Soil is the most important resource we in agriculture have. There are different classifications of soil, but at the end of the day all farmers are concerned with not only maintaining the soil properties, but also improving them over time. Yes indeed, the farmer is the epitome of conservation. After all, their livelihood depends on it!
Dirt is more mineral based with pebbles and rocks. Soil is mineral, plant, fungi, and animal based; an ecosystem in and of itself. Without soil, there is no agriculture. Period. So next time you look around at all the dirt in plentiful amounts, remember that it is just dirt, a filler if you will. And while dirt may be plentiful, soil certainly is not. It is precious and finite. We all should do what we can to take care of the wonder that is soil.
There are 4 main aspects of soil sampling:
- Collect samples from the proper depth - For example, a depth of 7 inches is used to obtain data on pH, Phosphorous, and Potassium
- Collect the proper amount of samples based in the land area in question - This is always a balancing act between information (what you want done) and cost (what can actually be done).
- Collect samples from precisely the sames areas of the field - Thanks to GPS (Global Positioning System) and GIS (Geographic Information System), this can easily be accomplished.
- Collect samples at the proper time - It is suggested samples be taken at a minimum of every 4 years; however, the farmers I work with usually sample every 3 years. The optimal time of the year to take samples is late summer and early fall.
Sounds easy enough no? Well it isn't really easy to do. You can't just walk out into a field and just start taking cores with a soil probe/auger. There are timing issues, consideration of past fertility application(s), tillage, and field conditions. It is indeed a maze a farmer must navigate and if the 7 P's (Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance) were ever applicable, it is with soil management. Rightly so, the soil sampling activity is usually outsourced to a company whose specializes in this aspect of agriculture.
This is just one example of what farmers do to protect, manage, and improve their soil.
So what can you do if you are not a farmer? Here are some actions you can take today to make a difference.
Vermicomposting - Start a worm farm and use the end result, known as castings, as fertilizer for your garden. It is relatively inexpensive and will help create actual soil, a living breathing being. In conjunction with creating a bountiful crop you and your family can enjoy, all the food waste you either put down the garbage disposal or garbage can can now be used to feed those hungry worms! A win-win for everybody all around.
Start a compost pile - Gasp! You are asking me to start piling up my food waste in a pile in my yard? Well actually no, not exactly. If you have the land area and can create a compost bin, go for it! But you don't have to have a ton of room to start composting. As a matter of fact you can compost using 2 five gallon buckets as seen here