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6 Easy Hands-on Tricks to Assess Your No-Till Soils

Shovels, sieves, plastic cups and cotton garments are all that’s needed for a better understanding of your farm ground’s health, says soil microbiologist Kris Nichols.

If you want to know more about your soils, the quickest way to find out may involve digging around in your shed or taking a road trip to the hardware store.

There are many uncomplicated, useful tools for gauging the microbial health, tilth and water infiltration rate of your farm ground, “to get a better understanding of what soil health really is and how this fits within soil physics, chemistry and biology,” says soil microbiologist and principal scientist of KRIS Systems, Kristine Nichols. 

Below are some simple assessments and some basic guidelines on how to do them.

1. Digging it Up

Nichols says the shovel “is the most valuable tool in agriculture,” when coupled with observation to make sure you’re seeing what’s happening below ground, not just above ground.

“Use a shovel to pull up soil samples, hold them in your hand, run them through your fingers, see how moist they are, how well they stick together, how well they may fall apart, and what is some of the structure?” she says. “Do you see various types of clods of different sizes? Roots? Are there earthworms? 

“I’ve talked with various producers who will do some of these things when they’re talking with their agronomist and advisors, and even their bankers, so they get a better understanding of what’s going on and ensure everyone’s on the same page regarding how soil is actually functioning and what soil looks like.”

2. Soaking it Up

One of the ways to understand how soil…

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John dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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