Welcome to the fifth instalment of our 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.”
Can your soil hold nutrients effectively?
A video from the ‘Learning from the Land’ series created by Catchment Sensitive Farming &Innovation for Agriculture
Earlier in the series, we discussed how rainwater can wash away all the precious nutrients in your soil, literally leaking money and resources down the field drains. Try this test at home to discover how good your soil is at holding onto different types of nutrients, specifically positively and negatively charged nutrients:
Making sure your soil has a stable structure and a high organic matter content is helpful for reducing nutrient loss. There are six basic soil health principles to follow to ensure your nutrients will not be lost with the next rainy day:
Living plants have living roots, they photosynthesise and transmit energy into the soil. This energy is feed for the beneficial soil organisms at work, creating aggregation in the soil.
It’s best to have living plants in the soil, as then you have living roots. But the next best thing is to ensure you cover ground with plant residue, e.g. with a terminated cover crop
Ploughing disturbs the soil organism population, preventing them from doing their necessary work to maintain healthy soil. Reducing cultivation or going no till keeps them happy!
A diverse range of plants in the soil means a diverse range of roots and a diverse diet for the soil organisms the roots are feeding. Roots have unique functions e.g tap roots bring nutrients up from deep in the sub soils and legume roots fix nitrogen directly in the soil.
Feeding the soil with compost, manure or compost tea will directly increase soil organic matter levels and provide plenty of food for worms!
Grazing livestock in a rotation is beneficial for increasing soil organic matter, terminating cover crops and decreasing weeds in your fields. Why not try mob grazing?
Minimise Chemicals & Synthetics
Adding chemicals can undo the good work you put in for the principles above — pesticides kill soil organisms, fertilisers make plants dependent and herbicides kill living roots.
There are a few bits of equipment you need to get together for this test, like ordering the dyes. How about doing it together with other local farmers so you can learn together which fields you are losing nutrients from?
- Soil samples
- Small jug
- Kitchen paper
- Polythene gloves
- Methylene blue dye
- Eosin dye
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.