[The Brazil Times nameplate] Fair ~ 38°F  
High: 45°F ~ Low: 28°F
Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014

An important four-letter word

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Growing up, I can remember having a blast with my cousins playing in the mud by the creek and trying to make "mud pies" or other mud-based figures when we were bored.

At that time, I didn't fully understand that the mud, or dirt, that we were playing with was really that important.

It wasn't until later that I truly comprehended the importance of soil in our daily lives. Soil is a very important, somewhat complicated necessity for human life. Therefore, instead of going head first into the wonderful world of soil science, let's talk about some of the basic information that you as a homeowner might want to know.

There are a number of factors, such as parent material, topography, climate, biotic factors and time that determine soil information. Basically, soil is a mixture of minerals, organic material and space (composed of air and water).

The minerals usually make up 45-48 percent of soil. Some of the mineral material you might hear individuals discuss is sand, silt and clay. Of these minerals, clay is the smallest, being less than 0.002 millimeters, while sand is the largest, ranging in size from 0.5-2 millimeters. Of the mineral material, clay holds water the best, causing poor drainage.

When building a house or deciding what plants to plant where, it is really important to understand drainage. To have an idea about the drainage on your land, look at how much gray soil there is 10-inches below the surface. If there is some gray, then the chances are that your basement will have moisture problems and any plants you plant will end up saturated in water.

The basic classification for soil drainage is well drained, moderately well drained, somewhat poorly drained, and poorly drained. To be considered well drained, there has to be no gray spots in the soil above 30-inches, while to be somewhat poorly drained, there is some gray spots above 18-inches.

There is more to soil though than just drainage. Compaction is another aspect of soil that individuals struggle to deal with. Soil compaction occurs when soil particles are pressed together, resulting in little to no space between them. This can be detrimental to farmers and gardeners for many reasons, but the main one is because roots have to deal with the added stress of penetrating a dense surface.

Sandy Loam soil, which is made up of roughly 70-percent sand, 10-percent clay and 20-percent silt, is the most compactable soil type. To loosen the soil up, try to add some organic matter to it. Whatever you do, do not add sand because it will cause the soil to compact even worse.

Other options that you can do to help with soil compaction include resisting the urge to work in wet soil, alter tillage depth, switch to no-till, and only walk or travel on specific sites on the soil.

Understanding soil is a difficult thing to do. Most feel that it is best if you gradually learn more about it over time. Thus far, we have discussed the different components of soil, basic soil drainage and soil compaction. All of which is important for homeowners and farmers to know and understand so that they can successfully grow flowers, shrubs and trees in their yard, plants in their garden, crops in their fields and have a dry basement.

Next week, we will further our discussion of soil and discuss soil tests.

If you have any questions or concerns about this week's column or agriculture, horticulture or natural resources, please contact your local Purdue Extension Office at 448-9041 in Clay County or 812-829-5020 in Owen County, or reach me directly at smith535@purdue.edu.

Upcoming opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension include:

* March 22 -- Owen County Adult Ag Day Dinner, 6:30 p.m., Owen County Fairgrounds. Pick up tickets at the Owen County Extension Office for $5,

* March 24 -- Farmer's Market Vendor Meeting, 6:30 p.m., Farm Bureau Office in Spencer. Call 812-829-2307 for more information,

* March 27 -- Clay County 4-H Council Fish Fry, and

* March 30 -- Area Township Trustee Meeting, 7 p.m., Ivy Tech Community Room, Terre Haute.