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monitoring soil health

Discussion in 'Holistic Farming' started by Campani, Oct 13, 2016.

  1. Campani

    Campani Member

    How are people going about monitoring soil health? Is it as simple as organic matter levels?
  2. KMA

    KMA Member

    Be interesting to see this replies to this.

    I've got a testing kit and just got myself a pH meter and a moisture meter and have asked for a soil thermometer for my birthday.

    Otherwise, I generally just go by the look, feel, and even smell of the soil, another thing I make a mental note of is a rough worm count as I dig it over. I'd love to be able to monitor the microbial health of the soil but I've no idea how and I suspect it would be prohibitively expensive.
    Treg likes this.
  3. Worms are a good indicator to be honest
    wr., Clive and Chasingmytail like this.
  4. Chasingmytail

    Chasingmytail Member

    Newport, SE Wales
    soil compaction reading - cheap as and worm count. PH is a bit of a nis norma proves very little.
  5. Campani

    Campani Member

    what are you using to measure soil compaction? one of those probes with the dial on top? i tried one at an event a few years ago and wasn't very impressed, maybe i should try again.
  6. EchoesFromThePast

    EchoesFromThePast New Member

    Soil health lessons in a minute [and without any money]: soil stability test

    You can spend years watching videos on soil health at YouTube: Soil health test

    The general answer is: study the Edaphon.

    It´s NoSecret since 100 years.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2016
  7. Chasingmytail

    Chasingmytail Member

    Newport, SE Wales
    yes normal probe. Wasnt expensive. I'll have to dig it out and see if there is a name on it Think I used it wrong at first but when someone showed me it gave good results. NO issues here.
  8. mikep

    mikep Member

    Worms or lack of but remember that they seem to vanish for a long time during dry weather but return soon enough when it rains. Don't get a fancy tool for compaction but a spade gives you a bit of exercise as well. Dry clay soils generally reddish colour waterlogged blue and often smelly.
    If wheelings disappear quickly its a good sign and a bit of 'spring' when walking is also good.
    If it's grass then the species are a giveaway grasses such agrostis are indicators of damp and some fescues love acid soil.
    Best indicator is if things grow well, if they do then don't bother worrying too much.
  9. vario

    vario Member

    worms are best indicator
  10. KMA

    KMA Member

    Reckon mikep has it pretty well covered, as you may have seen from some of my other threads the soil in my garden is very, very poor, virtually no worm in most of it but they have started to move into the bits I've turned over and started to correct so far by adding lots of compost, now that I know that the pH is so low I will start to correct that as well.
    Old McDonald likes this.
  11. Old McDonald

    Old McDonald Member

    Inland Portugal
    First, define soil health. Nothing I have ever seen, heard or read has defined it to my satisfaction. A bit like ourselves, I suppose. I consider I am in good health. Eat, drink and sleep well. I have age and sport injury related joint problems, but can expect those. I think it is the same with any animal, plant or soil. How do we know that a soil is at its peak of "health"? It is impossible to quantify all that should make up a soil to reach that peak, even if we could define what the peak should be. As posted above there are many YouTube videos of considerable interest (and varying quality) about the matter, but all follow the same basic content, so viewing a small selected shorter ones is probably as much as most people can take in in one session.

    For 60 years I have submitted soil samples to labs for testing. I had my own testing equipment for a few basic things at one time. It was not cheap and neither was it satisfactory. I gave it away in the end, because knowing the history of the soils, I could not accept the readings on three different properties. Check tests by a lab disagreed with my results too. The pH was particularly a long way off. Kits may have improved, but i prefer to spend the small cost on a professional test. The local Ag College does them for me, so no commercial gain from giving me low readings!

    I totally agree with mikep's quoted post. I tend to do more detailed tests now because I have the basics covered after 13 years here (not everywhere up to scratch yet) and I want to monitor the quantities and relationship of minor elements to keep them in balance and maximise the production from my olive trees. They will survive utter neglect; produce reasonably with virtually no attention (but poor quality fruit that has to be thrown in with all the other similar fruit and bulk oil taken as payment); but for profitable production of high quality fruit that can be sold, they respond admirably to TLC and correct feeding and watering. Things can still go wrong of course. Excessive rain at blossom time was this year's main problem for many growers.
  12. bactosoil

    bactosoil Member

    There is work being done to create a soil ' blueprint' but in the land of theory it will always be , current soil testing only tests and quantify's a small part of a whole group of influences that change minute by minute , factor in different blueprints for different climate,soils,target crops and you're back to many variables .
    What will be interesting though will be localized 'blueprints ' that take into account virus’s, bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, mites, nematodes, earthworms, nutrients ,ph numerous chemical quantity's and compositions etc etc and create a bench mark to work to , though will be impossible to exactly meet.
    'Blueprinting ' is possible in part with mathematical sequencing and pattern recognition software as so may individual variables have a cause and effect
    in terms of population numbers ,activity or things like nutrient availability and creating stability counters degradation of a soil. All still early days but
    hopefully will be relevant and applicable for the future
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
  13. Old McDonald

    Old McDonald Member

    Inland Portugal
    Yes, I was aware of this work, but I doubt if it will come to anything practical in my time. Not just because of defining what is required, but the logistics of sampling and the cost.

    As posted, I already test soil and leaves for a wide range of factors, but it is still limited and there is academic disagreement about not only optimum levels of the macro and micro nutrients, but also ratios and the deficiency level and toxicity level - and that is for the single crop of olives, which is of major economic imortance in several countries. There are still some agronomists who claim N should be kept low, whilst others (which I follow) tend to be more generous. We are all aware that too much N has an adverse effect on oil quality.

    Off topic, but I can see a ray of sunshine, so hopefully can get outside. This is the third day I have been unable to get on and it does not suit me at all.
  14. bactosoil

    bactosoil Member

    I think you will see this coming through ,technology and testing protocols will be either in situ or will use spacial based analysis , gone will be sending soil off
    to expensive testing facilities that create a timelag .
    You mention academic disagreement on macro/micro levels etc but this is where pattern and sequence recognition over comes subjective views
    as there are so many different factors in soil health that have huge interactions,that in tern create millions of different combinations of soil health ,and hundreds of years of just just small scale field trials/tests will never get near looking at all the combinations .
    In meantime hope the sun didn't stop shinning and work can resume
  15. Old McDonald

    Old McDonald Member

    Inland Portugal
    bactosoil, I did manage to get out for a few hours, thanks.

    I disagree that I will "see this coming through". It might happen eventually, but not for practical purposes in the near future. Pattern and sequence recognition is all just theory. It does not work in practice. It cannot when there are a lot of different soil types in a very small area. It might where there is little change in soil type across a minimum of a few hundred acres, and I had areas in Australia like that. There are also many hundreds of square miles in that country where the soil is constant in character e.g. the black soil plains of NW NSW which were not far from where I farmed.

    As an example (and I cannot show the photograph):-
    To the left side of the photo from about halfway across and extending to the fence is gravel over yellow clay containing a lot of small stones. Further left nearer the camera and towards the highway that runs behind the eucalypts on the neighbouring farm and bordering this field, it becomes very sandy. About 50 yards to the right and in front of the camera is a very dense red clay from the surface to at least five feet depth, whilst behind the camera it is a reasonable sort of a clayey loam, very shallow, and which contained at least 50% stone before I cleared some, and then pure yellow clay underneath with a rare boulder. All this in an area of not much more than 5 acres.

    Working that land I am able to adjust for the different soil types. A computer based programme cannot do that.

    BTW, I do not consider soil testing to be expensive. I consider it very cheap in relation to the price of fertiliser. I am well satisfied that I have saved a lot more from being able to buy the fertiliser I know I needed rather than the fertiliser I would otherwise have thought I needed.
  16. mikep

    mikep Member

    Maybe the truth is we are trying to push water uphill.
    What we want is the soil to grow what we want and therefore if it doesn't in sufficient quantity we think something is wrong.
    What really is wrong is we are growing the wrong thing for the soil.
    Most soils want to be a forest when they grow up via scrub and rough grasses so this is where the whole principle of organic farming dies as you are not working with the soil but against it.
    Having conceded that then you should really concentrate on growing what grows best for your soil and climate and accepting that maybe you will never grow 10 t ha Wheat or 50 t spuds.
    Next assess a realistic output and spend accordingly. Unless you are on land that has been abused then I don't think there is too much you can do in a broad field sense aside from the usual feeding and planting methods such as no till and allowing organic matter return. No matter what you do you will never get some brash to yield like a grade one silt.
  17. Old McDonald

    Old McDonald Member

    Inland Portugal
    mikep, A great deal of truth and common sense in that.

    Even within a locality there can be reasons why adjoining farms cannot produce the same. I was unable to grow oranges when I moved here - several nights each winter down to -6ºC. The last eight years have been considerably warmer and I now have a few citrus trees. A few hundred yards away there are many citrus trees. That land is maybe only 20m higher, but it was enough.

    I also have a very wide range of soil types, so could not grow the same field crops across all of even my small place.
  18. KMA

    KMA Member

    So very true, our old place had a field where when ploughing you had the bar-point bouncing along the surface struggling to get the thing in the ground next minute it was burying itself out of sight in sand:banghead:. We gave up trying to grow grain when I was about 15 and I packed in growing swedes and kale as soon as I could. I eventually changed to just heavy discing to reseed the pastures. I spent most of the time after I got free rein desperately trying to build up the OM. Its quite amusing that a lot of the things I was trying to do from gut instinct 30 odd years ago are now in fashion with a fancy name. Nowadays my son is in the next valley, just a couple of miles as the crow flies but the difference in climate is quite marked, he is on sandy alluvial soil that seems to have had it's OM denuded, most the land round me is gravel (apart from my garden:().
    Old McDonald likes this.
  19. martian

    martian DD Moderator

    N Herts
  20. Farmersdaughter

    Just found this workhttp://innge.net/?q=node%2F966https://teabagindexuk.wordpress.com/the-bigger-picture-the-european-tbi-project/ it is similar idea to the tighty whites, but uses tea tags that are weigh after which gives a figure to compare to other soils. Thinking of burrying a few tea bags around the farm and see if the results correlate with SOM or other aspects of the field.
    martian likes this.

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