Monday, August 27, 2012

Last Week's Soil Fertility Workshop

Last week, Tom Morris, a Soil Fertility Specialist with the University of Connecticut taught about soil sampling, testing and interpretation.  The workshop was at the beautiful Community Farm of Simsbury in their classroom!
After discussing the content of the workshop, Tom brought the attendees out into the field to teach us how to collect a representative soil sample.  He reminded us that only 4-5 grams of soil will be used in the analysis, so soil should be collected from 15 points in small garden plots, and separate soil samples would be needed to raised beds receiving different fertilizer treatments.  Tom also reminded us to use clean farm tools to collect samples.  Tom is using a core sampler in the photo below, but showed everyone how to use a shovel since that is probably the tool most people have access to.

 Tom mixed the soil samples in a bucket, and then would send in a bag of soil form the mixed bucket! He also reminded uus that soil samples need to be taken at different depths depending on what you're growing: for lawns, 3-4 inches, for gardens, 6-8 inches and for trees and shrubs 8-10 inches.
 Next Tom taught us about how to read soil tests, which labs to send soil to, and what parts of the test results require the most attention from different kinds of farmers.  Then Tom discussed improving the soil to maintain sufficient but not excess nutrients.  He discussed specific organic fertilizers like rock phosphate, treensand, wood ash and colloidal phosphate for the availability of the nutrients for plants and the benefits and issues associated with each.
We learned more of the science behind the problem of phosphorus accumulation in the soil, and some of hte solutions (though there are many that haven't been discovered yet) to removing phosphorous (there aren't really any solutions for that yet) or for minimizing the amount of P added to the soil with fertilizers.  It turns out that the US is running out of the phosphate that is added to fertilizer anyway, so P-reduction is a central part of making agriculture economically and environmentally sustainable.
For those of you who were unable to come, it's important to consider many of the lessons we learned about only adding the nutrients needed in soil, for specific crops.

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