The Science of Soil Health: Going Deeper

” see this earthworm channel – see that? that darkened area – that’s where –
once you develop these channels the earthworms and the roots keep going down
the same place they keep adding organic matter so it actually darkens it comes down here – look how deep this goes…” Spend a little bit of time with Dr. Ray
Weil and you’ll notice an insatiably curious man who is also a consummate
student, teacher and scholar of soils. Given that that Doctor Weil is someone who
literally wrote the book on soils, I wanted to hear what he had to say to
farmers. I was blown away by his simple answer which literally added a new
dimension to my operational understanding of soils. “Well you can see
this is a deep soils pit – it’s at least 6 feet deep and so the kind of the focus of
this pit is is depth. Let’s face it, we’re above ground creatures we’re
really not very comfortable thinking about you know what’s going on in the
soil – our senses don’t work down there too well you know. Soils are a three-dimensional body in the critical zone and they go on down into
the water table and it’s really most soils are quite deep in farmers and even
soil scientists pay almost all their attention just the surface soil in the
old days the soil that they plowed I hate to say it ‘plow’ because I’m a big advocate for no-till but still that plow layer that surface layer and they
don’t think about what goes on below so even if they’re digging up some routes
are pulling up some routes are usually getting you know from the top 6 to 10 inches of soil and that’s where
their mind is when we apply lime and fertilizer we make all the calculations
based on that and so I’m trying to get farmers to start thinking a little bit
deeper because there’s a lot that goes on deeper and there’s a big resource
they need to need to use. One of the big things and we’re standing in front of
some some radish cover crops – this is a daikon type radish. Steve Groff has branded his particular selection as the tillage radish you got that name
because of the work that I did early with him that showed this alleviates soil compaction so but damage done by driving on the soil heavy equipment and plowing
could be alleviated by this root which is able to push down though, and access this
huge deep – in some sense a huge tank of water and nutrients – especially water in
the summer. If this is compacted and the top soil which is amended with
fertilizer and has all the nutrients up there but the water-holding capacity is going
to be mostly down here that’s a matter of volume. And if this is separated by a compacted zone, and as most farm soils are, then you’re really kind of growing your crops in a
flower pot. And when summer comes along and that flower pot water is used up their roots
need to get down here the pool water up and they’ll start going deeper and deeper to get
water but if there’s a barrier you’re going to be limiting your yields and your production.

Daniel Yohans

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