Dealing with Compacted Soil
Machinery makes agricultural life easier and far more efficient, but the same machines that make modern agriculture possible can also lead to inhospitable, compacted soil. Even when machine use is moderate, livestock trails can lead to the same condition. The constant weight of tractors, trucks and cattle stresses the soil, displacing air and causing soil densification. Organic farmers have a few methods at their disposal for maintaining plant growth in spite of dense soil conditions.
As soil compacts, it air that was trapped in little pockets is pushed out. These air pockets provided space for water retention and drainage. They also provided space for aerobic microorganisms (ones that need air) to thrive. The aerobic microbes are almost entirely good microbes. As the amount of air in the soil decreases, there are no spaces to store moisture or drainage or air and aerobic microbes are not able to survive. What starts to happen is the anaerobic microbes start to populate the soil. Most of the anaerobic microbes are bad microbes and are connected to plant and soil diseases. One need only look at a field after a rainstorm and see where all the water puddles and stays. In that area is where the highest compaction is and where the highest amount of plant diseases can be found.
The quickest method is also the most labor intensive. Tilling can break up compacted soil in a farm or garden simply by mechanically breaking up the damaged land. Tilling, however, has its drawbacks as also destroys the good fungi in the soil, namely mycorrhizae. As tilling exposes organic material to the air, the material begins to oxidize and breakdown faster that it would if it had been left alone. This causes the soil to become even more compacted over time. This is why “minimum till” or “no-till” methods are preferred.
Solutions to this include rotational planting, amending the soil with compost or fermented food wastes (link), cover cropping without tilling, and adding loads of good microbes with soil inoculants such as EM-1.
Feel free to comment below and let us know any additional tricks you have found to be useful when dealing with compacted soil, we would love to hear from you!