JoAnne Skelly: Soil stores carbon, mitigating climate change

Healthy soils are essential to our survival, says Jason Weller, chief of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). While most people understand that good soil is important for agriculture, some may not realize that it also traps and stores carbon, helping to mitigate climate change. Healthy soil keeps valuable nutrients on the land and out of streams, lakes and water supplies.

With the global population projected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, healthy soil is more important than ever. If growth continues at its current rate, we will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the past 500 years. Although many of us are only gardening in our backyards, rarely raising food for those outside our family, we too can be conservators of soil.

A farmer’s favorite cocktail may not be what you think. Innovative farmers are seeding a cover crop “cocktail mix” of six to 12 cover plants to mimic the soil-building and microbial-friendly conditions of diverse soil environments. As home gardeners, we can also grow cover crops. Their residue blankets the soil as mulch, cooling it, reducing plant stress, increasing yields and reducing the amount of water lost through evaporation. The residue also protects the soil from erosion. In addition, most cover crops put nitrogen back into the soil increasing the nutrients available to plants.

It’s amazing to think that one teaspoon of healthy soil contains 100 million to 1 billion individual bacteria. There is a lot of life going on below ground, even more than above ground. These critters, along with algae, earthworms, insects, fungi and yeasts, process organic matter into rich, dark humus in the soil. This is important because many nutrients taken up by plant roots are first processed through a soil organism before becoming available to a plant. The soil-to-plant interchange of nutrients and water is dynamic.

If you want to explore more about living soil, visit the NRCS website from which this article was taken at

On Thursday, attend the free Cooperative Extension Grow Your Own class “Soil Basics and the Best Amendments” from 6 to 8 p.m. at 2621 Northgate Lane, No. 12, Carson City. You will be given useful tools to improve your living soil so that you can improve the health of your plants and the yield of your garden. Call 775-887-2252 or send an email to to sign up.

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or 887-2252.


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