Did you ever wonder what is in a handful of soil? The field scientists from the Rodale Institute can answer that question for us. They visited Wooleylot Farm at Odin, Pennsylvania this week as part of an on going study to determine carbon content of the soil. Here a soil sample is being collected in the soil corer. The core will then be split into distinct soil horizons and transported to a lab for further analysis.
Why is carbon of such an interest? It is widely accepted that the carbon content of soil is a major factor in its overall health. The soil scientists tells us that carbon improves the physical properties of soil. It increases the cation exchange capacity (CEC) and water-holding capacity of sandy soil and it contributes to the structural stability of clay soils by helping to bind particles into aggregates. Soil organic matter, of which carbon is a major part, holds a great proportion of nutrients, cations and trace elements that are of importance to plant growth. It prevents nutrient leaching and is integral to the organic acids that make minerals available to plants. It also buffers soil from strong changes in pH. 
What can farmers do to help keep carbon in the soil? Here’s what Wooleylot Farm is doing:
- Cover cropping to keep the soil from being over-exposed to the environment (sun/air/wind) and to provide organic matter as “green manure” inputs.
- Input of bulk manure compost for organic matter.
- Use of “sub-soiler” and “soil-ripper” tools instead of plows and tillers to prepare the soil for planting as much as possible.
- Use of natural fertilizers instead of “super-chemical” fertilizers.
- Crop rotations as part of a sustainable farming practice.
- Soil tests to establish a soil nutrient management plan.
- Riparian Buffer to protect environmentally sensitive land on the farm.
- Are these farming practices working? Well, that’s what the results of the Rodale three-year study will tell us. Soil is a valuable resource, so keeping it healthy is to our long-term benefit.
 From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia