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Posts Tagged: Soil

Celebrate Healthy Soils Week with free events Dec. 5-9

California Healthy Soils Week highlights the benefits of soil health and biodiversity. Photo by Larry Costello

California Healthy Soils Week 2022 kicks off Dec. 5 on United Nations' World Soil Day. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is joining the California Department of Food and Agriculture and other organizations in highlighting the benefits of soil health and biodiversity.

During the week of Dec. 5-9, CDFA will present a biodiversity webinar, the UC Master Gardener Program will host two Facebook LIVE webinars and UC Cooperative Extension will co-host a Sustainable Nutrient Management & Soil Health Field Day in Salinas. Details about the free events are below.

Monday, Dec. 5 at 10 a.m.
WEBINAR: Building Belowground Biodiversity CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and members of the Belowground Biodiversity Advisory Committee – composed of world-renowned scientists – discuss how soil biodiversity may impact soil health. The BBAC is tasked with preparing a report of their recommendations on biodiversity indicators as a proxy of soil health and ecosystem functions. This webinar will discuss the importance and impact of belowground biodiversity on soil health and presenters will also share some of their research findings. Register at

Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 10 a.m. 
Healthy Soil: In nature sometimes less is more. Understanding the nature and composition of soil is the first step in our understanding of how to achieve sustainable, healthy soil in our gardens. Mike Corby, UC Master Gardener volunteer in Contra Costa County, will give tips for improving soil health in the garden. To join this 30-minute UC Master Gardener Program LIVE on Facebook, go to on Dec. 6 at 10 a.m. No registration is required. A recording of the webinar is published on YouTube at  

Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 10 a.m.
Harnessing the Magic of the Soil Food Web: Turning Dirt into Gold. Soil is the foundation for life providing habitat, recycling wastes and toxins, providing structural and nutritional support for plants. Over the past 150 years, more industrial practices have replaced natural methods that degrade soil structure and degrade populations of soil organisms, weakening the natural control of soil borne diseases and pests. This has contributed to a reliance on the use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides. These chemicals not only affect the soil, but the biodiversity of organisms that rely on the soil and the plants that grow in it. Nurturing soil is one of the best things you can do as a gardener. Plants thrive in soil that is teeming with life.

Kit Veerkamp, UC Master Gardener volunteer in El Dorado County, will discuss why this really matters and how to modify your soils to improve plant health and reduce disease and pests. To join this 30-minute UC Master Gardener Program LIVE on Facebook, go to Dec. 7, at 10 a.m. No registration is required. A recording of the webinar is published on YouTube at

Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 11 a.m.

Web Soil Survey Presentation: Hosted by California Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Web Soil Survey provides soil data and information produced by the National Cooperative Soil Survey. It is operated by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and provides access to the largest natural resource information system in the world. NRCS has soil maps and data available online for more than 95% of the nation's counties. Moderated and presented by Phil Smith, California NRCS area resource soil scientist, and Tony Rolfes, California state soil scientist. This is a presentation on Web Soil Survey and other soil web tools for gathering soils information and maps. Register here

Friday, Dec. 9, at 9 a.m.

Sustainable Nutrient Management & Soil Health Field Day will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Agricultural Center Conference Room at 1432 Abbott St. in Salinas.

Presentations will include

  • Climate-smart nutrient management for cool-season vegetable crop production by Cole Smith, UC Cooperative Extension staff research associate.
  • Co-composted biochar application in intensive vegetable rotation: On-farm trial review by Laura Murphy and Sacha Lozano, Monterey and Santa Cruz Resource Conservation Districts
  • Latest developments in measuring soil health: The 4 most responsive indicators by Meagan Hynes, California State University - Monterey Bay
  • Healthy soil incentives and Ag. Order 4.0 requirements by Monica Barricarte and Claire Bjork, Central Coast Water Board
  • Avenues for improving nitrogen cycling in vegetable production by Richard Smith, UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops advisor
  • In-field soil health assessment & compost spreader calibration by Jessica Chiartas, UC Davis

Five Certified Crop Adviser nutrient management continuing-education credits have been requested for attending the Sustainable Nutrient Management & Soil Health Field Day. To register or for more information, visit

Visit the Healthy Soils Week website to see the full lineup of events and partners. To find more healthy soils information on social media, look for the hashtags #SoilHealth and #HSW2022. 

Posted on Friday, December 2, 2022 at 2:17 PM
Tags: Healthy soils (1), Soil (23)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Soil health in California cotton fields explored in video series

Production consultant Cary Crum, on right, advises agronomists at Bowles Farming in Los Banos on soil health management practices including using cover crops and reduced disturbance tillage for cotton.

Over a century of growing cotton in California, scientists and farmers have learned how to better manage soil health. To share their collective knowledge, they have produced a series of videos about cultivating better soil health in cotton fields.

At its peak cotton production, California harvested as much as 1.6 million acres of cotton in the late 1970s to early 1980s. Due to water shortages, growers harvested less than 200,000 acres of cotton in 2020.

“Although cotton acreage in California has fallen off in recent years, some rather impressive advances in soil health management in San Joaquin Valley cotton production fields have been achieved in the past couple of years,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, who formed the California Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center with growers and production consultants.

In partnership with the Soil Health Institute of Greensboro, NC, the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center has released a four-video series on soil health in California cotton production systems (YouTube links below).

Tomato seedlings, used as a rotation crop, are planted in crop residue in a no-till field.

“The series of four videos chronicles not only the history of advances in soil health management in San Joaquin Valley cotton systems, but also some major progress that stems from both long-term research and very recent farmer and private sector innovation with new production paradigms,” Mitchell said.

“San Joaquin Valley farmers have done some really impressive work in recent years to improve the ways that they care for the soil in their fields,” Mitchell said.

To improve soil health, growers try to minimize soil disturbance, enhance biological diversity, keep living roots in the soil and cover the soil with plants and plant residue. They experimented with no tillage and cover crops. Researchers found that cotton fields using no tillage and cover crops achieved a higher soil aggregate stability score than standard tillage with or without a cover crop and no till without a cover crop. In no-till fields with cover crops, water infiltrated the soil in seconds rather than minutes.

Cover crops were typically planted by Nov. 15 and terminated around March 15.

The soil health videos range in length from 10 minutes to 21 minutes.

The history video traces important contributors and breakthroughs during the 100-plus years that cotton has been grown in California. 

The second video features progress at improving soil health made by Cary Crum, formerly of California Ag Solutions of Madera now with Agritechnovation, Inc., and cotton farmers he works with in the San Joaquin Valley.  

The third video chronicles the goals and findings of the unique 22-year soil research study that has been underway in Five Points as one of the Soil Health Institute's national program of long-term North American soil health study sites. It shows what is possible when the core soil health principles are implemented consistently in the region. 

The fourth video on the importance of soil aggregate stability shows how attention to the dedicated soil health management principles can improve soil structure and overall production efficiency. 

One important lesson from the study is that growers must be patient, improvements in the soil occur gradually.

“We did not see changes in many soil health properties or indicators during the first eight or actually 10 years of our study,” Mitchell said.

Establishing a vigorous cotton stand after planting was important to the success of no-till farming.

Videos on soil health in California cotton fields:

Soil health management systems for California cotton: A brief history

Recent advances in soil health management in California cotton production systems

Local research base for soil health management in California cotton production systems

Regenerating soil aggregate stability in California cotton production systems


Posted on Thursday, March 10, 2022 at 11:09 AM
Tags: Cotton (0), Jeff Mitchell (0), soil health (0)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Natural Resources

Can Calcium Fertilizers Improve Soil Health or Crop Production in Alfalfa?

DIAGNOSING A FIELD PROBLEM Can applications of Calcium (Ca) fertilizers improve plant nutrient uptake or improve soil properties in alfalfa...

Posted on Tuesday, January 11, 2022 at 7:18 PM
Tags: alfalfa (0), soil health (0)

Adjusting soil pH in California gardens

Soil acidity is an important factor for gardeners to consider when placing ornamental and edible plants in landscapes and vegetable gardens. It is possible to add amendments to the soil to adjust pH, but according to Dustin Blakey, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Inyo and Mono counties, it's not always the best course of action.

“It is generally best to work with the soil you have, rather than try to attain the soil you wish for,” Blakey said.

Blakey wrote a six-page publication, “Adjusting Soil pH in California Gardens,” which is available for free download from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources catalog.

In the new publication, Blakey describes how to quantify acidity, measure soil Ph, increase acidity and reduce acidity. Readers will also find typical desirable soil pH range for select garden plants, including fruit, nut and citrus trees, blueberries, avocados, azaleas, vegetables and lawns.

Download the full publication here:

'It is generally best to work with the soil you have, rather than try to attain the soil you wish for,' according to Dustin Blakey, author of new publication on adjusting soil pH. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)
Posted on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 at 8:51 AM
Tags: Dustin Blakey (2), gardening (45), pH (1), soil (23)
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Scientists to see whether chickens boost soil health, increase profits on organic vegetable farms

Historically, chickens were not a rare sight on farms, where they contributed to soil fertility as they freely pecked and scratched around vegetable gardens and crop land. Now, UC Cooperative Extension specialists have launched a research project to quantify the potential for chickens to be part of safe and sustainable commercial organic vegetable production. 

“It's not a new idea. A lot of farmers are trying this kind of thing,” said UC Davis International Agriculture and Development graduate student Faye Duan, the project coordinator. “But there is currently little scientific information for using chickens on a bigger scale, especially in terms of food safety concerns.”

The California trial is part of a national effort to diversify organic vegetable farms with chickens. Last year, the USDA-funded study was launched by Iowa State University horticulture professor Ajay Nair. The project also includes UC Cooperative Extension specialists Maurice Pitesky and Jeff Mitchell, based at UC Davis, and University of Kentucky entomology professor David Gonthier.

Leaders of the California project are, left to right, Jeff Mitchell, Faye Duan and Maurice Pitesky.

In the trials, chickens are introduced as part of a rotation that includes cover crops and a variety of vegetable crops. In California, chickens were placed on research plots in April following a winter cover crop of vetch, peas, fava beans and oat grass.

“We don't let the chickens run around the field,” Duan said. “We keep them inside of chicken tractors to protect them from predators.”

Twenty-nine birds live in each 50-square-foot tractor, essentially a floorless chicken coop on wheels. The tractors, built by UC Davis students Mallory Phillips and Trevor Krivens, are wood frames covered with mesh and plywood. Each day, the tractors are moved to a different part of the plot, where the birds can graze on cover crop residue and deposit manure. Adjusting to the daily move took time, Duan said.

“The first day, the chickens were confused. We had to go slowly. It's a learning process for the chickens and us,” she said. “But now, the chickens are excited to move to a new spot where they have fresh food to graze on.”

Tractors made by UC Davis students give chickens access to the cover crops and keep them safe from predators.

After 24 days on pasture, the chickens will be removed, and become part of the project's meat study.

“We have broiler chickens that are raised for meat,” Duan said. “Some people believe chickens that graze and eat grass taste better and are more nutritious. It will be part of the study to look at the chicken's meat quality.”

Once the chickens have done their part on the research plots, vegetables are planted amid the leftover cover crop residue and chicken manure. This summer, the experiment in California will grow processing tomatoes. Subsequently, melons, eggplant, spinach and broccoli will be part of the vegetable rotation in California or the other states involved in the project. Other replications of the trial will have the chickens immediately follow the vegetable harvest so they can graze on the crop leftovers before the cover crop is planted. Comparing the soil health, fertilizer needs, chicken quality and other factors will help the scientists optimize the rotation.

“Vegetable yield will be an important indicator of success,” Duan said.

Soil samples will be tested to determine the presence or absence of Salmonella bacteria after the chickens have been removed, said Pitesky, a poultry specialist and a project lead. Salmonella is a bacterium that can be part of poultry's microbiome. If the bacteria contaminates human food, it can cause illness. 

“Since Salmonella lives in the chicken gastrointestinal system, when it gets into the soil, it will eventually be out-competed by bacteria more adapted to soil than the gut of a chicken,” Pitesky said. “There are many different types of Salmonella, and only a select few found in birds are the ones that are harmful to humans. Nevertheless, it is very important to test and use various practices to mitigate the presence of Salmonella on land that will be used for crop production following poultry.” 

Early results of soil tests in Iowa and Kentucky detected Salmonella in the soil where chickens grazed, however, the bacteria disappeared very quickly.


Chickens perch and graze inside the tractor on a UC Davis research plot.
Posted on Friday, April 16, 2021 at 9:01 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

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