Monthly Archives :

July 2018

Know your Soils #2: Earthworm Quiz

Know your Soils #2: Earthworm Quiz 590 442 Soilmentor

Welcome to the second instalment of our new 12 part Know your Soils series sharing practical tips for monitoring the soil health on your land.  Keep an eye out for our bitesize videos and fact sheets on simple tests you can do yourself on farm.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” 

Take the earthworm quiz

A quiz created by Jackie Stroud, soil scientist at Rothamsted Research, also known as ‘The Worm Lady’!

Did you know there are three different types of earthworms at work in your soil? Each type lives in a specific layer and performs a unique function which contributes to the soil’s health.

It’s simple to monitor the activity of earthworms, all you need to do is dig a 20cm deep hole in the ground and count the different earthworms you find in each layer. Counting the number of worms is a good indicator of life in the soil. If you go one step further and identify what type of worm it is, then this can tell you much more about what the worms are working on and help uncover any necessary changes you need to make in your soil management.

Really you want to have all three types of worms working in harmony. The living litter feeders break down organic matter on the surface of the soil, the top-soil worms work on soil aggregation and nutrient mobilisation, and then the deep-burrowers keep water flowing from the soil surface to deep pools below, as well as increasing aeration and root development.

However, you need to make sure you can identify which worms are which before you head out to the field! Jackie has created a fun and fantastic quiz to help you learn about and test yourself on different worm types.

It only takes a few minutes to complete and you’ll learn everything you need to know about earthworms from the surface dwellers to the deep burrowers.

Take the earthworm quiz

You can also use this AHDB info sheet that Jackie put together as a resource for learning about the types of worms and how to effectively count earthworms.

Interested in expanding your wormy knowledge? Get involved with Jackie’s #60minworms project, an on-farm worm survey, the results of which contribute to a UK wide data set on worm activity so we can understand soil health better together. The next survey is taking place from 15th September – 30th October.


See our free online soils guide for soil tests you can do at home and find out how our app Soilmentor helps you record & learn how your soil is changing.

Know your Soils #1: Meet the bugs!

Know your Soils #1: Meet the bugs! 1200 659 Soilmentor

In our new 12 part Know your Soils series we will share practical tips for monitoring the soil health on your land.  Keep an eye out for our bitesize videos and fact sheets on simple tests you can do yourself on farm.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” 

Get to know the bugs in your soil!

A video from the ‘Learning from the Land’ series created by Catchment Sensitive Farming & Innovation for Agriculture

In this short video, we hear from Matthew Shepherd, Soil Biodiversity Specialist for Natural England, about a test you can do to understand the activity of creatures in the ground and how they indicate and impact the properties of your soil.

List of equipment with links is below!

For those of you keen to try this test it is possible to do at home with the right equipment. This test needs a microscope which we realise is not your average piece of kitchen equipment 🙂 so why not club together with a group of local farmers to share equipment and knowledge? We have definitely found discussing soil tests with other farmers and soil advisors can be super helpful! You can also ask question about the test in the Soil Biodiversity UK group.

For this test you will need:

  • Sieve
  • Bucket of soil
  • White tray
  • Insect collection pooter or make your own with two airtight plastic pots (recycle small food packaging pots), rubber tubing bought from an aquarium /pet shop (two different colours so you know which to suck!), and a bit of mesh/ muslin to go over the end of the sucking tube in the pot to stop the bugs going up and into your mouth (try using a bit of weave from inside a DIY mask).
  • Petri dish with lid
  • Microscope (here is equipment and microscope recommendations from Dr Elaine Ingham) – stereo microscopes are best as you can see a 3D image which isn’t inverted. x20 magnification is good for viewing and identifying soil bugs.
  • Flexible LED light


See our free online soils guide for soil tests you can do at home and find out how our app Soilmentor helps you record & learn how your soil is changing.

Soil Health Principles

Soil Health Principles 2000 1333 Soilmentor

The Soil Health Principles, thanks to soils advisor Niels Corfield:

  1. Living Root – for as Long/as Often as Possible

  2. Covered Soil – with Residues or Living Plants

  3. Minimise Disturbance/Compaction – Tillage

  4. Diversity – in Rotations/Plantings

  5. Feed Soils – w/Organic Matter (Between Cropping)

  6. Incorporate Animals – Ideally Adaptive Grazed

  7. Minimise Use of Chemicals/Synthetics

Soil testing: How to measure infiltration rate effectively

Soil testing: How to measure infiltration rate effectively 700 445 Soilmentor

When the rains come, have your tubes at the ready, because a day or two after is the perfect time to test your infiltration rate. Measuring the infiltration rate in Winter or early Spring can be challenging because the ground is saturated with seasonal rainfall, so it can take quite a long time! The main thing to consider when doing this measurement is you want to take the reading at about the same time/and in approx the same conditions each year to be able to compare year on year and see how it’s changing. Soilmentor makes it really easy to record your infiltration rate results alongside the date they were taken, and visually monitor your progress over time with personalised trend charts. 

Awareness of how well water infiltrates down into your soil is at the core of knowing your soil health and structure. A good infiltration rate indicates that the top soil has a ‘crumb structure’ and it is well aggregated. Essentially this means that each clump of soil is stuck together with glues and slimes from soil organisms and they are not broken down by water. Therefore the clumps (or aggregates) retain their structure when the water flows around them, also allowing water to quickly flow down into the soil depths. At the same time the clumps provide lots of nooks and crannies for droplets of the water to be stored in. So the water percolates easily, and some of it is stored along the way. This is what we want!

The infiltration rate is the speed at which water enters the soil, and is measured by monitoring the time it takes for a set amount of water to ‘infiltrate’ into the ground. Read the details in our infiltration rate guide here. Understanding how land works with water is highly beneficial for a farmer or any type of grower. It gives an idea of how much rainfall is soaking deep into the ground and how much could be running off and taking the soil with it. Soil washing off the land is like throwing money out of the window, our prime resource going down the drain. The image below of the UK clearly shows the seas brown with soil runoff after a heavy period of rain. Leaking away resources like this does not contribute to a profitable farming plan or an ecological farming system.

The extent of soil erosion in the UK is visible from space. Credit: NEODAAS/University of Dundee

To get a good sample of infiltration rate, you need to measure it at the same time each year, for each field. Do at least two tests per field, maybe one in the ‘best part’ and one in the ‘worst part’. Compare rates between your different fields. Why is the infiltration rate much quicker in one field than the next? Do you manage things differently in one field than the other? Where your infiltration rate is slower, could you look to the Soil Health Principles (cover soil, minimise disturbance, diversity in rotation or plantings, minimal chemical usage, living root in the ground as often as possible) to guide you in a new direction for your management strategy?

The equipment for this test is key to getting a reliable result, finding the right tube is essential! If it’s too narrow it will compact the soil inside it as you drive it into the ground and heavily impact your result (unfortunately we have found that baked bean tins don’t work). When the soil is compacted the infiltration rate will be a lot slower, as it’s harder for water to enter the ground. This will not give you a true reading for your infiltration rate. To avoid this happening we recommend finding some 150 mm diameter (6 inch) tubing or pipe; a flue pipe can work quite well. Cut it to about 15cm depth and make one of the circular edges sharp, so it’s easily pushed into the ground. Read more here for the full instructions.

There are impressive stats to show that even when we think the ground is saturated, there could be even more capacity for the ground to hold water. Healthy soil can hold up to twenty times its own weight in water and increasing soil organic matter by 1% increases the soil’s water holding capacity by 3.7%. So it’s worthwhile putting some elbow grease into improving your soil crumb structure and soil organic matter, because in times of heavy rain you’ll reduce flooding and soil erosion and in times of drought there will be more water available to your thirsty crops. Keeping an eye on your infiltration rate helps to understand how well you’re doing at this. Good luck!

Head over to our soil testing page for more info on how to measure your infiltration rate. And if you want to easily record your infiltration rates and other soil tests as you go then our app is your perfect helping hand you can buy Soilmentor here or get in touch with us for more information!