The Week in Soil

Allotment soil may be safer than previously suggested. New research from Northumbria and Newcastle Universities suggests that national soil guidance should be revised as it does not accurately describe how lead is stored in soil or passed on to vegetables.

New research suggests that biochar may be more effective at soil carbon capture than at enhancing plant growth. The University of Illinois study found that biochar may boost the agricultural yield of some soils—especially poor quality ones—but found little evidence of enhanced germination or growth as a result of the soil additive.

Wormlike bivalves have been discovered in a river in the Philippines that use their tough, teeth-like shell to eat rock and then excrete sand, contributing to the lie and shape of the riverbed. Scientists are now working to understand why these creatures have evolved to grind up and consume rock.

Iran is responsible for a huge 10% of the world’s soil loss, with 2bn tons eroding annually. An environmental and botanical expert has stated this is due to land use changes, unsustainable agriculture, destruction of natural reservoirs and overgrazing. Apparently the country’s governmental policies are increasingly in conflict with nature.

A new app in the US, SoilWeb, connects a users’ smartphone to a central soil survey database – the world’s largest, with information dating back to the late 1890s. The app is available as a free download.

And a University of Sydney researcher is developing a system to test soil in paddocks, using sensors to build an accurate digital soil map including information on clay content, water holding capacity, sodicity and pH.

In this interview the remarkable Japanese activist Masana Izawana explains what he hopes to gain by choosing to use defecating outdoors – including being a part of nature’s cycle and giving back to the soil and other life. He says the world needs more “symbiosis with nature and change toward a more circular economy.”

And finally, “Soil is no single, boring constant, but a great, diverse, maddening spectrum of possibilities.” Amen to that. In this engaging thinkpiece a Boston correspondent describes her experience of the old-fashioned soil tasting method – one that dates back to 12th century medieval Arabia and is still practiced in France and America today.