Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Healthy Soil

What is healthy soil? Simply any soil you can grow plants in is healthy. Man was never satisfied with that as he could not "populate the earth" as the Bible teaches without getting into the science and art of farming.

I am curious by nature so I started learning early on what makes soils "tick." God left us plenty to grow on in the United States with beautiful glaciated soils to soil that glaciers never touched, refined rock by the ages.

One of my earliest memories is eating soil by the house when the parents were getting ready for the county fair. Oh boy did I get a spanking! Mud caked all over my face and toddler clothes!

Must have been healthy soil is all I can think of! Dad and grandpa were pretty good farmers and manure and crop rotation was the basis of our soil fertility program. Tile and limestone added to that soil health 100 years ago.

I teach and talk and write about healthy soil almost every day. Not many days when I don't think about them. When my soil test shows over 70% calcium, 15% magnesium and 3.5% potassium ion saturation on an ammonium acetate soil test I see and harvest a great response from my soil.

Not much is needed to added because the beneficial soil organisms, I like to call them livestock are healthy and happy and breaking down residue and rock into nutrients all plants need.

My soil test on this new farm is closer to 65% calcium, 20% magnesium and 3.2% potassium which is real good compared to many others I deal with. I keep nudging the calcium and potassium up and the magnesium down. If I had access to cheap gypsum I could accomplish my goal a lot quicker. But I don't, so I just keep adding what I can afford in my quest for healthy soil.

Healthy soil feed healthy plants. Every year I would draw a big circle on the chalboard(now dry erase) with soil, crops, livestock, and man each in relationship with each other to survive. It takes all to make it work! Students still remind me of me teaching those lessons so I hope I did my part.

Most of us are still feeding the plants instead of feeding the soil. You have to set a long range plan to accomplish healthy soil and what you start with has huge implications on the speed of your success.

If you just bought or rented a worn out piece of ground, plowed or excavated to death with little organic matter, you have "a long row to hoe" as grandpa taught. If you have a field that has been rotated and no-tilled you are way ahead of schedule!

Design a sampling plan whether by field, soil type, management zone or grid. Select a lab you can work with, trust, and deal with. I spend a lot of time talking to lab agronomists to accomplish my goals. Build a soil history and keep adjusting it to your budget based on economic and climate conditions.

Once you have planted your crop, tissue test the crop at fruiting time. Pull off the ear leaf on corn, flag leaf on cereal grains and the two newest trifoliates on legumes. Tell the lab exactly what you pulled and its condition. Fill out the form as completely as possible.

This test will show you the relationship between nutrients based on uptake, based on following the soil test and how healthy your soil is. Weather enters in but we can't change that.

The old gardens, orchards and livestock lots still show the advantage of careful nurturing over the years and are higher in organic matter and nutrients than soils that didn't have them.

This is a simple primer on soil health and a place to start this quest on this icy, snowy day(here in southwest Ohio and across much of the country).

I am here to help you start this plan and refine it. My goal is profit for farmers and healthy crops for anyone wishing to improve their results. My background taught me to leave this place better than I found it but I need to make a living while doing it.

It is possible and even profitable!

Ed Winkle

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