You will need a metre tube. Insert the tube directly into the ground, twist and extract so you get approximately metres of soil.

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1 Soil quality testing Soil Core A soil core is useful when conducting the following tests for soil quality. It allows you to see and test soil properties that you otherwise would not have access to. You will need a metre tube. Insert the tube directly into the ground, twist and extract so you get approximately metres of soil. Most tubes then need to be cut in half lengthways to allow for testing. If this can t be done then you might need to cut across the core when needed. Don t worry if you can t do this as even the professionals need a bit of machine power to get a good soil core. Department of Primary Industries, NSW extracting a soil core Department of Primary Industries, NSW extracting a soil core NSW DET

2 Colour How do I Colour is an initial guide to soil properties. It can indicate moisture and organic content. Some minerals such as phosphorous, iron and aluminium can alter the colour. Grab a handful of soil and place it on a white background (ie: piece of paper) or look at your soil core. The Munsell Soil Colour Chart is commonly used in agriculture and industry. Hue (colour) Colour Red Well drained, medium organic matter, possible iron Yellow Black Brown Grey Pale Moderate drainage, medium organic matter Slow drainage, high organic matter, fertile Moderate drainage, medium organic matter Poorly drained, low organic matter, waterlogged Well drained, low organic matter, nutrients leached out, low fertility Colour of soil changes with depth as moisture, mineral and organic content also changes. Salinity How do I Salt occurs naturally in many parts of Australia but human activity can exacerbate this problem and cause damage to water (eg: groundwater, streams) as a result. Soil salinity can decrease crop yields, damage infrastructure and reduce biodiversity. Observable effects of salinity are the presence or absence of certain plants, loss of clovers and invasion of salt-tolerant weeds. Shallow or rising ground water is also an indication. Collect a sample (down to 10 cm) of soil from your fieldwork site. Thoroughly mix the soil and place 100 ml in a bottle with markings. Add rainwater (not tap water) up to 600 ml mark. Shake for 1 minute and allow to settle for 1 minute. Use an electrical conductivity meter. Hold the meter in the clearer water at the top until a reading appears on the screen. Salty water conducts more electricity than fresh water. Deci siemens (us) abbreviated to electrical conductivity (EC) per meter Quality Non-saline (excellent) Low 1 2 Moderate 2-4 High >4 Severe NSW DET

3 Moisture How do I Water transports minerals and nutrients needed by plants. The amount of moisture in the soil determines the amount and type of plants that survive there. You can estimate moisture visibly. Or use your soil core to calculate the percentage (%) of moisture lost by weighing a 10 gm sample before and after drying the soil in an oven. Visual description Quality Saturated Poor Moist Slightly damp Dry Good Fair Poor Texture How do I Texture affects the movement and availability of air, nutrients and water. By estimating the amount of sand, silt and clay particles, other soils properties can also be estimated. If you want to test the texture at different depths use your soil core. Use the ribbon test to determine texture. Take a small sample of soil in your hand and add enough water to make a ball. Sandy soils will not roll into a ball. Feel the ball with your fingers to find out if the ball is: Gritty (sandy) Silky (silty) Sticky (clay) Now press the ball between your thumb and forefinger to form a long rope/ ribbon. The longer the soil ribbon the more clay is present. You can also use the jar method to estimate the percentage (%) of sand, loam and clay in your soil sample. cm Composition cm Sand cm Sandy loam cm Loam cm Clay loam >7.5 cm Clay NSW DET

4 Structure Soil structure is the arrangement of particles and pores in soils. It affects the degree of rainfall infiltration and retention, aeration and soil strength which then has direct effects on crops and pastures. Poor soil structure can reduce fertility. Well structured soils have room for the storage and movement of water. How do I You will need a shovel full of soil for an earthworm count.(0-5 = poor; 6-10 = fair; >10 = good) Or note how easy or difficult it is to break the soil core sample apart this is an indication of susceptibility to erosion and how much the soil is compacted. Description Quality Granular small blocks, same number of horizontal and vertical cracks Columns longer blocks and cracks are vertical Blocks large blocks, same number of horizontal and vertical cracks Plate like - longer blocks and cracks are horizontal Excellent Good Fair Poor Compacted soil from a core near a stream Organic content How do I Organic content influences the number of plants, animals and micro-organisms in the soil. Decomposing organic material provides nutrients for all these living things as without it, the soil becomes deficient. Similar to the moisture test. Select 10 grams of topsoil and record weight. You will need a metal plate to put soil on. When organic material (made up of carbon compounds) is heated to a high temperature it is converted into carbon dioxide and water. Dry in really hot oven for a few hours to remove moisture and burn off organic matter. Or your teacher may use a flame eg: Bunsen burner to burn the remainder of organic matter. Weigh the sample again and calculate the percentage difference. The lower the percent of organic matter means soil is degraded more quickly. Grams (gm) or % weight change NSW DET

5 Temperature How do I Soil temperature affects climate, plant growth, germination, life cycle of small creatures, availability of nutrients, and rate of decomposition of material. It is directly linked to the temperature of the atmosphere. You will need a soil thermometer and a ruler and spare paper Select your sites to measure temperature eg: different sites around a lake, different aspect etc. You will need to take a few measurements (ideally you will record temperature at different depths). Push the thermometer 5 cm into the soil Wait 2 minutes and record the temperature. Wait a further 1 minute and record the temperature. If the two readings are not within 1ºC, continue taking readings at 1 minute intervals until they are within 1ºC Repeat test at 10cm depth and compare results. Repeat test at regular intervals throughout the day and compare results. Different plants need different temperatures to germinate, survive and reproduce. Below 5 ºC very little growth occurs. ºC Measuring soil temperature Using Universal indicator to check acidity of soil ph How do I ph indicates if the water is alkaline (>7), neutral (7) or acidic (<7). This level of solubility tells what nutrients are available to aquatic life. Metals tend to be more toxic at a lower ph because they are more soluble. Collect a sample of soil from your soil core. You will need a ph kit that contains universal indicator or ph paper. Sprinkle the universal indicator powder over the soil and wait for a few minutes. Match the colour of the powder to the ph colour chart to determine if the soil is acidic or alkaline. ph Quality < 5.0 Poor Fair (north coast soils) Good Fair (Australian agricultural soils) >10.0 Poor NSW DET

6 Depth How do I A column or core of soil will usually show a series of layers, called horizons. Each horizon has different properties. By measuring the depth of the top layers in the soil we can tell how much fertile humus is available for plant growth for example. A soil core reveals different horizons or levels from which you can then perform soil tests at different depths. You will need a tape measure to calculate the depth of each horizon. Measure the topsoil as an indicator of soil quality. cm Depth 0 10 Poor Fair Good >50 Excellent Soil profile Slaking How do I Testing the stability and strength of the soil is important, particularly in agriculture. Slaking occurs when soil structure is weak. The degree of slaking will then influence what remedial management strategies need to be put in place. Take a small soil sample either from your soil core or shovel full. Allow it to air dry in sun for as long as possible. Take 3 lots of 5mm crumbs of dry soil, place on saucer away from wind and immerse in water. Wait 5 minutes, then examine the sample Description Quality Lump collapses into single grains Poor Lump collapses into pieces Most of lump remains in tact but collapses around edges Lump remains in tact Fair Good Excellent NSW DET

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