OK I admit it … I love soil. I know that kind of makes me a freak (at least that what my wife tells me), but I’m not alone. If you talk with just about any Soil and Water employee or board member, you’ll find an infectious love of soil and a passion to conserve it.
How about you, do you truly appreciate soil? Soil is one of our most valuable natural resources and most taken for granted. We use soil to grow plants to feed us, to feed our livestock and grow surplus crops we export. We build our homes on soil. We use soil to grow the wood to build and heat them. We use soil to treat our waste with septic systems or recycle nutrients from livestock manure to grow more plants.
Without soil it would be very difficult to live here on good ol’ planet earth.
Not all soil is created equal. Soil can have great drainage all the way to very poor drainage. It can be mineral, organic, glaciated, unglaciated, silt loam, clay, granular, prismatic, fertile, depleted, acidic and on and on.
Depending on how you intend to use soil, you need to understand what characteristics your soil has.
“To be a successful farmer one must first know the nature of the soil,” Xenophon, Oeconomicus, 400 B.C.
Fortunately, soils in Ohio have been mapped by soil scientists. Soil surveys have been published that detail drainage type, structure, texture, potential uses, potential crop yields, erosion potential and many other features.
Many soil and water districts no longer have paper copies to handout, but fear not all published soil surveys are available online as a pdf file. To access the digital version of the soil survey for your county go to www.dnr.state.oh.us/H_Nav2/Soils/OhiosSoils/CountySurveysPDF/tabid/17839/Default.aspx. Web Soil Survey is also the newest way to find information about soils. http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/
When you go to the Web Soil Survey site and click the green Start WSS button, you can search by address, state and county, soil survey area, latitude and longitude, section, township and range. Web Soil Survey allows you to see land with an aerial photo base and roads, towns and streams as layers.
You can turn map features on and off depending on your preference. Draw an area of interest shape over where you want soils information, then click on the soil map tab, and viola soil info appears to the left.
You can look more deeply into each soil listed as well as print out any information that you want to keep. Understanding soil fertility requires samples of your soil to be analyzed at a laboratory.
Soil sampling allows you to see 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 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
Most farmers and gardeners know that the top layer of soil tends to be darker in color and typically has the most desirable characteristics for plant growth. Top soil 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 100 to 500 years you’re not going to witness it. Most sources allude to 100 to 500 years to form one inch of soil depending on temperature, moisture, etc.
Soil trivia — 1 inch of soil over an entire acre weighs in at around 145 tons.
“A hundred years after we are gone and forgotten, those who never heard of us will be living with the results of our actions,” Oliver Wendell Holmes, U.S. Supreme Court. Civilizations have come and gone largely based on the degree of misuse of their natural resources, primarily soil. It’s up to you use it wisely.
Conserve soil so that it can be used again and again by us and by those that inherit it in the condition that we leave it.
“The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
If you have questions about ways to conserve soil on your land, call or visit any County Soil and Water Conservation District in Ohio. We live to talk about and help with natural resource conservation, especially soil conservation.