The soil on your farm is the base of everything you do, but how much time do you spend making sure it remains in the best condition for your crops? Treat your soil right and you will be rewarded with happy and healthy crops.
Let’s start with the basics.
Find out your soil type
The first thing you need to do is find out what type of soil you have. This is very important as it will affect both which crops will grow well, and which actions you need to take to get the most from your soil.
There are three main types of soil:
Clay – this soil is tightly packed, made up of small particles that easily stick together. As it has a compact structure, clay soils can hold water near the surface, but they do not drain well and water may not reach deeper roots.
Sandy – this soil is loosely packed with many larger particles and gaps. With its loose structure, sandy soils do not hold water well and water will quickly drain through the spaces in the soil.
Loam – this soil is a combination of sandy and clay soils along with high amounts of organic matter, making it ideal for growing crops. Water will pass through loam soils more slowly.
To find out your soil type it is best to speak with a local agronomist who will be able to provide expert analysis and advice for your farm.
But to get a quick idea of your soil type you can take a small amount of dry soil from your farm and add water to it to see how solid it becomes when squeezing it in your hand.
If your soil remains loose and falls apart you have more sandy soil, if it quickly becomes solid and you can form it into a long ribbon you have more clay soil. In between this, you could have loam soil where it will become stickier but have looser clumps.
Prepare soil before planting
It is best to start looking after your soil before you have planted your crops. If you wait until you start having problems, such as poor plant growth or soil erosion, you will just be making more work for yourself!
Preparing your soil will depend on your soil type of course.
If you have clay soils, lightly tilling the surface may help loosen up the soil and adding well-rotted compost will also loosen the soil and help plant growth. It is important to avoid walking over the soil too much as this will compact it more.
With sandy soils, adding well-rotted compost to the top of your soil will also help add structure and organic matter that will slow down how quickly water drains through.
While loam soils are good for plants they still need maintaining, avoid walking on them too much as again, this could over-compact them.
You should also take into consideration how you will be irrigating your crops. Different types of irrigation will be more suited to certain soil types and some will even need you to manage your soils in certain ways.
Keep your soil healthy
Healthy soils have good amounts of organic matter, water content and aeration to support your plant’s roots and provide them with the nutrients and water they need to thrive. If your soil is lacking in nutrients or structure, we recommend adding compost as this will help add organic matter into your soils.
Erosion can be a big problem on farms of any size but there are some simple actions you can do to reduce the risk of erosion on your farm. These actions will also help improve the health of your soil which will improve the quality of your crops!
You also need to avoid your soil drying out, as dry soil can be easily blown away by the wind and washed away by heavy rains. To help stop your soil drying out on your farm, good water management is very important and mulching is always a great thing to do!
Mulching is where you put organic matter, such as leaves, grass clippings, wood chips etc. on the surface of your soil. This will help reduce water evaporation and improve soil health as it will protect your soil from the wind, water and the sun.
Other things to consider are planting fruit trees and plants with larger roots, as these roots provide a deep structure for your soil and will help hold it in place. You should also avoid growing on steep slopes, as keeping soil in place is difficult even with a normal amount of watering and weeding.
Managing your soils can be complex, your soil’s needs will change between the seasons and depend on what crops you choose to grow, but get these basics right and you will be setting yourself up for success!
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We are of course not agronomists, we just want to help you get the most out of your farm sustainably – so for more help on looking after your soils and crops it is a good idea to speak to an agronomist in your local area who can provide you tailored advice for your farm.