Monday, April 11, 2011

AgBC's: L is for Land

Without land, nothing can grow. No green grass under your feet, no shade from the trees, no flowers in your garden and no food on your table. Ouch! Land is pretty important, huh?

Today's farmers use the latest technology to care for their land and ensure it's fertility is maintained.  After all, 91% of America's farms are considered "small family farms" with even more considered "large family farms." It just makes sense that farmers would want to take care of their livelihoods as well as their homes!

Many times we tend to romanticize "the way things used to be" and imagine that old methods were simpler and better....but that's not necessarily true. Remember all those old-fashioned methods? Remember the dust bowl?

Soils hold natural water and resources for plants and ultimately animals. All the food we eat and the materials we use (like paper, wood and clothing to name a few) depend on soil and land. It's important to understand the importance of land and it's role in the ecosystems and agriculture.

The physical properties of soil affect the type and amount of vegetation that can grow in a given location. The water-holding capacity affects the plants than can survive....some plants need well-drained desert soils while others grow in heavy clay and wetland soils.

Have you ever taken the time to feel and explore the texture of soil? The way it feels? The amount of sand, silt and clay particles in soil all affect the way the soil feels because of of these particles are different sizes. Sand particles are the largest and clay particles are the smallest. Most soils have a mixture of sand, silt and clay.

Here's a fun way to determine the texture of your soil:

  1. Take approximately 2 tablespoons of soil and add enough water to moisten it. It should make a ball when squeeze.
  2. Using your thumb and forefinger, try to make a "ribbon" of soil.
  3. If the soil will not hold together in a ball at all, the soil is sand.
  4. If the soil makes a ball but will not make a ribbon, it is loamy sand.
  5. If it makes a ribbon less than 1 inch long before breaking, it is loam. If it feels gritty it is a sandy loam. If it is equally gritty and smooth, it is loam. And if it feels smooth, it is silt loam.
  6. If the soil makes a ribbon 1-2 inches long before breaking, it is a clay loam. It it feels gritty, it is a sandy clay loam. If it is equally gritty and smooth, it is a clay loam. If it feels smooth, it is a silty clay loam.
  7. If the soil forms a ribbon 2 inches of longer before breaking, it is a clay soil. If it feels gritty is is a sandy clay. If it feels equally gritty and smooth, ti is clay. And if it feels smooth it is a silty clay.
Have fun and enjoy getting your hands dirty!

Questions to to think about:
  • What kind of soil did you have?
  • Why would it be important to know what kind of soil you have?
  • What might be some good uses for your type of soil? Poor uses?
These are just some of the questions farmers ask themselves about the land they have and some of the factors they have to consider when making the decisions about what crops to plant on their land.

And it's just about that time of year for spring crops to be going into the ground!

This series is inspired by the book The ABC's of Fruits and Vegetables and Beyond.

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