Scott C Gillespie

M.Sc. P.Ag. CCA

Independent Agronomy Consultant

No products. No software. No systems.
Just the best advice for your farm. 

Specializing in cropping systems where potatoes are grown.

When the soil is disturbed, plants are the key to building healthy soil

How can plants help?


The soil microbes and soil organisms are ready to build the soil, but they need plants for carbon. They cannot make their own energy so they need a food source, such as the simple sugars that plants make from the sunlight and carbon dioxide, to grow and thrive. A diverse and robust community of plants will help to feed an equally diverse microbial population throughout the soil profile. Living roots from spring thaw to fall freeze maximizes the transfer of carbon from the atmosphere down into the soil.

Why do plants provide carbon to microbes?

Plants never give without expecting a return on their investment. The plants “pay” the microbes carbon in return for them mining the soil particles for minerals that the plants cannot extract on their own. Whenever the soil is not producing a cash crop, it should be mining the soil nutrients, building water holding capacity, and aggregating soil particles. This in turn leads to a more resilient soil that can handle the extremes of a changing climate.

What about the other three principles of soil health?

Soil health advocates also talk about keeping residue on the surface, minimizing disturbance, and integrating animals. While these are important, the key drivers are diverse, year-round, communities of plants. The soil residue that protects the soil from wind, rain, and extreme heat comes from dead plant material. Minimizing disturbance keeps the soil protected from wind and water erosion and keeps the soil microbes intact to ensure that they are ready to work with the plants. Animals build the soil by processing above-ground biomass and stimulating below-ground root growth. However, none of this can happen without plants. Year-round, diverse plant populations are the two critical principles that drive soil health.

Getting started

Building healthy soils takes time. The earlier you start, the earlier you see results. Contact me to explore ways we can work together. Learn about these principles from my articles and podcasts, and start implementing them on your farm, in your market garden, or in your backyard garden today. Keep up to date with the latest postings on my site by signing up for my monthly newsletter.