Testing the soil is one of the most important things you can do as a farm owner, since the quality of your soil will affect production more than any other feature of your property. Soil is a complicated subject matter, especially for those who are just getting started.
These tests are among the most vital ones available. They will tell you how profitable your soil is, and what kinds of plants can be grown there for years to come.
This is the first and easiest thing to check. Soil structure is monitored by digging a hole in the ground when it is neither too wet nor too dry. The hole should be between six to ten inches deep. Your goal is to determine whether the soil’s texture is cloddy, powdery or granular.
A porous texture is most useful, as it’s needed to provide ample movement of water and oxygen: key elements for plants to grow healthy and develop strong roots.
Compaction of the soil can be tested by using a wire flag plunged into the soil across various locations. You should take note of the depth in which the flag has entered into the soil. The soil should be easily penetrable to at least a foot’s depth if you are using a wire tool.
If the soil is too firm, it will prevent plants from growing as young plants cannot break through the surface of compact soil. It will also show you where the soil is worst off, and where it can be improved.
The best way to know how workable the land is to simply tend it for awhile and see how things go. If you notice a problem during planting, it’s best to address it between the two planting seasons. When the soil isn’t workable, it costs more to use it. It will also prove less productive and less profitable, as it will take more time for water to reach the crop roots.
Ecosystems living in the soil are essential for your farm or garden to thrive. Without it, the plants you depend on cannot grow. You should start by measuring the extent of life in your soil before you plant anything. Dig into the soil for six inches and you should notice centipedes, ground beetles and spiders. These are a sign of healthy soil.
The more of these present in your soil, the less chance you’ll have of needing to rely on chemicals for pest and animal control. They are essential for providing nutrients to the soil, as well.
A cover crop is a simple yet useful technique for making your soil more profitable and less costly to manage. Cover crops make your soil less likely to freeze during winter, and adds nutrition to the soil. If you’re starting a new season, you should ensure that some plant residue remains from the plants that were grown there before. This is most noticeable by plant fibers and darkly-colored humus across your field.
Plant vigor is one of those features that can only be checked when you’re already growing your plants, usually when your season is in the middle of its course. You want to look for the size and color of plants at a particular time of year. Plant vigor will depend largely on your region and climate, so you’ll need to take into account what is considered normal for your area.
Plant vigor indicates that the soil is nutritious and compact, ensuring your plants can survive unpredictable circumstances such as quick changes in weather.
There are many ways to test the quality of your soil, and this should always be done before purchasing a plot of land or deciding what crops to grow. Some methods are quite simple, accessible for farmers to do on their own.