Digging Deeper Into Soils

— Written By

We walk over JRH Grain farmsit every day without thinking about it. We build buildings on top of it. We grow our food in it. I’m talking about soils. It’s easy to overlook this essential natural resource especially
during planting season.

Soils are a very important part of our lives and our ecosystems. Soils contain living organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that help break down and recycle the nutrients in dead materials. Research shows that a teaspoon of soil contains more microbes than the world’s population. Soils help filter and buffer potential pollutants and helps to absorb and hold rain water during periods of dry weather.

Urban soils are different from rural soils. Urban soils may be more challenging to grow plants due to construction and development practices when building your home. Although there are no typical post construction urban soils, these soils still contain similar characteristics that may be challenging when trying to maintain and establish landscape and turf grass. Some challenges that you might see include: different texture, compacted soil conditions, poor soil structure, low organic matter content, low biological activity, and high variability in fertility and pH levels.

Soil health is a term that is widely used to describe the quality and condition of soils. Understanding soils can help you reduce your cost input and increase your soil and plant quality. Taking a soil test is a very simple step in understanding your soils but a step that many homeowners forget. You can pick up a NCDA&CS soil test kit from your local soil kitCooperative Extension office. NCDA&CS soil tests are free from April through November and $4 per sample during the peak season of December through March. Soil test results will help you identify what nutrients are needed in your yard, the pH level of your soils, and how much you need to apply for that specific crop.

Reducing tillage and soil disturbance can also help increase your soil quality. It is easy till your garden, especially with North Carolina clay soils, but tilling your garden or lawn can increase soil compactions. Tilling your soil will also increase your weed problems because the weed seeds deep down are now brought to the top. Keep your soil covered with a mix species cover crop in your garden when you’re not planting anything. Doing this will increase the biomass and reduce the chances of erosion in your garden. A living root help keeps the soil biology active and feeds the soil microbes. Adding organic matter, whether through cover crops or compost, can help feed your soils.

The 2nd Annual Western NC Soil Health field day will be on Friday May 1st from 9:00 a.m. till 1:30 p.m. in collaboration with JRH Grains Farm LLC, USDA NRCS, Catawba County Soils and Water Conservation District, and North Carolina Cooperative Extension Services. The main speaker, Jay Fuhrer, North Dakota State Soil Health Specialist, will talk about practical integration of multi-species cover crops in his presentation, “Soil Health Matters: Designs for what you don’t have.” For more information, please visit the Extension website at Catawba.ces.ncsu.edu or contact Der Xiong at Der_Xiong@ncsu.edu or 828-465-8248. Deadline to register for the field day is April 27.