Soil – Matthew Evans (2021)

This topic may sound dull to many of you – and believe me, there were many nights listening to the audio book lulled me to sleep – however, for anyone who is interested in growing food or an ornamental garden, raising livestock or wanting a more vast array of solutions to the climate crisis, then read (or listen to this book). Fascinatingly, “in a single shovelful of healthy soil, according to the University of Illinois, there are more species that can be found above ground in the entire Amazon rainforest, the most biodiverse place on earth”. And even more mindbogglingly, there can be as many as “10 billion living things in one teaspoon of healthy soil”.

“In a single shovelful of healthy soil, according to the University of Illinois, there are more species that can be found above ground in the entire Amazon rainforest.

Matthew Evans, chef and food critic come farmer and author, takes us on a journey through soil, from the micro to the macro. He discusses the microbiome of soil, its structure, how it is made, soil health and its importance to our health including its influence on the nutrient levels of the food we grow.

Delving deep enough into the science to give the reader a more complex understanding of the chemical and biological make up of soil but references it with enough analogies and case studies he makes it easy to digest and apply to real life. As with anything overly scientific, these chapters can be a bit dry for anyone not inclined to understanding the mechanisms behind life – as mentioned earlier, if this isn’t your jam you could utilise these sections a sleep aid.

The book is sprinkled with lots of interesting facts about nutrition, food, farming and obviously soil. One statistic in particular that completely floored me was: “in the USA less than 1% of adolescence and about 2% of men and only 3.5% of women meet the national guidelines for daily intake of fruit and vegetables”. Less than 1% of adolescence! My brain almost exploded.

The book moves beyond the scientific to discuss the peril our global soils are in and what this means for all life on earth (spoiler: it’s not pretty). This includes the havoc our heavy-handed use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers like nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) are causing.

Luckily though it’s not all gloom (I’m not sure I would have been able to finish it if it were), even though we are teetering on a point of no return, there is hope (there’s always hope). He offers an optimistic view of how we can rectify our sick soil ourselves and become home gardeners to a more holistic view of how we change our agricultural systems. The more we start to unravel about soil, the more we stand a chance of working for it, instead of against it.

If you can’t see yourself listening to or reading an entire book on soil but you want to know what the secret to having healthy soil in your garden rather than just dirt, he offers one standing piece of advice:

Compost, Compost and Compost.

Singlehandedly this is one of the best ways to improve your soil.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book, perhaps that’s because I’m at a point in time where it’s incredibly relevant (we’ve just moved to a farm and are trying to grow as much as possible to feed our family as well as look at more sustainable ways of running a farm). Or perhaps it resonates with my inner environmental scientist.

How Does This Apply to My Audit?

This book has evoked a thirst to ensure we have healthy, living soil in our garden. It’s just the beginning of the journey but I’m a little wiser than I was a month ago on what healthy soil is (and how it differs from dirt).

It has reinforced the notion we need to move away from pesticides, herbicides, tilling and ploughing to a more integrated way was of gardening and farming like those that regenerative, holistic or permaculture offer. This not only means in our own back yard but voting with our wallets and looking for organic produce from markets and shops.


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