Healthy Soil Saves Water

This post was republished with permission from the author. The original will be published in the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau ‘Between the Furrows’ Newsletter, June 2013.

By Molly Dragaron, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Healthy soils hold more water, nutrients and absorb more carbon dioxide. A good soil structure allows roots to spread deep and anchor themselves more securely. A simple field test to determine the relative health of your soil involves the use of your senses “sight, touch and smell”.

First, look at the soil. A healthy soil will have plant organic matter mixed in. It should be dark, cool, and have a loose, crumbly texture. The slight clumping of soil allows roots to penetrate and for air and water to seep into the pore-space. Unhealthy soils are lighter in color. They don’t hold structure, nutrients or water well.

Healthy soil should be sweet and earthy smelling. This indicates the presence of good bacteria (actinnomycetes) that help break down organic matter and bring nitrogen into the soil. Unhealthy soils typically smell sour or like “kitchen cleanser.”

Lastly, feel your soil. It should be cool to the touch and hold together slightly when squeezed before crumbling. Healthy soils should feel “thicker” than unhealthy soils. This is because the soil organic matter form air pockets and pores for water and roots to navigate.

A healthy soil sustains food production year after year, reduces water and nutrient applications, and mitigates drought, flooding and erosion impacts. NRCS has launched a nationwide campaign to “Unlock the Soils.” For more information visit or contact the Capitola NRCS office at 475-1967.


3 responses to “Healthy Soil Saves Water

  1. This was written by a college intern with little knowledge about or experience with soil. It is full of inaccuracies and should be an embarrassment for you to post to your website. Come on EcoFarm, you can do better than this.

  2. Thanks for responding to this post. We want our blogging partnership with the Santa Cruz NRCS to be a great opportunity to spread the word about their column in the Farm Bureau newsletter and share their tips for farmers. If you have other articles or resources, please share them with us so we can pass them on to our followers. We want to get as much information out as possible!

  3. I appreciate the response to the comment/response left by Michael Johnson pertaining to the NRCS article written by a college intern. In the future we will make sure that when interns are credited as authors of NRCS articles that my name (or other appropriate NRCS specialist) will be included as a co-author or technical reviewer because NO article is submitted for publication in the Farm Bureau newsletter or Eco Farm website that hasn’t been reviewed & approved by an applicable NRCS specialist. Rich Casale, District Conservationist is a Certified Professional Erosion and Sediment Control Specialist with nearly 40 years of soil and water conservation experience. He also has a BS degree in Natural Resources Mgt. All NRCS articles are only approved for publication following review by Rich Casale. I apologize to EcoFarm

    Eco-Farm for not making this review and approval process apparent when college interns are involved in writing articles for publication. In addition, NRCS welcomes input to any article written by employees or interns working for NRCS. If incorrect information is ever provided in any article then NRCS will provide a published correction.

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