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Students Learn About Soil Health at Conservation Field Day

Schoharie County, New York

Mary Kerstetter speaking to sixth grade students a about soil health
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The Munsell soil color chart is used to help identify soil types
  A Munsell color chart helps identify soil types

On June 10, 2014 Maggie Gnann, Soil Conservationist Schoharie County and Mary Kerstetter, Southeast Area Resource Conservationist taught a series of Soil Health classes to sixth graders from local elementary schools in Schoharie County. The 136 students and the 16 teachers enjoyed a variety of hands on activities that taught them the importance of good soil health. In the soil slake test two students had the opportunity to place a piece of soil on a piece of screen suspended in a large beaker of water. The students were amazed to see that the soil with poor soil structure disintegrated very quickly. However, the piece of soil with good soil structure remained almost entirely intact.

In the second activity, students were given a demonstration of how water infiltrated soil with no cover versus soil with vegetative cover. The pan containing soil with no vegetative cover had quick infiltration and a lot of run off containing sediment. The pan with vegetative cover had very slow infiltration and minimal run off with very little sedimentation. It was easy for the students to see how the vegetative cover protected the soil.

The students enjoyed looking at the worm case, and pointing out where the worms had tunneled through the soil. They learned about the aeration benefits for soil that the worms created through tunneling. The students were also able to observe nutrient recycling in action, since the worms pulled down grass clippings down from the surface, into the soil to eat.

Maggie Gnann observes as a student uses a soil auger to take a soil sample Maggie Gnann seeks answers to her questions from students during a soil health demonstration Students enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the varieties of soil types
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Overall, the favorite activities of the day were when the students received some hands on experience and got dirty with the soil. They were very excited when they had the chance to actually handle different types of soil. They examined soil samples with good and poor soil structure. Everyone made long ribbons with the clay samples. Students rubbed the sand and silt to feel the difference in the textures, while both instructors discussed the importance of high quality soil.

The last activity of the day was use of a soil auger. Student volunteers helped turn the auger into the soil and pull it out to collect soil samples to feel, observe for texture, and match soil samples against the Munsell soil chart for color.