Canola School: Get digging to learn about soil layers

Soil. The ever-interesting subject of what lives below our feet and helps our crops grow. It’s difficult to know what sort of layers are in your soil, however, and often it can be easy to assume what you are seeing for topsoil is what lays beneath.

Naturally, Marla Rieckman and Curtis Cavers, being the soil enthusiasts that they are, decided to dig a soil pit at Crops-a-palooza at Carberry, Man., so producers could see not only the different soil layers in that particular spot but also the different root systems developed by different crops.

According to Curtis Cavers, agronomist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, when you are looking at soils there are three main points to consider: drainage, texture, and water holding capacity.

“There are lots of subpoints to look at, but in a general overview, we are concerned about what the soil texture is, what the natural internal drainage is of the soil is, and what the capability for dryland agriculture is. So there are two things based on properties, and the third one is kind of a rating system for those properties,” he says.

Cavers acknowledges that you can tell a lot about available moisture and internal drainage by looking at the different soil layers.

Obviously, it’s not feasible to dig a whole bunch of giant pits in the middle of your field like the one that was demonstrated at Crops-A-Palooza, but as Cavers notes, there’s a lot you can learn just from digging even a small hole.

“You can go in and dig with a shovel, or go in and take samples with an auger, cores, things like that. You’ll see these things, it just won’t be as big of a span as these things, “ he explains. “You’ll still know what your depth of topsoil is, you’ll still know how far down your roots go, you’ll still know how far down carbonates, your salts show up, or anything like that. You can still get all your horizon depths and all those things, it’s just looking at it in a more localized level.”

To learn more about what to look for in your soil, and for some interesting visuals on the pit demonstration, check out our latest Canola School, below: