Measuring Topsoil Quality

topsoilAre you planning for a beautiful garden around your house? Then your primary requirement is good quality topsoil. Topsoil is the upper most layer of the earth crust which is bit darker in color and contains all the essential nutrients for plants. Topsoil covers the entire earth surface but varies in quality. If you want healthy, beautiful plants in your garden then good quality topsoil is a major necessity. If you want to buy good quality topsoil for your garden then you can order it. There are many topsoil suppliers who can fulfill your topsoil requirement. However, buying topsoil can be very costly over time, so a good portable topsoil screener is a great investment if you’re a serious gardener. But before ordering topsoil or buying a topsoil screener, you need to know few things about topsoil and how to measure the quality of topsoil.

These factors can help you easily measure the quality of topsoil:

Texture: The topsoil is made up of small proportion of sand, slit, loam and clay particles. The quality of topsoil depends upon its good texture.  Good quality topsoil contains all kind of soil particles. These particles affect the water holding capacity of topsoil which ultimately leads to the availability of water to the plants. Good texture topsoil can hold high amount of water in it and this water will be available to plant for their growth. So the ideal topsoil should have proportion of sand, clay and loam.

Water Content: Good quality topsoil can retain appropriate amount of water. Topsoil should contain good amount of moisture in it. If soil has moisture in it then it is good for the growth of the plant. If the soil is dry then it can cause the dryness of the plant also.

PH Factor: Topsoil is generally acidic in nature. The PH value of soil varies from 3.38 to 7.55.The quality topsoil should have the PH value varies from 6.0 to 6.5. The topsoil which is very acidic is not considered as good because plant doesn’t grow properly in the acidic or alkaline topsoil.

Humus: humus the main content of the topsoil that is related to the fertility of top soil. The topsoil has high humus is more fertile. The fertility can be check on the basis of color of topsoil. If the soil is dark in color then it contain humus in it and is more fertile. If it is light in color then it doesn’t contain humus in it.

Nutrients: Topsoil should contain all the essential nutrients in it. The primary nutrients that should be present for plant growth are: Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. These should be present in the soil content to promote the better growth of plants.

These are all factors that can help you evaluate the quality of your topsoil and help you easily figure out which type of topsoil best suites your gardening needs.

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The Price of ‘Made in China’

HERE is a symbol of China’s assault on the American economy: the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island. This landmark, which opened in 1964, is North America’s longest suspension bridge. It’s also in urgent need of renovation. Unfortunately, $34 million in steel production and fabrication work has been outsourced to China.

How did this happen? The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says a Chinese fabricator was picked because the two American companies approached for the project lacked the manufacturing space, special equipment and financial capacity to do the job. But the United Steelworkers claims it quickly found two other American bridge fabricators, within 100 miles of New York City, that could do the job.

The real problem with this deal is that it doesn’t take into account all of the additional costs that buying “Made in China” brings to the American table. In fact, this failure to consider all costs is the same problem we as consumers face every time we choose a Chinese-made product on price alone — a price that is invariably cheaper.

Consider the safety issue: a scary one, indeed, because China has a very well-deserved reputation for producing inferior and often dangerous products. Such products are as diverse as lead-filled toys, sulfurous drywall, pet food spiked with melamine and heparin tainted with oversulfated chondroitin sulfate.

In the specific case of bridges, six have collapsed across China since July 2011. The official Xinhua news agency has acknowledged that shoddy construction and inferior building materials were contributing factors. There is also a cautionary tale much closer to home.

When California bought Chinese steel to renovate and expand the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, for a project that began in 2002, problems like faulty welds by a Chinese steel fabricator delayed the project for months and led to huge cost overruns. Those delays eroded much of the savings California was banking on when it opted for the “cheap” Chinese steel.

There is a second reason not to buy “Made in China” products: jobs. The abiding fact is that steel production is heavily subsidized by the Chinese government. These subsidies range from the massive benefits of a manipulated and undervalued currency to the underwriting of the costs of energy, land, loans and water.

Because of China’s subsidies — most of which are arguably illegal under international trade agreements — its producers are able to dump steel products into America at or below the actual cost of production. This problem is particularly acute now as China is saddled with massive overcapacity in its steel industry.

Of course, every job China gains by dumping steel into American markets is an American job lost. Each steelworker’s job in America generates additional jobs in the economy, along with increased tax revenues. With over 20 million Americans now unable to find decent work, we could certainly use those jobs as we repair the Verrazano Bridge.

The M.T.A. has ignored not only the social costs but also the broader impact on the environment and human rights. Chinese steel plants emit significantly more pollution and greenhouse gases per ton of steel produced than plants in the United States. This not only contributes to global warming but also has a direct negative impact on American soil, since an increasing amount of China’s pollution is crossing the Pacific Ocean on the jet stream.

Finally, when American companies and government agencies opt for Chinese over American steel, they are tacitly supporting an authoritarian regime that prohibits independent labor unions from organizing — one of many grim ironies in today’s People’s Republic. As a result, American workers are forced to compete against Chinese workers who regularly work 12-hour days, six or seven days a week, without adequate safety gear. Both Chinese and American steelworkers wind up as victims.

The bottom line here is this: Buying “Made in China” — whether steel for our bridges or dolls for our children — entails large costs that most consumers and, sadly, even our leaders don’t consider when making purchases. This is hurting our country — and killing our economy.

Peter Navarro, a professor of economics and public policy in the business school at the University of California, Irvine, directed the documentary film “Death by China.”

SOURCE: The New York Times

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The lowdown on topsoil: It’s disappearing Pt.2

“Erosion rates have improved here, but that doesn’t mean they’re good,” Reganold said. Topsoil clearly is still being stripped off faster than it can be regenerated, he said.

Aeschliman, the Palouse farmer, a stocky and energetic man who doesn’t seem to notice that he’s in his 60s, stood on a dirt road looking at the difference between his land and that of a neighbor. Because most neighbors are relatives, he did not provide any names here.

“Just look at that!” he bellowed, pointing to a series of water-carved cracks and gouges running down a recently tilled field of wheat. Every year, he said, these fields are tilled and the rains come, washing the soil down into the road so deep the county routinely has to dig it out. The rest of the soil runs off to the Snake River and, eventually, to the Pacific.

“Here, look at this stuff,” Aeschliman said as he held up a handful of the fine brown silt that had eroded off his neighbor’s (cousin’s) hillside. “Now, look over here.”

He walked across the road to his no-till wheat field. Unlike the rolling hills of loose dirt on the tilled field, Aeschliman’s field looks more like a shag rug, with its rows of dead wheat stubble. He reached down into the dirt and pulled out a coarsely textured, much darker clump of dirt, roots and debris.

“This soil is full of worms, bacteria and all sorts of life,” Aeschliman said. “And it stays put. That stuff over there (waving his thick hand back behind him) is just powder, brown dust. It’s dead. There’s no worms, no life in it.”

Thirty years ago, Aeschliman was one of the first in the Palouse to grow his grains using no-till farming methods. He’s an ardent no-till proselytizer today, but he didn’t abandon tilling the fields based on some organic epiphany or desire to save the world.

“I just got tired of all the mud,” Aeschliman said. The family home, built in the 1880s, sits at the base of a long drainage off the rolling wheat fields. Every spring, with the tilling and the rain, his home would be a foot deep in muddy runoff.

No-till farming could do a lot to reduce topsoil erosion, Reganold said, but it’s not without its downsides. Switching to no-till farming requires heavy upfront investment and learning new techniques, he said, and also tends to depend more on herbicides because the weeds are no longer controllable by plowing them into the soil.

Organic farming methods also can reduce soil loss, Reganold said. He cited his own research, which has shown a marked increase in soil health, water retention and regrowth when organic methods are used rather than the traditional methods.

A regional association of farmers and other proponents of no-till agriculture, also known as direct-seed farming, is holding its annual meeting in Kennewick next week. Aeschliman is one of the founders of the organization, the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association, and is happy to see that no-till farming is growing in popularity.

“It’s both good for the soil and good for your pocketbook,” he said.

SOURCE: Seattle PI

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The lowdown on topsoil: It’s disappearing Pt.1

The planet is getting skinned!

While many worry about the potential consequences of atmospheric warming, a few experts are trying to call attention to another global crisis quietly taking place under our feet.

Call it the thin brown line. Dirt. On average, the planet is covered with little more than 3 feet of topsoil — the shallow skin of nutrient-rich matter that sustains most of our food and appears to play a critical role in supporting life on Earth.

“We’re losing more and more of it every day,” said David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington. “The estimate is that we are now losing about 1 percent of our topsoil every year to erosion, most of this caused by agriculture.”

“It’s just crazy,” fumed John Aeschliman, a fifth-generation farmer who grows wheat and other grains on the Palouse near the tiny town of Almota, just west of Pullman.

“We’re tearing up the soil and watching tons of it wash away every year,” Aeschliman said. He’s one of a growing number of farmers trying to persuade others to adopt “no-till” methods, which involve not tilling the land between plantings, leaving crop stubble to reduce erosion and planting new seeds between the stubble rows.

Montgomery has written a popular book, “Dirt,” to call public attention to what he believes is a neglected environmental catastrophe. A geomorphologist who studies how landscapes form, Montgomery describes modern agricultural practices as “soil mining” to emphasize that we are rapidly outstripping the Earth’s natural rate of restoring topsoil.

“Globally, it’s clear we are eroding soils at a rate much faster than they can form,” said John Reganold, a soils scientist at Washington State University. “It’s hard to get people to pay much attention to this because, frankly, most of us take soil for granted.”

The National Academy of Sciences has determined that cropland in the U.S. is being eroded at least 10 times faster than the time it takes for lost soil to be replaced.

The United Nations has warned of worldwide soil degradation — especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where soil loss has contributed to the rapidly increasing number of malnourished people.

Healthy topsoil is a biological matrix, a housing complex for an incredibly diverse community of organisms — billions of beneficial microbes per handful, nitrogen-fixing fungi, nutrients and earthworms whose digestive tracts transform the fine grains of sterile rock and plant detritus into the fertile excrement that gave rise to the word itself (“drit,” in Old Norse).

As such, true living topsoil cannot be made overnight, Montgomery emphasized. Topsoil grows back at a rate of an inch or two over hundreds of years. Very slowly.

“Globally, it’s pretty clear we’re running out of dirt,” Montgomery said.

Ron Myhrum, state soil scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s office in Spokane, agreed that global soil loss is a huge problem. But Myhrum said erosion rates in the Northwest region have improved recently because of better conservation farming practices, including federal payments to farmers to leave some natural ground cover in highly erodible areas.

“We don’t have the kind of dust storms here we used to have,” Myhrum said. “What’s more alarming to me than erosion is conversion of farmland to urban use.”

That is indeed another way to lose soil — paving it over. Judy Herring, manager of King County’s farmland preservation program, said the county has lost 60 percent of its farmland since the 1960s. In 1979, Herring said, voters approved a bond program that buys back farmland to protect it from development (and has done this for 13,200 acres so far).

But while some land is lost to development, pollution or changing weather patterns, Montgomery, Reganold and others say global soil loss is a crisis mostly rooted in agriculture.

SOURCE: Seattle PI

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