Digging In

5 ways to evaluate the health of your soil

5 ways to evaluate the health of your soil

By SHP Staff on Thursday, 26 March, 2020

There are three main types of soil health indicators: chemical, biological and physical. While soil testing through a laboratory is required to determine many of these, there are ways to physically assess your soil at home. 

Here are five ways you can evaluate your fields to determine if your soil is healthy. 

  1. Water infiltration
    Use a water infiltration kit if you have one. Otherwise, you can observe how much standing water there is after a rainstorm. While infiltration rates can vary based on soil texture, it can also vary because of issues like compaction, low soil aggregate stability, or low organic matter.
  2. Soil aggregate stability, slump test or slake test
    Perform a slump test or a slake test to evaluate the soil aggregate stability. Soil that falls apart in water or completely loses shape has poor aggregate stability which indicates lower organic matter and less “biological glue.” 
  3. Smell
    Soils should have a pleasant earthy odor. Soils that have a strong, off-putting or sulfur-like smell can indicate poor drainage or lack of oxygen in the soil
  4. Erodibility
    Observe the amount of residue on soils. More residue should protect soil from wind or rain. Rills and channels on soils, as well as soil color, can indicate erosion occurring in your field.
  5. Root health-checking at multiply stages
    Sickly plants can occur when there is compaction in the soil because root development is slowed. Digging up plants to observe the size, shape, direction, and color of roots can show issues with compaction. Root health may also indicate water infiltration, as slow growth can occur when soils are too wet.

Evaluate these indicators multiple times throughout the growing season. Take photos and document changes over time. 

The earlier you assess your soil, the earlier you can develop strategies to improve it. These indicators are just part of a systematic approach to improving soil quality.