Word Count: 407

Time to Read: 2 minutes

Content has been adapted from the Context Network “Get Smart, Stay Smart” Ag Carbon Service.

The short answer: Changing management practices to foster biological activity is the key to improving soil health.

Back it up: Healthy soils are teeming with life. A single teaspoon of soil can contain as many as [1 billion bacteria](https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/soils/health/biology/?cid=nrcs142p2_053862#:~:text=A teaspoon of productive soil,million and 1 billion bacteria.). Invisible to the naked eye, bacteria are hard at work changing the soil structure and creating conditions for improved organic matter turnover, nutrient cycling, soil structure, and water availability.

Figure provided by the Context Network, LLC.

Figure provided by the Context Network, LLC.

But how can changing land management improve soil health?

**[Adopting practices](https://www.sare.org/publications/conservation-tillage-systems-in-the-southeast/chapter-3-benefits-of-increasing-soil-organic-matter/soil-organic-matter-and-soil-biology/#:~:text=The increase in soil organic,of the total organic matter.)** that support biological activity is the first step to seeing the visible outcomes of improved soil health.

Imagine that you’re farming microbes. Microbes need food, air, water, and shelter. Here are four ways you could improve their environment:

  1. Provide food in the form of organic matter. Keep crops growing as often as possible—their roots secrete sugars that bacteria consume. Keep residues on the field—the organic matter provides another food source.
  2. Provide shelter by minimizing soil disturbance. Decreasing tillage—or moving to conservation tillage—is the best way to provide shelter for microbes. Implementing cover crops or strip cropping to prevent topsoil erosion is another good way to minimize disturbance.
  3. Provide air by improving soil structure. Air is present in soil pores—roots need oxygen, just as microbes do. Over time, as bacteria and other microbes feed on sugars and plant tissue, the soil structure improves, increasing air flow to both plant roots and microbes in the soil.
  4. Provide water by maintaining it in the soil (in dry areas) or making sure there is adequate drainage (in wet areas). Leaving crop residue on fields and building up soil organic matter are both good ways to help improve water availability over time.

The big picture: Over time**,** farming invisible microbes creates visible changes in soil structure and aggradation.

Changing management practices to consider the invisible aspects of soil health—microbes—is a great way to improve your soil health.