Know your soils #8: 3 key soil tests to understand your soil health

Empowering farmers to monitor and build soil health themselves

Author(s): 
Vidacycle
Organisation: 
Sectormentor for Soils app
Date: 
October 2018
Copyright: 
Creative Commons Licence
Evidence: 
Farmer experience
Key Farming Practices: 
No Till
Pasture fed livestock
Soil monitoring
Minimum Tillage
Cover crops
Direct drilling
Green manures

View the website

Resource explained: 

For the eighth installment in the 'Know your Soils' series from the Sectormentor for Soils team they share the three easiest and key soil tests to do on your land. The infiltration rate test, earthworm test and slake test require basic equipment which can be found on most farms. They will give you a good idea of your soil structure, organic matter content, and how much biological activity is happening - all of which are key for healthy soil. All the 'Know your Soils' resources share practical tips for monitoring soil health and simple tests you can do on your land.

Findings & recommendations: 
  • Clever land management can contribute to building soil health - reducing top soil run-off and nutrient leaching.
  • The slake test indicates how well your soil structure withstands heavy rains.
  • Healthy soil has an aggregated or crumb structure created by biological activity - true aggregates will not break down in water, aggregates formed from compaction will break down in water.
  • Earthworm counts can help indicate the level of biological activity in the soil - earthworms are the largest organisms in the soil food web.
  • There are three types of earthworm you can find in your soil: litter feeders break down organic matter on the surface, topsoil worms work on soil aggregation and nutrient mobilisation, deep burrowers keep water percolating deep down.
  • The infiltration rate test shows how well your soil can take in and hold water.
  • Faster infiltration rates indicate aggregated soil structure which allows water to percolate down inbetween soil particles.
  • Slower infiltration rates indicate compacted soil, with no aggregation or gaps inbetween soil particles.
  • Creating a photo diary of soil tests and samples is a good way to visually see how your soil is changing (you can do this with the help of the Sectormentor for soils app).
Summary provided by: 
Annie Landless