To understand soils is to understand our landscape – the distribution of natural vegetation, crops and human settlement patterns, and related drainage patterns. Soils reflect the environments in which they develop. Different environments produce soils with different properties. The Homer District uses soil information as the starting point to understand resource related issues we are addressing in many of our projects.
Soil testing is a fundamental step to building long term soil heath by providing the basic information about nutrient levels in your soil so as to provide nutrient management requirements. The quantity of available nutrients in the sample determines the amount of fertilizer that is recommended. A soil test will also measures soil pH, organic matter, and total exchange capacity.
The Homer District will take soil samples that are dropped off at our office and send the off to be tested by Brookside Labs. We are than able to take the soil report from the laboratory and create a specific recommendation to suite your growing needs. This service is available for individuals seeking nutrient recommendations for an array of activities including farms, home gardens, lawns, other landscaping projects, pasture management, or hay production. For more information on why, when, and where to soil test depending on your situation. See Why Soil Test?
The current cost for this service is $32.00 for the first sample, and $20.00 for any additional samples brought in at the same time. Either organic or conventional fertilizer recommendations can be requested.
If you are interesting in processing your soil samples on your own please refer to the Cooperative Extension publication, Factors to Consider in Selecting a Soil Testing Laboratory. All samples should be sent to labs that use the Mehlich-3 extraction, a method effective in extracting available phosphorus from the acidic soils found throughout our area.
In cooperation with NRCS the district recently completed a a soil health study on several farms around the Homer area looking at the impact of cover cropping and reduced tillage in vegetable production.
Many vegetable producers are raising two to three successions of crops in one season, using intensive tillage and management practices. If sustained for a long period, these practices often degrade soil conditions resulting in poor soil health and reduced productivity. This study aimed to introduce new conservation practices into the community of vegetable growers through demonstration. Four established growers in the area volunteered space to be studied for three years and used as a public demostration for other farmers and gardeners to visit.
Cover cropping is a technique used on small and large farms with a tremendous amount of benefits for the soil and vegetation. Maintaining cover crops helps retain moisture in the soil, reduces weed and pest issues, improves nutrition and organic matter in the soil, and much more. Incorporating cover crops into a garden can be very simple and beneficial for any size farm or garden. Cover crops can also greatly reduce farm management by reducing weeding, irrigating, and tillage, as well as reducing costs of organic matter and fertilizer inputs.
Another conservation practice this study will be addressing is reduced tillage, which produces many of the same benefits of cover cropping; retain moisture in the soil, can reduces weed issues, improves organic matter. Additionally reduced tillage helps maintain a good soil structure, the building blocks of your soil. The conservation practices addressed within this soil health study will help maintain good soil health and crop productivity. Homer SWCD and NRCS will be studying the effects of both conservation practices individually and combined within the soil health study.
Read the Homer Soil Health Study Report here.
Your local soil survey, prepared by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, is generally the best source of information about soils on your property and how they can be used (their suitabilities and limitations). Our local soil survey is Soil Survey of Western Kenai Peninsula Area, Alaska, published online in 2005. The manuscript (pdf) of this survey, along with accompanying maps, can be downloaded here. The Western Kenai Peninsula soil survey area was mapped at a scale of 1:25,000.
Additional information about soils and the uses for which they’re suited is available at an interactive online Web site called Web Soil Survey (WSS). The WSS homepage will provide instructions on how to use the survey - or you can review the following tutorial.
Soils of Local Importance is a term is used to describe the mapped soil types that are important to the local community due to their agricultural productivity value. The process of identifying soils of local importance is part of a national effort by the USDA to help identify - and then protect - agricultural land that is at high risk of conversion to non-agricultural uses. Soils of local importance are the lowest tier of a classification system established to capture first Prime Farmlands of the US, unique farmlands, Statewide soils of Importance, and finally Soil of Local Importance. This provides for a systematic way to allow for both States and local governments to identify what is locally important. This is especially important in Alaska where we have no soils that qualify as “prime” or “unique”. Additionally the State of Alaska has not adopted soils of statewide importance – leaving it to the local Districts to act on designating soils that are important. Learn more about soils of local importance, or view a map of the soils the Homer District is currently considering to nominate as locally importance.