He's NOT My Type!
That’s what I said about my husband the first time we meant during the summer of 1990. Fast forward 28 years, we’ve been married 21 of them, we have two great kids, and I can’t imagine being with anyone else. He’s still the same guy I meant all those years ago, but obviously, my opinion changed drastically. Along the way, there have been some compromises and adjusting expectations, but it has had huge payoffs. If I hadn’t been willing to look at things differently, it might not have worked out the way it did.
Far too often I hear people say something similar about the soil they are farming. I hear the statement “My soil is terrible, and I can’t get anything to grow. I don’t think anything will grow in this type of soil.” I also come across farmers who want to grow blueberries where crops like asparagus, leeks, or Chard would be better suited. Some crops like strawberries and peppers will even tolerate a sandier soil as opposed to crops like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage that can handle more clay. Knowing the type of soil ahead of time can help you adjust and plan crop rotations more effectively leading to a successful season. It can also play a role in determining a fertility program that takes into account the unique makeup of the soil you're growing in.
I realize that this is somewhat different than my relationship with my husband. However, there are some similarities. I also realize I could have walked away and found another guy; you can’t always look for another farm or different land. But, you can do what I did and take a different look at what you already have. There was something that attracted me to him or else I would have found someone else “my type,” just like there was something that attracted you to where you are farming. There are inherent qualities about the land you farm. It is your job as a farmer to learn what they are and use them to your benefit. Just like I have to occasionally compromise and adjust, you as a farmer will need to take the unique qualities of the land your working into consideration and plan accordingly.
Let’s look at what soil type is. It is based on various factors like parent material, topography, and climate, making it unique to a specific location. The ratio of different size particles called sand, silt, and clay are one factor used to determine the soil type, for example, whether a soil is a loam, clay-loam, silt-loam, etc. Each size of particle plays an important role in the fertility of the soil. Large particles like sand determine aeration and drainage characteristics. Clay particles become critical in plant nutrition due to their role in soil chemistry and a soils cation exchange.
There are a couple of ways one can go about figuring out what soil type you have. Back in college, we were sent out to the field to do “ribbon tests.” This method is also called the feel method. At the time I was convinced I would never do it again, boy was I wrong. It is instinctually the first thing I do in a field during a farm visit. There is no better way to get to know the ground your working with than to “feel it.” A ribbon test is a field representation of what agronomist refer to as the “texture triangle” which is used to help categorize soils based on the proportion of each particle, assigning a soil textural class. However, it is only an estimation. Here is a link to one of several online resources for doing a ribbon test.
To go one step further, I use the Web Soil Survey.
This is an online tool that takes the place of the volumes of Soil Survey Maps I had to use back in the day. I have to be frank; I feel it is often one of the most overlooked resources a farmer has available to them and its free. It goes well beyond soil type and is worth the time spent to use it.