What lies beneath

CSIRO soil grid
Photo: CSIRO

I'm ever so slightly obsessed with soil. This is as it should be. For organic gardeners soil is the starting point, and the end point, the horticultural alpha and omega, if you like. My maxim is this: Healthy soil produces healthy plants; healthy plants produce healthy people; and healthy people produce healthy communities. Soil is the building block of civilisation.

So why do we so readily neglect and abuse it? The simple answer is ignorance. We know more about the composition of the moon than we do about the stuff beneath our feet, which is a subterranean galaxy of minerals, organic matter, micro-organisms, fungi, water and oxygen. It follows then, that the more we learn about soil, the more likely we'll be to help enhance its health.

This week the CSIRO, despite budget cuts, released a new soil mapping product called the Soil and Landscape Grid of Australia (SLGA). I've just had a look, and it's a brilliant resource for gardeners and farmers.

The grid consists of a series of digital maps of the Australian continent, which are based on available data from existing databases, combined with new data recorded in format consisting of 90 by 90 metre pixels. In plain terms its the most ambitious and detailed soil mapping product ever released in Australia. The 90m grid provides incredible detail - I was able to drill right down to my individual property.

The map layers included in the SLGA cover most of the basic soil bases - clay, silt, nitrogen, organic matter, carbon, moisture holding capacity, and pH, along with slightly more advanced concepts such as cation exchange capability (a measure of the soil's ability to hold positively charged ions). These are available in a quick view format, or you can enter a portal that allows you to zoom in and out of your location. Best of all, the SLGA is free under a Creative Commons licence.

Head over to www.clw.csiro.au/aclep/soilandlandscapegrid/index.html to take a look.

Get informed about the soil at your place, use the information wisely, and you'll have the foundations for a thriving garden. It's a simple, and as complex, as that.

By: Justin Russell

First published: November 2014

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