Eyeballing Organic Matter

Simple tests can help you see the improvements in organic matter due to no-tilling.

You can how much organic matter there is in your soil, says Jill Clapperton, a Canadian soil microbiologist at the Lethbridge Research Centre in Lethbridge, Alberta. Take a sample of the soil in an old can, mix it with water and shake well.

“The organic matter will float on top,” says Clapperton. “The amount of floating material will give you a good idea of how much organic matter you have in your no-till field.

“Take the can and dig down a little bit. Then pour in water, but don’t put a lot in, put the lid on the can and shake for 5 minutes.”

Clapperton suggests keeping a close eye on fields to monitor organic matter and soil pH. One way to do this is by putting a spade to your no-till soils and observing the structural changes.

Feed ’em!

Clapperton makes a case for nutrient-rich organic matter to nourish the often microscopic flora and fauna in your no-tilled soils. “You have already created their habitat, now you have to feed them,” she says.

Not only is there a living community beneath the surface of a field, but every soil particle itself is an ecosystem, Clapperton says. The soil aggregates shelter a host of bacteria and fungi, which in turn feed micro-arthropods and earthworms. All of these organisms can enhance your no-till fertility.

“These little critters drive the mineralization process,” Clapperton says. She cited studies that show a 32 percent reduction in mineralization if soil bacteria are not present and…

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