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How to maintain healthy soils

Soil is a mixture of organic matter like dead decaying plants and animals, minerals like phosphate, gases like oxygen, liquids like water, organisms like earthworms and other living organisms. Soil is the base for many of our activities as human beings from anchoring buildings, to water purification, storage and supply, supporting life on earth and most importantly acting as a carbon sink- it stores carbon that when released would result in global warming.

Soil in Africa is the base for all agricultural production as soilless production has not yet been widely adopted. It is therefore imperative that farmers keep their soil healthy to improve productivity. The following are some of the key components to maintaining a healthy productive land.

1.  Understand your soil

This is the first step every farmer should do before engaging in any agricultural activities. Understanding your soil is the basis of all other agronomic activities. To understand the type of soil you have, one needs to carry out a soil test that gives a report on the type, nutrient available, presence of any soil contaminants like heavy metals and the nutrition regimen to follow. Soil tests in Kenya range between 1000 Kenya shillings to 5000 Shillings depending on the scope. The soil test should detail the soil type such as Clay, loam, sandy loams among others. Soil testing facilities are available from public institutions like KALRO and county governments or private business entities.

 

2. Land preparation activities.

The report from a soil test determines the land preparation activities to use when preparing land or even when carrying out other agronomic activities. For example sandy loams can be poor with water retention and soil nutrition therefore avoid practices like furrow irrigation on such soils as the water will erode the soil and the nutrients. The soil test will also recommend the best mitigation method to make sure the soil is healthy.

3. Soil Nutrition

The regimes followed in crop nutrition greatly influence the health status of a soil. Over fertilization over time has more adverse effects to the productivity and health of a soil. Fertilizers alter the soil pH status by making it either acidic or basic depending on the type of fertilizer applied. To mitigate the effects it is advised that farmers always add organic manure to their farms before planting.Organic manure has many wonderful effects on soil like correcting acidity, improving water retention, improving soil structure and chelating micronutrients hence saving them from leaching.

4. Water and soil

The relation between the two is synonymous as soil holds water and making it ready for utilisation by plants. Without either normal soil based production in Kenya would be hindered. Unfortunately, if not well managed, water can be damaging to the soil. This starts with the quality of water applied to the amount and method of application used. Always use water without contaminants like salt and heavy metals and select favourable water application methods like drip irrigation.

Author: Njoki Thuo – Mwakughu (BSc Agriculture, Egerton, MSc AICM, UoN)

Email: [email protected]

 


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