World Soil Day takes place on 5 December, and ahead of the day, we have some top tips on what to do to examine your soil health and what you can do to improve it.
Book a soil test
It’s a bit wet for taking soil samples at present, but you can shop around for the best price and book in your test with your local lab, who might also take the samples, or avail of your local adviser.
You need to test the basics of soil pH, phosphorus and potassium, but you might also consider testing for other nutrients like magnesium and manganese, which can often be deficient in plants.
Examine where water is gathering
With the recent wet weather, it is an ideal time to check where water is lying on land. You can then try and figure out why the water is lying there. Has the land been compacted? Is there a drain blocked?
It is then important to decide what to do. Do you need to carry out drainage work? Would a deep rooting cover crop help to break a layer of compaction?
Check for nutrient loss
If you see water leaving land with soil in it, this is not good and needs to be stopped. Not only are you losing soil from your field, but phosphorus also binds to soil and will be lost as well.
A cover crop can help to protect the soil from erosion, while also taking up water and nutrients. Grass margins can help to catch soil before it enters a drain or watercourse. Hedgerows and trees will also help here. Watch out for dirty water leaving fields and try to stop it.
Get out the spade and dig a hole
Digging holes in your field is always a good idea. Does the soil break up easily? Is it crumbly? If it is compacted, what can you do to break up the compaction?
Digging a hole will also help you to see if the soil is active. Are there earthworms present? Can you see space for water to move through? How far do the plant roots go down?
Bury a cotton underpants
Burying a pair cotton underpants can help to examine the soil’s microbiological activity. Cotton is a source of carbon and a source of food for bugs and micro-organisms. If you bury a clean cotton underpants and it is eaten when you dig it up about 60 days later, then you should have a healthy soil, but if much of the pants are still there, then you might need to try and increase soil biology by adding straw or farmyard manure to the soil, for example.
World Soil Day is run by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.