made to correlate the results of the analyses of a soil with its known cropping power, but there is yet much to be learnt in regard to these matters. A great proportion of the food constituents which can be extracted by strong hydrochloric acid are not in a condition to be taken up by the roots of plants; they are present, but in a " dormant " state, although by tillage and weathering processes they may in time become " available " to plants. Analyses of this character would appear to indicate the permanent productive capacity of the soil rather than its immediate power of growing a crop.

Soils containing less than 25% of potash are likely to need special application of potash fertilizers to give good results, while those containing as much as. 4 or. 5% do not usually respond to those manures. Where the amount of phosphoric acid (P 2 0,) is less than. 05% phosphatic manures are generally found to be beneficial; with more than. 1% present these fertilizers are not usually called for except perhaps in soils containing a high percentage of iron compounds. Similarly soils with less than i % of nitrogen are likely to be benefited by applications of nitrogenous manures. Too much stress, however, cannot be laid upon these figures, since the fertility of a soil is very greatly influenced by texture and physical constitution, perhaps more so by these factors than by chemical composition.

At present it is not possible to determine with accuracy the amount of immediately available plant food-constituents in a soil: no doubt the various species of plants differ somewhat in their power of absorbing these even from the same soil. The method introduced by Dyer of dissolving out the mineral constituents of the soil with a i % solution of citric acid, which represents about the average acidity of the roots of most common plants, yields better results. In the case of arable soils, where the amount of phosphoric acid determined by this method falls below 01%, phosphatic manuring is essential for good crops. The writer has found that many pasture soils containing less than. 025 or 03%, respond freely to applications of phosphates; probably in such cases even the weak acid is capable of dissolving out phosphates from the humus or other compounds which yield little or none to the roots of grasses and clovers. In soils where the potash available to citric acid is less than. 005%, kainit and other potash fertilizers are needed.

Water in the Soil

The importance of an adequate supply of water to growing crops cannot well be over-estimated. During the life of a plant there is a continuous stream of water passing through it which enters by the root-hairs in the soil and after passing along the stem is given off from the 'stomata of the leaves into the open air above ground. It has been estimated that an acre of cabbage will absorb from the land and transpire from its leaves more than ten tons of water per day when the weather is fine.

In addition to its usefulness in maintaining a turgid state of the young cells without which growth cannot proceed, water is itself a plant food-material and as absorbed from the soil contains dissolved in it all the mineral food constituents needed by plants for healthy nutrition. Without a sufficient supply plants remain stunted and the crop yield is seriously reduced, as we see in dry seasons when the rainfall is much below the average. If one condition is more necessary than another for good crops it is a suitable supply of water, for no amount of manuring or other treatment of the soil will make up for a deficient rainfall. The amount needed for the most satisfactory nutrition varies with different plants. In the case of fair average farm crops it has been shown that for the production of one ton of dry matter contained in them from 300 to 500 tons of water has been absorbed and utilized by the plants. This may be more than the rainfall, in which case irrigation or special control of the water supply may be necessary.

The water-holding capacity of a soil depends upon the amount of free space between the particles of which it is composed into which water can enter. In most cases this amounts to from 30 to 50% of the volume of the soil.

When the pore-space of the soil is filled with water it becomes water-logged and few plants can effect absorption by their roots under such conditions. The root-hairs die from want of air, and the whole plant soon suffers. Fields of wheat and other cereals rarely recover after a week's submergence, but orchards and many trees when at rest in winter withstand a flooded or water-logged condition of the soil for two or three weeks without damage. The most satisfactory growth is maintained when the amount of water present is not more than 40 to 60% of what would saturate it. Under such conditions each particle of soil is surrounded by a thin film of water and in the pore-space air can freely circulate. It is from such films that the root-hairs absorb all that plants require for their growth. The movement of water into the root-hairs is brought about by the osmotic action of certain salts in their cell-sap. Crops are, however, unable to absorb all the water present in the soil, for when the films become very thin they are held more firmly or cling with more force to the soil particles and resist the osmotic action of the root-hairs. Plants have been found to wither and die in sandy soils containing i a % of water, and in clay soils in which there was still present 8% of water.

When a long glass tube open at both ends is filled with soil and one end is dipped in a shallow basin of water, the water is found to move upwards through the soil column just as oil will rise in an ordinary lamp wick. By this capillary action water may be transferred to the upper layers of the soil from a depth of several feet below the surface. In this manner plants whose roots descend but a little way in the ground are enabled to draw on deep supplies. Not only does water move upwards, but it is transferred by capillarity in all directions through the soil. The amount and speed of movement of water by this means, and the distance to which it may be carried, depend largely upon the fineness of the particles composing the soil and the spaces left between each. The ascent of water is most rapid through coarse sands, but the height to which it will rise is comparatively small. In clays whose particles are exceedingly minute the water travels very slowly but may ultimately reach a height of many feet above the level of the " water-table " below. While this capillary movement of water is of great importance in supplying the needs of plants it has its disadvantages, since water may be transferred to the surface of the soil, where it evapo rates into the air and is lost to the land or the crop growing upon it.. The loss in this manner was found to be in one instance over a pound. of water per day per square foot of surface, the " water-table " being about 4 or 5 ft. below.

One of the most effective means of conserving soil moisture is by " mulching," i.e. by covering the surface of the soil with some loosely compacted material such as straw, leaf-refuse or stablemanure. The space between the parts of such substances is too large to admit of capillary action; hence the water conveyed to the surface of the soil is prevented from passing upwards any further except by slow evaporation through the mulching layer. A loose layer of earth spread over the surface of the soil acts in the same way, and a similarly effective mulch may be prepared by hoeing the soil, or stirring it to a depth of one or two inches with harrows or other implements. The hoe and harrow are therefore excellent tools for use in dry weather. Rolling the land is beneficial to young crops. in dry weather, since it promotes capillary action by reducing the soil spaces. It should, however, be followed by a light hoeing or harrowing.

In the semi-arid regions of the United States, Argentina and other countries where the average annual rainfall lies between ioa to 20 in., irrigation is necessary to obtain full crops every year. Good crops, however, can often be grown in such areas without irrigation if attention is paid to the proper circulation of water in the soil and means for retaining it or preventing excessive loss by evaporation. Of course care must be exercised in the selection of plants - such as sorghum, maize, wheat, and alfalfa or lucerne - which are adapted to dry conditions and a warm climate.

So far as the water-supply is concerned - and this is what ultimately determines the yield of crops - the rain which falls upon the soil should be made to enter it and percolate rapidly through its interstices. A deep porous bed in the upper layers is essential, and this should consist of fine particles which lie close to each other without any tendency to stick together and " puddle " after heavy showers. Every effort should be made to prepare a good mealy tilth by suitable ploughing, harrowing and consolidation.

In the operation of ploughing the furrow slice is separated from the soil below, and although in humid soils this layer may be left to settle by degrees, in semi-arid regions this loosened layer becomes. dry if left alone even for a few hours and valuable water evaporates. into the air. To prevent this various implements, such as disk harrows and specially constructed rollers, may be used to consolidate the upper stirred portion of the soil and place it in close capillary relationship with the lower unmoved layer. If the soil is allowed to become dry and pulverized, rain is likely to run off or " puddle the surface without penetrating it more than a very short distance. Constant hoeing or harrowing to maintain a natural soil mulch layer of 2 or 3 in. deep greatly conserves the soil water below. In certain districts where the rainfall is low a crop can only be obtained once every alternate year, the intervening season being devoted to tillage with a view of getting the rain into the soil and retaining it there for the crop in the following year.

Bacteria in the Soil. - Recent science has made much progress in the investigation of the micro-organisms of the soil. Whereas the soil used to be looked upon solely as a dead, inert material containing certain chemical substances which serve as food constituents. of the crops grown upon it, it is now known to be a place of habitation for myriads of minute living organisms upon whose activity much of its fertility depends. They are responsible for many important chemical processes which make the soil constituents more available and better adapted to the nutrition of crops. One cubic centimetre of soil taken within a foot or so from the surface contains from II to 2 millions of bacteria of many different kinds, as well as large numbers of fungi. In the lower depths of the soil the numbers. decrease, few being met with at a depth of 5 or 6 ft.

The efficiency of many substances, such as farm-yard manure,. guanos, bone-meal and all other organic materials, which are spread over or dug or ploughed into the land for the benefit of farm and' garden crops, is bound up with the action of these minute living beings. Without their aid most manures would be useless for plant growth. Farm-yard manure, guanos and other fertilizers. undergo decomposition in the soil and become broken down into compounds of simple chemical composition better suited for absorption by the roots of crops, the changes involved being directly due to the activity of bacteria and fungi. Much of the work carried on by these organisms is not clearly understood; there are, however, certain processes which have been extensively investigated and to these it is necessary to refer.

It has been found by experiment that the nitrogen needed by practically all farm crops except leguminous ones is best supplied in the form of a nitrate; the rapid effect of nitrate of soda when used' as a top dressing to wheat or other plants is well known to farmers.. It has long been known that when organic materials such as the dung and urine of animals, or even the bodies of animals and plants, are applied to the soil, the nitrogen within them becomes oxidized, and ultimately appears in the form of nitrate of lime, potash or some other base. The nitrogen in decaying roots, in the dead stems. and leaves of plants, and in humus generally is sooner or later changed into a nitrate, the change being effected by bacteria. That: the action of living organisms is the cause of the production of nitrates is supported by the fact that the change does not occur when the soil is heated nor when it is treated with disinfectants which destroy or check the growth and life of bacteria. The process resulting in the formation of nitrates in the soil is spoken of as nitrification. The steps in the breaking down of the highly complex nitrogenous proteid compounds contained in the humus of the soil, or applied to the latter by the farmer in the form of dung and organic refuse generally, are many and varied; most frequently the insoluble proteids are changed by various kinds of putrefactive bacteria into soluble proteids (peptones, &c.), these into simpler amido-bodies, and these again sooner or later into compounds of ammonia. The urea in urine is also rapidly converted by the uro-bacteria into ammonium carbonate. The compounds of ammonia thus formed from the complex substances by many varied kinds of micro-organisms are ultimately oxidized into nitrates. The change takes place in two stages and is effected by two special groups of nitrifying bacteria, which are present in all soils. In the first stage the ammonium compounds are oxidized to nitrites by the agency of very minute motile bacteria belonging to the genus Nitrosomonas. The further oxidation of the nitrite to a nitrate is effected by bacteria belonging to the genus Nitrobacter. Several conditions must be fulfilled before nitrification can occur. In the first place an adequate temperature is essential; at 5° or 6° C. (40-43° F.) the process is stopped, so that it does not go on in winter. In summer, when the temperature is about 24° C. (75° F.), nitrification proceeds at a rapid rate. The organisms do not carry on their work in soils deficient in air; hence the process is checked in water-logged soils. The presence of a base such as lime or magnesia (or their carbonates) is also essential, as well as an adequate degree of moisture: in dry soils nitrification ceases.

It is the business of the farmer and gardener to promote the activity of these organisms by good tillage, careful drainage and occasional application of lime to soils which are deficient in this substance. It is only when these conditions are attended to that decay and nitrification of dung, guano, fish-meal, sulphate of ammonia and other manures take place, and the constituents which they contain become available to the crops for whose benefit they have been applied to the land.

Nitrates are very soluble in water and are therefore liable to be washed out of the soil by heavy rain. They are, however, very readily absorbed by growing plants, so that in summer, when nitrification is most active, the nitrates produced are usually made use of by crops before loss by drainage takes place. In winter, however, and in fallows loss takes place in the subsoil water.

There is also another possible source of loss of nitrates through the activity of denitrifying bacteria. These organisms reduce nitrates to nitrites and finally to ammonia and gaseous free nitrogen which escapes into the atmosphere. Many bacteria are known which are capable of denitrification, some of them being abundant in fresh dung and upon old straw. They can, however, only carry on their work extensively under anaerobic conditions, as in waterlogged soils or in those which are badly tilled, so that there is but little loss of nitrates through their agency.

An important group of soil organisms are now known which have the power of using the free nitrogen of the atmosphere for the formation of the complex nitrogenous compounds of which their bodies are largely composed. By their continued action the soil becomes enriched with nitrogenous material which eventually through the nitrification process becomes available to ordinary green crops. This power of " fixing nitrogen," as it is termed, is apparently not possessed by higher green plants. The bacterium, Clostridium pasteurianum, common in most soils, is able to utilize free nitrogen under anaerobic conditions, and an organism known as Azotobacter chroococcum and some others closely allied to it, have similar powers which they can exercise under aerobic conditions. For the carrying on of their functions they all need to be supplied with carbohydrates or other carbon compounds which they obtain ordinarily from humus and plant residues in the soil, or possibly in some instances from carbohydrates manufactured by minute green algae with which they live in close union. Certain bacteria of the nitrogenfixing class enter into association with the roots of green plants, the best-known examples being those which are met with in the nodules upon the roots of clover, peas, beans, sainfoin and other plants belonging to the leguminous order.

That the fertility of land used for the growth of wheat is improved by growing upon it a crop of beans or clover has been long recognized by farmers. The knowledge of the cause, however, is due to modern investigations. When wheat, barley, turnips and similar plants are grown, the soil upon which they are cultivated becomes depleted of its nitrogen; yet after a crop of clover or other leguminous plants the soil is found to be richer in nitrogen than it was before the crop was grown. This is due to the nitrogenous root residues left in the land. Upon the roots of leguminous plants characteristic swollen nodules or tubercles are present. These are found to contain large numbers of a bacterium termed Bacillus radicicola or Pseudomonas radicicola. The bacteria, which are present in almost all soils, enter the root-hairs of their host plants and ultimately stimulate the production of an excrescent nodule, in which they live. For a time after entry they multiply, obtaining the nitrogen necessary for their nutrition and growth from the free nitrogen of the air, the carbohydrate required being supplied by the pea or clover plant in whose tissues they make a home. The nodules increase in size, and analysis shows that they are exceedingly rich in nitrogen up to the time of flowering of the host plant. During this period the bacteria multiply and most of them assume a peculiar thickened or branched form, in which state they are spoken of as bacteroids. Later the nitrogen-content of the nodule decreases, most of the organisms, which are largely composed of proteid material, becoming digested and transformed into soluble nitrogenous compounds which are conducted to the developing roots and seeds. After the decay of the roots some of the unchanged bacteria are left in the soil, where they remain ready to infect a new leguminous crop.

The nitrogen-fixing nodule bacteria can be cultivated on artificial media, and many attempts have been made to utilize them for practical purposes. Pure cultures may be made and after dilution in water or other liquid can be mixed with soil to be ultimately spread over the land which is to be infected. The method of using them most frequently adopted consists in applying them to the seeds of leguminous plants before sowing, the seed being dipped for a time in a liquid containing the bacteria. In this manner organisms obtained from red clover can be grown and applied to the seed of red clover; and similar inoculation can be arranged for other species, so that an application of the bacteria most suited to the particular crop to be cultivated can be assured. In many cases it has been found that inoculation, whether of the soil or of the seed, has not made any appreciable difference to the growth of the crop, a result no doubt due to the fact that the soil had already contained within it an abundant supply of suitable organisms. But in other instances greatly increased yields have been obtained where inoculation has been practised. More or less pure cultures of the nitrogen-fixing bacteria belonging to the Azotobacter group have been tried and recommended for application to poor land in order to provide a cheap supply of nitrogen. The application of pure cultures of bacteria for improving the fertility of the land is still in an experimental stage. There is little doubt, however, that in the near future means will be devised to obtain the most efficient work from these minute organisms, either by special artificial cultivation and subsequent application to the soil, or by improved methods of encouraging their healthy growth and activity in the land where they already exist.

Improvement of Soils

The fertility of a soil is dependent upon a number of factors, some of which, such as the addition of fertilizers or manures, increase the stock of available food materials in the soil (see Manure), while others, such as application of clay or humus, chiefly influence the fertility of the land by improving its physical texture.

The chief processes for the improvement of soils which may be discussed here are: liming, claying and marling, warping, paring and burning, and green manuring. Most of these more or less directly improve the land by adding to it certain plant food constituents which are lacking, but the effect of each process is in reality very complex. In the majority of cases the good results obtained are more particularly due to the setting free of " dormant " or " latent " food constituents and to the amelioration of the texture of the soil, so that its aeration, drainage, temperature and water-holding capacity are altered for the better.

The material which chemists call calcium carbonate is met with in a comparatively pure state in chalk. It is present in variable amounts in limestones of all kinds, although its white ness may there be masked by the presence of iron oxide and other coloured substances. Carbonate of lime is also a constituent to a greater or lesser extent in almost all soils. In certain sandy soils and in a few stiff clays it may amount to less than 4%, while in others in limestone and chalk districts there may be 50 to 80% present. Pure carbonate of lime when heated loses 44% of its weight, the decrease being due to the loss of carbon dioxide gas. The resulting white product is termed calcium oxide lime, burnt lime, quicklime, cob lime, or caustic lime. This substance absorbs and combines with water very greedily, at the same time becoming very hot, and falling into a fine dry powder,' calcium hydroxide or slaked lime, which when left in the open slowly combines with the carbon dioxide of the air and becomes calcium carbonate, from which we began.

When recommendations are made about liming land it is necessary to indicate more precisely than is usually done which of the three classes of material named above - chalk, quicklime or slaked lime - is intended. Generally speaking the oxide or quicklime has a more rapid and greater effect in modifying the soil than slaked lime, and this again greater than the carbonate or chalk.

Lime in whatever form it is applied has a many-sided influence in the fertility of the land. It tends to improve the tilth and the capillarity of the soil by binding sands together somewhat and by opening up clays. If applied in too great an amount to light soils and peat land it may do much damage by rendering them too loose and open. The addition of small quantities of lime, especially in a caustic form, to stiff greasy clays makes them much more porous and pliable. A lump of clay, which if dried would become hard and intractable, crumbles into pieces when dried after adding to it 2% of lime. The lime causes the minute separate particles of clay to flocculate or group themselves together into larger compound grains between which air and water can percolate more freely. It is this power of creating a more crumbly tilth on stiff clays that makes lime so valuable to the farmer. Lime also assists in the decomposition of the organic matter or humus in the soil and promotes nitrification; hence it is of great value after green manuring or where the land contains much humus from the addition of bulky manures such as farm-yard dung. This tendency to destroy organic matter makes the repeated application of lime a pernicious practice, especially on land which contains little humus to begin with. The more or less dormant nitrogen and other constituents of the humus are made immediately available to the succeeding crop, but the capital of the soil is rapidly reduced, and unless the loss is replaced by the addition of more manures the land may become sterile. Although good crops may follow the application of lime, the latter is not a direct fertilizer or manure and is no substitute for such. Its best use is obtained on land in good condition, but not where the soil is poor. When used on light dry land it tends to make the land drier, since it destroys the humus which so largely assists in keeping water in the soil. Lime is a base and neutralizes the acid materials present in badly drained meadows and boggy pastures. Weeds, therefore, which need sour conditions for development are checked by liming and the better grasses and clovers are encouraged. It also sets free potash and possibly other useful plant food-constituents of the soil. Liming tends to produce earlier crops and destroys the fungus which causes finger-and-toe or club-root among turnips and cabbages.

Land which contains less than about z /c, of lime usually needs the addition of this material. The particular form in which lime should be applied for the best results depends upon the nature of the soil. In practice the proximity to chalk pits or lime kilns, the cost of the lime and cartage, will determine which is most economical. Generally speaking light poor lands deficient in organic matter will need the less caustic form or chalk, while quicklime will be most satisfactory on the stiff clays and richer soils. On the stiff soils overl y ing the chalk it was formerly the custom to dig pits through the soil to the rock below. Shafts 20 or 30 ft. deep were then sunk, and the chalk taken from horizontal tunnels was brought to the surface and spread on the land at the rate of about 60 loads per acre. Chalk should be applied in autumn, so that it may be split by the action of frost during the winter. Quicklime is best applied, perhaps, in spring at the rate of one ton per acre every six or eight years, or in larger doses-4 to 8 tons - every 15 to 20 years. Small dressings applied at short intervals give the most satisfactory results. The quicklime should be placed in small heaps and covered with soil if possible until it is slacked and the lumps have fallen into powder, after which it may be spread and harrowed in. Experiments have shown that excellent effects can be obtained by applying 5 or 6 cwt. of ground quicklime.

Gas-lime is a product obtained from gasworks where quicklime is used to purify the gas from sulphur compounds and other objectionable materials. It contains a certain amount of unaltered caustic lime and slacked lime, along with sulphates and sulphides of lime, some of which have an evil odour. As some of these sulphur compounds have a poisonous effect on plants, gas-lime cannot be applied to land directly without great risk or rendering it incapable of growing crops of any sort - even weeds - for some time. It should therefore be kept a year or more in heaps in some waste corner and turned over once or twice so that the air can gain access to it and oxidize the poisonous ingredients in it.

Many soils of a light sandy or gravelly or peaty nature and liable to drought and looseness of texture can be improved by the addition of large amounts of clay of an ordinary character.

. S i milarly soils can be improved by applying to them marl, a substance consisting of a mixture of clay with variable proportions of lime. Some of the chalk marls, which are usually of a yellowish or dirty grey colour, contain clay and 50 to 80% of carbonate of lime with a certain proportion of phosphate of lime. Such a material would not only have an influence on the texture of the land but the lime would reduce the sourness of the land and the phosphate of lime supply one of the most valuable of plant foodconstituents. The beneficial effects of marls may also be partially due to the presence in them of available potash.

Typical clay-marls are tenacious, soapy clays of yellowish-red or brownish colour and generally contain less than 50% of lime. When dry they crumble into small pieces which can be readily mixed with the soil by ploughing. Many other kinds of marls are described; some are of a sandy nature, others stony or full of the remains of small shells. The amount and nature of the clay or marl to be added to the soil will depend largely upon the original composition of the latter, the lighter sands and gravel requiring more clay than those of firmer texture. Even stiff soils deficient in lime are greatly improved in fertility by the addition of marls. In some cases as little as 40 loads per acre have been used with benefit, in others 180 loads have not been too much. The material is dug from neighbouring pits or sometimes from the fields which are to be improved, and applied in autumn and winter. When dry and in a crumbly state it is harrowed and spread and finally ploughed in and mixed with the soil.

On some of the strongest land it was formerly the practice to add to and plough into it burnt clay, with the object of making the land work more easily. The burnt clay moreover carried Cl ay with it potash and other materials in a state readily available to the crops. The clay is dug from the land or from ditches or pits and placed in heaps of 60 to ioo loads each, with faggot wood, refuse coals or other fuel. Great care is necessary to prevent the heaps from becoming too hot, in which case the clay becomes baked into hard lumps of brick-like material which cannot be broken up. With careful management, however, the clay dries and bakes, becoming slowly converted into lumps which readily crumble into a fine powder, in which state it is spread over and worked into the land at the rate of 40 loads per acre.

The paring and burning of land, although formerly practised as an ordinary means of improving the texture and fertility of arable fields, can now only be looked upon as a practice p to be adopted for the purpose of bringing rapidly into cultivation very foul leys or, land covered with a coarse turf. The practice is confined to poorer types of land, such as heaths covered with furze and bracken or fens and clay areas smothered with rank grasses and sedges. To reduce such land to a fit state for the growth of arable crops is very difficult and slow without resort to paring and burning. The operation consists of paring off the tough sward to a depth of I to 2 in. just sufficient to effectually damage the roots of the plants forming the sward and then, after drying the sods and burning them, spreading the charred material and ashes over the land. The turf is taken off either with the breast plough - a paring tool pushed forward from the breast or thighs by the workman - or with specially constructed paring ploughs or shims. The depth of the sod removed should not be too thick or burning is difficult and too much humus is destroyed unnecessarily, nor should it be too thin or the roots of the herbage are not effectually destroyed.

The operation is best carried out in spring and summer. After being pared off the turf is allowed to dry for a fortnight or so and is then placed in small heaps a yard or two wide at the base, a little straw or wood being put in the middle of each heap, which is then lighted. As burning proceeds more turf is added to the outside of the heaps in such a manner as to allow little access of air. Every care should be taken to burn and char the sod thoroughly without permitting the heap to blaze. The ashes should be spread as soon as possible and covered by a shallow ploughing. The land is then usually sown with some rapidly growing green crop, such as rape, or with turnips.

Paring and burning improves the texture of clay lands, particularly if draining is carried out at the same time. It tends to destroy insects and weeds, and gets rid of acidity of the soil. No operation brings old turf into cultivation so rapidly. Moreover the beneficial effects are seen in the first crop and last for many years. Many of the mineral plant food-constituents locked up in the coarse herbage and in the upper layers of the soil are made immediately available to crops. The chief disadvantage is the loss of nitrogen which it entails, this element being given off into the air in a free gaseous state. It is best adapted for application to clays and fen lands and should not be practised on shallow light sands or gravelly soils, since the humus so necessary for the fertility of such areas is reduced too much and the soil rendered too porous and liable to suffer from drought.

Many thousands of acres of low-lying peaty and sandy land adjoining the tidal rivers which flow into the Humber have been improved by a process termed " warping." The warp consists of fine muddy sediment which is suspended in the tidal river water and appears to be derived from material scoured from the bed of the Humber by the action of the tide and a certain amount of sediment brought down by the tributary streams which join the Humber some distance from its mouth. The field or area to be warped must lie below the level of the water in the river at high tide. It is first surrounded by an embankment, after which the water from the river is allowed to flow through a properly constructed sluice in its bank, along a drain or ditch to the land which is prepared for warping. By a system of carefully laid channels the water flows gently over the land, and deposits its warp with an even level surface. At the ebb of the tide the more or less clear water flows back again from the land into the main river with sufficient force to clean out any deposit which may have accumulated in the drain leading to the warped area, thus allowing free access of more warpladen water at the next tide. In this manner poor peats and sands may be covered with a large layer of rock soil capable of growing excellent crops.

The amount of deposit laid over the land reaches a thickness of two or three feet in one season of warping, which is usually practised between March and October, advantage being taken of the spring tides during these months. The new warp is allowed to lie fallow during the winter after being laid out in four-yard " lands " and becomes dry enough to be sown with oats and grass and clover seeds in the following spring. The clover-grass ley is then grazed for a year or two with sheep, after which wheat and potatoes are the chief crops grown on the land.

Green manures are crops which are grown especially for the purpose of ploughing into the land in a green or actively growing state. The crop during its growth obtains a considerable amount of Green . carbon from the carbon dioxide of the air, and builds it up Manuring. i nto compounds which when ploughed into the land become humus. The carbon compounds of the latter are of no direct nutritive value to the succeeding crop, but the decaying vegetable tissues very greatly assist in retaining moisture in light sandy soils, and in clay soils also have a beneficial effect in rendering them more open and allowing of better drainage of superfluous water and good circulation of fresh air within them. The ploughing-in of green crops is in many respects like the addition of farm-yard manure. Their growth makes no new addition of mineral food-constituents to the land, but they bring useful substances from the subsoil nearer to the surface, and after the decay of the buried vegetation these become available to succeeding crops of wheat or other plants. Moreover, where deep-rooting plants are grown the subsoil is aerated and rendered more open and suitable for the development of future crops.

The plants most frequently used are white mustard, rape, buckwheat, spurry, rye, and several kinds of leguminous plants, especially vetches, lupins and serradella. By far the most satisfactory crops as green manures are those of the leguminous class, since they add to the land considerable amounts of the valuable fertilizing constituent, nitrogen, which is obtained from the atmosphere. By nitrification this substance rapidly becomes available to succeeding crops. On the light, poor sands of Saxony Herr Schultz, of Lupitz, made use of serradella, yellow lupins and vetches as green manures for enriching the land in humus and nitrogen, and found the addition of potash salts and phosphates very profitable for the subsequent growth of potatoes and wheat. He estimated that by using leguminous crops in this manner for the purpose of obtaining cheap nitrogen he reduced the cost of production of wheat more than 50%.

The growing crops should be ploughed in before flowering occurs; they should not be buried deeply, since decay and nitrification take place most rapidly and satisfactorily when there is free access of air to the decaying material. When the crop is luxuriant it is necessary to put a roller over it first, to facilitate proper burial by the plough. The best time for the operation appears to be late summer and autumn. (J. PE.) Soil and Disease. - The influence of different kinds of soil as a factor in the production of disease requires to be considered, in regard not only to the nature and number of the microorganisms they contain, but also to the amount of moisture and air in them and their capacity for heat. The moisture in soil is derived from two sources--the rain and the ground-water. Above the level of the ground-water the soil is kept moist by capillary attraction and by evaporation of the water below, by rainfall, and by movements of the ground-water; on the other hand, the upper layers are constantly losing moisture by evaporation from the surface and through vegetation. When the ground-water rises it forces air out of the soil; when it falls again it leaves the soil moist and full of air. The nature of the soil will largely influence the amount of moisture which it will take up or retain. In regard to water, all soils have two actions - namely, permeability and absorbability. Permeability is practically identical with the speed at which percolation takes place; through clay it is slow, but increases in rapidity through marls, loams, limestones, chalks, coarse gravels and fine sands, reaching a maximum in soil saturated with moisture. The amount of moisture retained depends mainly upon the absorbability of the soil, and as it depends largely on capillary action it varies with the coarseness or fineness of the pores of the soil, being greater for soils which consist of fine particles. The results of many analyses show that the capacity of soils for moisture increases with the amount of organic substances present; decomposition appears to be most active when the moisture is about 4%, but can continue when it is as low as 2%, while it appears to be retarded by any excess over 4%. Above the level of the ground-water all soils contain air, varying in amount with the degree of looseness of the soil. Some sands contain as much as 50% of air of nearly the same composition as atmospheric air. The oxygen, however, decreases with the depth, while the carbon dioxide increases.

Among the most noteworthy workers at the problems involved in the question of the influence of soil in the production of disease we find yen Foder, Pettenkofer, Levy, Fleck, von Naegeli, Schleesing, Muntz and Warrington. The study of epidemic and endemic diseases generally has brought to light an array of facts which very strongly suggest that an intimate association exists between the soil and the appearance and propagation of certain diseases; but although experiments and observations allow this view to be looked upon as well established, still the precise role played by the soil in an aetiological respect is by no means so well understood as to make it possible to separate the factors and dogmatize on their effects. The earliest writers upon cholera emphasized its remarkable preference for particular places; and the history of each successive epidemic implies, besides an importation of the contagion, certain local conditions which may be either general sanitary defects or peculiarities of climate and soil. The general evidence indicates that the specific bacteria of cholera discharges are capable of a much longer existence in the superficial soil layers than was formerly supposed; consequently it is specially necessary to guard against pollution of the soil, and through it against the probable contamination of both water and air. The evidence, however, is not sufficiently strong to warrant a universal conclusion, the diffusion of cholera appearing to be largely dependent upon other factors than soil states. Again, all accounts of diphtheria show a tendency on the part of the disease to recur in the same districts year after year. The questions naturally suggest themselves - Are the reappearances due to a revival of the contagion derived from previous outbreaks in the same place, or to some favouring condition which the place offers for the development of infection derived from some other quarter; and have favouring conditions any dependence upon the character and state of the soil? Greenhow in 1858 stated that diphtheria was especially prevalent on cold, wet soils, and Airy in 1881 described the localities affected as " for the most part cold, wet, clay lands." An analysis of the innumerable outbreaks in various parts of Europe indicates that the geological features of the affected districts play a less important part in the incidence of the disease than soil dampness. In this connexion it is interesting to note the behaviour of the diphtheritic contagion in soil. Experiments show that pure cultures, when mixed with garden soil constantly moistened short of saturation and kept in the dark at a temperature of 14° C., will retain their vitality for more than ten months; from moist soil kept at 26° C. they die out in about two months; from moist soil at 30° C. in seventeen days; and in dry soil at the same temperature within a week. In the laboratory absolute soil dryness is as distinctly antagonistic to the vitality of the diphtheria bacillus as soil dampness is favourable. Both statistically and experimentally we find that a damp soil favours its life and development, while prolonged submersion and drought kill it. We may consider that, in country districts, constant soil moisture is one of the chief factors; while in the case of urban outbreaks mere soil moisture is subsidiary to other more potent causes.

Again, many facts in the occurrence and diffusion of enteric fever point to an intimate connexion between its origin and certain conditions of locality. Epidemics rarely spread over any considerable tract of country, but are nearly always confined within local limits. Observations made at the most diverse parts of the globe, and the general distribution area of the disease, show that mere questions of elevation, or even configuration of the ground, have little or no influence. On the other hand, the same observations go to show that the disease is met with oftener on the more recent formations than the older, and this fact, so far as concerns the physical characters of the soil, is identical with the questions of permeability to air and water. Robertson has shown that the typhoid bacillus can grow very easily in certain soils, can persist in soils through the winter months, and when the soil is artificially fed, as may be done by a leaky drain or by access of filthy water from the surface, the microorganism will take on a fresh growth in the warm season. The destructive power of sunlight is only exercised on those organisms actually at the surface. Cultures of the typhoid organism planted at a depth of 18 in. were found to have grown to the surface. In the winter months the deeper layers of the soil act as a shelter to the organism, which again grows towards the surface during the summer. The typhoid organism was not found to be taken off from the decomposing masses of semi-liquid filth largely contaminated with a culture of bacillus typhosus; but, on the other hand, it was abundantly proved that it could grow over moist surfaces of stones, &c. Certain disease-producing organisms, such as the bacillus of tetanus and malignant oedema, appear to be universally distributed in soil, while others, as the bacillus typhosus and spirillum cholerae, appear to have only a local distribution. The conditions which favour the vitality, growth and multiplication of the typhoid bacillus are the following: the soil should be pervious; it should be permeated with a sufficiency of decaying - preferably animal - organic matters; it should possess a certain amount of moisture, and be subject to a certain temperature. Depriving the organism of any of these essential conditions for its existence in the soil will secure our best weapon for defence. The optimum temperature adapted to its growth and extension is 37° C. =98°. 4 F. Sir Charles Cameron attributes the prevalence of typhoid in certain areas in Dublin to the soil becoming saturated with faecal matter and specifically infected. The ratio of cases to population living in Dublin on loose porous gravel soil for the ten years1881-1891was I in 94, while that of those living on stiff clay soil was but 1 in 145. " This is as we should expect, since the movements of ground air are much greater in loose porous soils than in stiff clay soils." A foul gravel soil is a most dangerous one on which to build. For warmth, for dryness, for absence of fog, and for facility of walking after rain, just when the air is at its purest and its best, there is nothing equal to gravel; but when gravel has been rendered foul by infiltration with organic matters it may easily become a very hotbed of disease. (J. L. N.)

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Simple English

Loess field in Germany
Soil horizons are caused by combined biological, chemical and physical effects
File:MotoX racing03
Motorcycle rider digging into soil

Soil (sometimes called dirt) is the combination of rock, mineral fragments (pieces) made by weathering (wind, rain, sun, snow, etc.), and organic matter (living things), water, and air. It is mostly made up of grains of weathered rock and varying amounts of humus. The type of soil depends on the mix of humus and on the size of the grains of the rock. The grains can be very small and smooth, such as clay, or they can be larger, like grains of sand or even a piece of gravel. [1] Soils are important to our ecosystem for six main reasons: first, soils are a place for plants to grow; second, soils control the speed and the purity of water that moves through them; third, soils recycle nutrients from dead animals and plants; fourth, soils change the air that surrounds the earth, called the atmosphere; fifth, soils are a place to live for animals, insects and very small living things called microorganisms; sixth, soils are the oldest and the most used building materials.[2] The climate is very important when soil is made. Soil from different climates can have very different qualities.[3]


  1. Learn Science, intermediate, grades 5 to 6 by Mike Evans and Linda Ellis
  2. Brady and Weil; The Nature and Properties of Soils, 14th ed. 2008.
  3. [Expression error: Unexpected < operator Climate And Man], University Press of the Pacific, p. 27, ISBN 978-1-4102-1538-3 

Other pages

  • Agronomy (the study of soil and plant)

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