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Dig a Little, Learn Alot

As temperatures finally go UP this spring, take a minute to look DOWN at the ground and investigate the SOIL. What does the soil look like? How does the soil feel? Does rain sink into the ground quickly? Answering these questions during planting can pay off later during harvest.

"It doesn’t matter what kind of landowner you are - a small farmer, large farmer, organic grower or even homeowners and gardeners - you can easily examine your soils. Take a quick look and you can learn a lot," says State Agronomist Mark Scarpitti.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the conservation arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, launched "Unlock the Secrets of the Soil" in an effort to focus attention on soil health. According to State Conservationist Terry Cosby, "Prime farmland makes up 73 percent of Ohio’s 11 million acres of cropland. That’s a heck of a lot of good agricultural land and a huge responsibility. The well-being of future Ohioans hinges on how well we protect and improve the foundation of agriculture, healthy soil."

To start a soil health assessment, you’ll need your eyes, your nose, your hands, and a garden spade or shovel.

  • LOOK  -  Look for plant residue or a living plant canopy or cover. Dig a hole and look at the soil structure. Healthy soil looks like chocolate cake with lots of air holes and organic matter. And of course you should see earthworms—our wonderful soil engineers!

  • SMELL - Healthy soil has the distinct sweet, earthy aroma of geosmin, a by-product of soil microbes called actinomycetes.

  • TOUCH - Soil should crumble easily exposing long straight plant roots. Long roots reach nutrients and water they need to grow to produce the food we love to eat.

Why should we care about soil health? Cosby explains that healthy soil actually has a direct impact on many larger issues that affect life as we know it.

Healthy soil can improve and regulate water, sustain plant and animal life, filter pollutants, cycle nutrients, and support buildings. Healthy soils hold more water, which can make the difference between crop survival and failure during a drought. Healthy soils also resist runoff and erosion, naturally suppress weeds and pests, and sustain other natural resources.

"If your soil looks like it needs attention, give us a call. Conservation experts in every Ohio county can help you develop a soil health improvement plan and introduce you to conservation programs designed to off-set a portion of the cost of carrying out the plan," explains Cosby. "Improving soil health takes time, so the sooner you start the process, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards provided by healthy soils."

Remember, healthy soils produce healthy crops and a healthy environment. So grab a spade and dig a little.  You can learn a lot! Visit http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/soils/health/