Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Dirt on our Soil

That (above) is the soil map of Full Heart Farm.  The USDA's Natural Resource and Conservation Services (NRCS) has a Web Soil Survey (WSS) tool that allows you to learn more about the soils on a given property from the comfort of your home computer.

I know I'm a farm nerd, but I think that's pretty awesome.

I had played around with the web soil survey after looking at a few of the properties, but like any tool, it's only valuable if you really know how to use it.  Today I met with a soil expert at NRCS who was able to explain to me what the soils of Full Heart Farm are mapped out to be.

First off, I have to admit that I was a little nervous.  FInding out about the soil on the farm felt, well, personal.  There was no grass to cover up anything that might be bad.  And I was worried that learning there were poor soils (something helpful to learn early on in the process) would mean that the property is essentially worthless.  Even soils that are just okay may mean more work than I would be able to put in, or a lack of government assistance in working to conserve the land.

But the report was good! (Lesson learned this week: worry less!)

The soils by the homestead of the property (upper-right on the map) are classified as Canton and Charlton soils.  These glacial soils are generally well-drained (with a water table 3-4 feet deep) and good for growing vegetables.  Which is great, because the one-acre fenced in pasture by the house is the one I sent to be nutrient tested for growing produce.  I would like to have a nice large garden by the house.

The soils up behind the barn (which extend into the state-owned portion of the property) are a Sutton Fine Sandy Loam.  These soils can also be good for growing veggies, but not early in the season.  The soil is pretty well-drained, but the water table is much higher (1 1/2 feet deep), so it's much wetter.  This soil is also usually much stonier (hence North STONington).

The majority of the lower pasture land is Ninigret and Tisbury soils.  This also has a seasonal high water table.  There is a portion of the pasture that slopes down, and on a wet year this is going to be very wet, but on a dry year the pasture will stay greener.

Having a diverse selection of soils is really good because it creates different growing environments.  Some plants may do better on one part of the farm than another because of the soil quality and moisture.  Learning those details will take time (and lots of trial and error).

The next part of analyzing the soils is to work with a scientist to take samples in the field.  Unlike the small samples that I took to test for different nutrients and organic matter, the NRCS scientists use an auger to dig much deeper holes and examine the soil structure (all of the different layers of the soil).  This double checks that the soils described on the map match the soils that are actually on the farm.

I'm visiting the property for a third time this Saturday and I'm hoping to arrange a time with the landowners when this can be done.  NRCS will also take a look at the brook (and I'm hoping to learn more details on the well) so that we can discuss irrigation and fencing as part of their incredible cost-share programs, when the time comes.

On a separate note: Saphera is doing well.  K even sent over a photo of her standing, so I think her leg will heal just fine!  Thank goodness!  I sure as well don't need any more special needs chickens!

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