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 http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/soils/health/ or contact the Capitola NRCS office at 475-1967.