Erosion washes away topsoil on farms, shrinks coast lines, dissolves islands in the Chesapeake Bay, and harms our backyards. "After our house construction, the bare earth area behind the house was not protected from erosion. Runoff from the driveway had created runnels and channels through the area," said Lance Koth, a Civil Engineer and consultant for over thirty years. Koth dealt with erosion control in development projects around Virginia, and he found similar issues in his backyard. He wanted to build a space for his family to enjoy, and part of the solution meant caring for the soil. When we are "4 The Soil," we gain many co-benefits, including erosion control.
Power of the 4 Core Principles
Koth practiced some of the core soil health principles by planting seed and covering the soil with straw and mulch. Keeping the soil covered protects and armors the soil from moving water. It also protects soil from drying out and blowing away. When soil stays in place, so do the soil’s nutrients and organic matter, and plant roots are better able to absorb them. When we maximize living roots in the soil, the roots act as an anchor to hold the soil in place. Roots along with soil fungi act as a sponge, absorbing more water and nutrients. They create channels and pores in the soil to allow for water infiltration and less runoff. Still, Koth watched the seeds and soil wash away in the areas of concentrated flow. So he used simple organic materials to direct the water and minimize soil disturbance. "We cut small logs and placed them across the runnels, perpendicular to the direction of the flow. They slowed the flow down enough that sediment settled out and the grass was able to establish in the channel." Plants can grow longer roots when we use equipment wisely to avoid compaction and methods that aerate the soil while minimizing soil disturbance. Many soil properties depend on healthy relationships with microorganisms to enhance soil structure, aggregation, and nutrient availability. Living roots, minimal soil disturbance, and a diverse diet provide a good habitat and home for microorganisms to do their jobs. Energizing the soil with diversity encourages different microorganisms to grow and the soil ecosystem to flourish.
In Our Own Backyards and Farms
Koth's work transformed a constantly muddy area into a healthy yard. "Finally, we could enjoy it with the kids and the dogs," he said. "It was a great boost to our quality of life."
We can help the soil thrive while reducing and eliminating erosion by implementing the four core principles. Learn more about the resources available to you by clicking the underlined links below:
Urban and Suburban Resources
District Services, Virginia's Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD)
Native Plants for Steep Slopes and Erosion Control, Plant NOVA Natives
Erosion Control Saves Homes, USDA-National Resource Conservation Services (NRCS)
Tidal Region Resources
Shoreline Erosion Advisory Service, Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)
Erosion and Sediment Control Handbook, Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality
Water Protection on Farms, Virginia Dept. of Forestry
Virginia Ag Erosion Core Terms & Concepts, NRCS & SWCD
Join the movement! 4 The Soil is a campaign by the Virginia Soil Health Coalition to raise awareness of soil as an agricultural and natural resource. By caring for the soil, we can build healthier communities, stronger economies, and a more resilient landscape.