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Here's the Dirt on Healthy Soils

3:15 PM, Aug 31, 2012   |    comments
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Here's How to Become Soil Savvy

"The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Soil is one of our most valuable natural resources.  We need soil to: grow crops to feed us, feed livestock and pets, and grow the surplus food that we export.  Most home foundations are constructed on soil.  We use soil to grow the wood to build and heat them.  We use soil to treat our waste and recycle nutrients from livestock manure to grow more crops.  Without soil, it would be very difficult to live.

However, not all soil is created equal.  There a many soil types; each soil has distinct characteristics.  Some are prime farmland soils, while others are useful construction materials.  Some provide unique habitat for shellfish, such as subaqueous soils while others are slippage (landslide) prone.         

What's My Soil Type?

Using the internet based Web Soil Survey is one of the best ways to find information about the distinct characteristics of soils. Go to http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/ to find Web Soil Survey.  

To start using Web Soil Survey (WSS), just click the green Start WSS button and you can search by address, state and county, soil survey area, latitude and longitude, section, township, and range.  Web Soil Survey allows you to view an aerial photograph base with roads, towns, and larger streams.  You can turn map features on and off depending on your preference.  Draw an area of interest over where you want soils information, and then click on the soil map tab.  You can look more deeply into each soil listed as well as print out any information that you want to keep.  It's pretty amazing!

How Fertile Is My Soil?

Understanding soil fertility requires samples of your soil to be analyzed at a laboratory.  Soil sampling allows you to discover what nutrients the soil contains now, and what adjustments might need to be made for optimum plant growth.  Target fertility levels are dependent on what you plan to grow.  To understand soil sampling and soil analysis check out the Ohio State University fact sheet Soil Testing Is an Excellent Investment for Garden, Lawn, and Landscape Plants, and Commercial Crops at: http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/pdf/1132.pdf

Prevent Soil Erosion

Most farmers and gardeners know that the top layer of soil (topsoil) tends to be darker in color and typically has the most desirable characteristics for plant growth.  Topsoil has more organic matter, better structure and texture, and most of the biological activity.  When we lose topsoil to erosion we're losing the best part. 

Why worry about erosion, new soil is always forming, right?  True new soil is being formed, but unless you're planning to live for generations you're not going to witness it.  Most sources suggest that it takes 100 to 500 years to form one inch of soil (depending on soil forming factors).

While some civilizations have come and gone, others have survived largely based on their use of natural resources, primarily soil.  It's up to you to all of us to use it wisely.  Conserve soil so that it can be used again and again by the present generation and by those that inherit it in the condition that we leave it.

Visit these websites for more information and ways you can protect our precious soil resources:

http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/water/tabid/9051/Default.aspx

http://www.forces.si.edu/soils/

http://soils.usda.gov/education/

https://www.soils.org/

http://www.nacdnet.org/education/resources/soils/

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