The uses of soil spread far beyond just gardening. Soil from the Earth can help create the foundations in construction, act as an organic ingredient in cosmetic products, or even transform into an alternative source of energy.
Soil is a complicated material, and to better understand its uses, you must first know what is soil.
What Is Soil?
Soil is the naturally occurring minerals and decomposed plant matter that make up the ground’s surface. The Natural Resources Conservation Service defines soil as “a natural body comprised of solids (minerals and organic matter), liquid, and gases that occurs on the land surface…”
Uses of Soil by Type
Each of these soil types has specific nutrients and minerals and has it’s own physical properties. These minerals are what allow the soil to have purposes other than just gardening or farming. You can look at the uses of soils by identifying their type – here are some examples of the uses of soils.
Clay Soil Uses
The most obvious use for clay soil is the creation of clay pottery, which dates back to ancient times. Some clay pottery has been traced back to 14,000 BC in East Asia. However, there are many other uses for clay soil because of its ability to become malleable when it gets wet and return to a dry, hard state when the moisture evaporates.
Clay soil uses also include the creation of sturdy building material when formed into bricks. Purer types of clay soils can create ceramics, paper coating, and paper filler.
Sandy Soil Uses
Sandy soil, though it is not always great for gardening, can act as a building material. Sandy soil, also known as desert soil, has very little clay in its composition and comes from rocks in the soil formation process. Because of the sandy soil’s gritty texture, it can help with draining, provide support for foundations, or help perennial flowers grow.
Silty Soil Uses
Silt soil compacts easily, and according to the National Geographic Society, it is suitable for growing crops because of its formidable structure.
Silt has many benefits and uses in nature. Silt clusters at the bottom of water sources and usually forms from minerals eroded by water. Some organisms thrive in the layer of silt in rivers because of the warmth and protection it provides, especially during cold seasons.
Red Clay Soil Uses
Red soil is the most ideal for crops such as rice and sugarcane. Red soil, much like other thick clay soils, can compact easily. Some plants prefer the compact soil over loose dirt and utilize the sturdy soil bed to grow their roots better. Not all plants grow well in red soil.
Alluvial Soil Uses
According to Science Direct, alluvial soil has “the highest productivity with respect to other soils.” When alluvial soil occurs naturally on land, it creates flat fertile valleys that can grow rice, wheat, sugarcane, tobacco, corn, cotton, soybean, jute, and other sustainable foods. Alluvial is useful for these crops because of the minimal water it requires.
Topsoil, like many other types of soil, can be great for your typical home garden. However, topsoil uses can include lawn repair and drainage improvement. For soil drainage problems, the topsoil can combine with compost to apply to the affected area.
Black Soil Uses
Black soil is a magnet for nutrients for plants, which makes it one of the best soils for gardening. The benefits of black soil are extensive. Black soil can promote high levels of crop productivity, especially with soybeans, wheat, barley, and cotton.
Black soil can provide benefits for skin, as well.
Organic mud facial masks usually contain black soil or black clay because of its beneficial mineral content. The black soil in skin products can reduce the signs of aging, improve circulation, shrink enlarged pores, remove blackheads, and clear acne if used correctly.
Brown Soil Uses
Brown soils get their color from decaying plant material. Black soil is better for planting, while brown soil is dry and functions primarily as a home for organisms such as earthworms. With the correct care and maintenance, brown soil can be beneficial to plants but provides very little without human interference.
Uses of Peaty Soil
Peaty soil, or peat, has moss and other partially decomposed plant material incorporated in its composition. Peaty soil can act as additional carbon storage, which benefits the ecosystem. The moss in peaty soil is also very beneficial for gardens as it plays a huge role in water management.
Peaty soil has preservation qualities. Archaeologists look to the moss in peaty soil for a record of past vegetation, landscapes, and people. Moist peat moss can prevent the effects of time and environmental erosion of underlying materials.
Chalky Soil Uses
Chalky soils are rich in lime, which is used in construction, industrial applications, can raise the pH of the soil, or act as an additive to asphalt. Click here to better understand what is soil pH and how it affects the soil.
Potting Soil Uses
Potting soil comes in bags at the store and usually have a pre-mixed concoction of soil, minerals, nutrients, and sometimes fertilizer. Potting soil is an ideal soil for indoor planting in pots.
Role of Soils
How Soil Can Create Energy
Most people do not know that soil can produce energy, just like water and wind. Scientists can create energy from soil using a microbial fuel cell. The microbial fuel cell uses microbes to generate energy from organic materials like soil.
The Soil Nitrogen Cycle
The soil nitrogen cycle helps to maintain and balance life in the Earth’s ecosystem. Without this cycle, many plants would die, and bodies of water could become toxic from the excess of nitrogen. Algal blooms would also become more frequent, and dead zones would become a more concerning problem.
The soil nitrogen cycle is one of the many very essential processes that contribute to the atmosphere’s health.
Five stages make the soil nitrogen cycle. Each stage moves or transforms the nitrogen to accommodate for the material in which it lives.
Stage 1: Nitrogen Fixation
In stage 1 of the soil nitrogen cycle, nitrogen moves from the atmosphere into the soil. The purpose of this stage is to help turn nitrogen into a form that plants can use. Fixation occurs when the nitrogen converts, and it does this by reacting with oxygen. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxide (NO) are formed.
During nitrogen fixation, nitrogen starts as a gas in the atmosphere, gets energized by lightning, then enters the soil on the ground by falling through precipitation such as rain or snow.
Stage 2: Mineralization
Stage 2 of the soil nitrogen cycle happens directly inside the soil and converts the organic form of nitrogen into ammonia (NH3), and then, ammonium (NH4) also forms. This change in nitrogen is called mineralization.
During this stage, mineralization takes place when animals leave manure on the ground, or plants begin to decompose.
Stage 3: Nitrification
The ammonia produced during mineralization (stage 2) then converts again during nitrification, or stage 3.
The process of nitrification turns the ammonia into nitrites (NO2) and nitrates (NO3). It starts with nitrites, and then bacteria in the soil can then turn the nitrites into nitrates, which is easier for plants and animals to obtain.
Stage 4: Immobilization
Immobilization helps to control the amount of nitrogen in the soil.
In this stage, microorganisms in the soil begin to take the nitrogen while they are in the form of ammonium and nitrates. This stage is called immobilization because of how the nitrogen becomes immobilized when consumed by the microorganisms.
Stage 5: Denitrification
Denitrification returns nitrogen to the atmosphere from the soil. This stage is crucial for repeating the entire nitrogen cycle.
As bacteria and microorganisms have taken nitrogen from the soil in the last few stages, they can now release it back to the atmosphere as a gas.
Gardening with Soil
The role of soil in plant growth is irreplaceable. Soil provides nutrients and water to the plants, and it acts as a layer of protection for delicate parts of stems and roots. Almost all plants need soil to grow. Most people assume that the uses for soil are limited to gardening herbs and vegetables, but that is not true.
The best types of soil for gardening are dark soils that are rich in nutrients. Loam soil is usually the type of soil for gardening sold at stores, but most of these have added nutrients for plants and other ingredients. Organic soil is an excellent option for gardening since it maintains the original mix of nutrients and minerals.
Uses of Soil in Civil Engineering
Another role pertains to the uses of soil in civil engineering. Sandy soils and any soil that contains a large amount of clay, silt, sand, and gravel can reinforce foundations or create building materials such as bricks.
Harvesting minerals from the soil is another way to use soil in civil engineering. Minerals come from deposits in the lower soil horizons, and people can use them to create new materials.
The Role of Soil in Agriculture
Soil is the key aspect that helps with farming. Crops need soil to grow, and farmers can use the soil for aquifers and other ground structures required for cultivation. Even without making any changes in the soil, it provides a home for crop-benefitting organisms like beetles and earthworms that help the roots of plants. The uses of soil in agriculture are extensive.
Water holding in aquifers
Aquifers move water underground to provide moisture to nearby crops. One of the sustainable uses of soil is to help water seep into aquifers and hold it there.
Soil Carbon Storage
A vital part of the agricultural uses of soil is carbon storage. The carbon in the soil helps with water-retention and overall fertility. When erosion causes carbon to leave the soil, that is when problems occur with crops and other plant growths in the soil.
Carbon occurs in soil when different particles decompose into the ground, like plants and animals. Not only that, but bacteria, fungi, and fecal matter all also add to the storage of carbon and can make the soil very fertile.
Soil, as carbon storage, also helps the environment in other aspects of the Earth’s ecosystem. When soil erodes near a water source, carbon leaves the soil and absorbs into the water, resulting in sometimes negative effects such as increased algae growths, high concentrations of nutrients, and dead zones. The soil, as long as it stays intact, will prevent this from happening.
Carbon can also release into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, which has a negative effect on climate change. In essence, carbon storage in soil is direly important.
Soil has been used in modern and ancient methods of home construction. There are 1st world houses made of soil but also 3rd world homes and older constructions that use mud bricks or clay.
Homes for Living Biology and Microbiology
Soil provides a home to microorganisms just as much as it can provide a home to humans. Microscopic creatures use the soil for shelter and, at the same time, provide help to plants and other living things on the surface of the soil.
3rd World Houses Made of Soil
Some 3rd world countries use a mix of soil, straw, manure, rocks, and other organic materials to create homes. They often learn these home building techniques from the past ancient peoples of the region. These types of homes can range from small mud and straw huts to large ancient cities made of clay soil.
Other Uses for Soil