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RFN-NJ Soils Field Day

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

What does underwear have to do with soil? Read more to find out!

The Regenerative Farm Network (RFN-NJ) held its Soils Field Day on Nov. 2nd, 2023. We visited two farm fields and then went to the Prallsville Mills for lunch and had a presentation from Sarah Crooke, Crooke Ag Consulting.

The first farm field is farmed by Christian Bench, former NJ RC&D employee and current NRCS Frenchtown Office District Conservationist. The no-tilled field is planted to grain crops and typically has a rotation of heavy cover cropping each year. There was still corn on the field during the event (all the rain we’ve been getting lately has been keeping it from drying down to harvest).

Fred talking about the soil properties at the first site.

The group wove their way into the corn field to listen to Fred Schoenagel, NRCS Resource Soil Scientist, explain soil properties and textures. He talked about how to dig a soil pit and tips to look for within the soil and root zone when managing a problematic field or making management changes. This includes looking for roots that are growing horizontally rather than vertically - a sign of compaction or hitting the plow pan; identifying the soil texture which influences soil properties like water-holding capacity; and the soil color to help interpret soil type and health.

The visit to the first field was wrapped up by showing off a pair of 100% cotton underwear, or the lack of them! The underwear was ‘planted’ on June 28th as a ‘Soil Your Undies’ Challenge. They were then dug up during the Soils Field Day as a fun measure of soil health (see the video below). The high microbial activity ate through the underwear and only the band and seams of the underwear were left.

We then caravaned to the second field and dug up a second pair of underwear. This underwear was under more compacted, wet soil. The microbes still did a good job but weren’t able to break down as much of the underwear.

This field has been in mulch hay for the past 20 years and is currently owned by the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and managed by the Foodshed Alliance as one of their SAGE plots. One of the tenant farms, Ubuntu Permaculture Mission, is starting up a permaculture operation on their plot.

Underwear from second site.

Fred took us to a couple small soil pits here and he discussed the importance of testing for pH when making management changes to a field and paying attention to water movement in the field. We found a nice flat area that upon first glance, looks like a good spot to plant, but when looking closer, it’s an area where water flows from a couple higher areas. There appears to be a restrictive layer in the flat ground that keeps the water from draining easily through the ground. Plants that don’t like wet feet could do poorly there.

Soil core from second site.

The field portion was capped off by a demonstration of Fred’s soil corer machine. It can take 4ft+ soil core samples with minimal soil disturbance compared to digging soil pits.

The second half of the day was at Prallsville Mills. Sarah Crooke, Crooke Ag Consulting, explained a couple different methods of soil sampling (composite vs grid) and the importance of consistency in soil sampling timing and lab. Sampling at different times of the year or using different labs is going to make comparing soil lab reports difficult from year to year. You’re best sticking to one lab and taking samples at the same time each year. Sarah talked on pH, CEC, N, P, and K, Ca, and Mg in lab results.

Your end goals are to ‘Build & Maintain’ a soil program, keep records and follow soil trends, and stressed the importance of soil nutrition to successful crops.

Sarah Crooke presenting at Soils Field Day.

Those who stuck around till the afternoon got to enjoy homemade pumpkin bread along with hot cider and cider donuts! Want to see what we learned from the Soils Field Day? Check out our Soils Field Day EasyRetro Board. Did you attend the event? Please add a fact you learned to the EasyRetro Board.

Make sure to join in on our last event of the year: The 2023 RFN-NJ Annual Network Event! Learn more and register here:


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