Whether you’re a farmer, a gardener, or both, you want healthy soil. Therefore, soil compaction is something that should be on all farmers and gardeners minds given all the rain we have had in recent weeks. 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 it causes roots the added stress of having to penetrate a dense surface.
There are numerous ways that soil compaction can be managed. The best way, which can’t always be prevented, is to resist the urge to work in wet soil. One way to tell if the soil is too wet to work is by taking soil that is 3 to 6 inches deep and form it into a ball. Then drop the soil ball onto a hard surface. If it does not break or even crack, don’t go into the field.
If you insist on working in that field or gardening plot when it is too wet, remember some of these helpful hints. Work the area that is driest first. Minimize axle load and increase tire size to reduce the amount of deep compaction. And only step or travel on the soil in specific locations. By doing this, you will create intense but centralized areas of compaction along the restricted traffic areas.
You can decrease the compaction level by reducing the amount of tillage on your operation. By switching to a no-till system, you leave greater amounts of plant residue on the soil which prevents the soil from sealing and compacting into a hard surface.
If you are debating about going into a no-till system, but are not sure if you want to, realize that you can in a way operate as a no-till system by adding alfalfa, clover, or grasses as part of your crop rotation. When incorporating those into your crop rotation you will be reducing soil compaction because: 1) you will not till for several years after seeding, 2) you will be harvesting the forage during dry weather, and 3) the deep taproots associated with alfalfa and clover will help keep the soil more porous. For a gardener, you might consider using a cover crop as a way to reduce soil compaction by planting it in the fall. Some of the cover crops that a gardener might use are rye or winter wheat. Farmers can also utilize cover crops in this way too.
It takes many years after soil has been compacted to rebuild it to the healthy state that it once was. One way to help improve the soil after it has been compacted includes adding organic matter. Organic matter will promote good soil structure while decreasing soil density which is something that farmers and gardeners should always want to achieve. You can add organic matter by adding animal manure or green manure crops to the field or garden plot. Green manure crops include annual rye and winter wheat.
As always, if you have any questions or would like information on any agriculture, horticulture, or natural resource topic, then please contact your local Purdue Extension Office at 448-9041 in Clay Co. or 829-5020 in Owen Co. or reach me directly at email@example.com. Purdue University is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution.
Upcoming opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension include:
May 15—Clay Co. Extension Homemakers Pre-Council Meeting, Clay Co. Extension Office
May 15—Livestock Enrollments Due to the Extension Office
May 16—On Local Government, 11am-1pm, Clay Co. Extension Office, Please call 812-448-9041
to register by May 14