Welcome to the eleventh instalment of our Know your Soils series sharing practical tips for monitoring the soil health on your land. Keep an eye out for our bitesize videos and fact sheets on simple tests you can do yourself on farm.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
How to visually assess your soil structure
Short video created by the Sectormentor For Soils Team
Assess the quality of your soil structure for yourself with a spade, tray, ruler and smartphone. Soil structure shows how much biological activity is happening, how well water can infiltrate downwards and how well plants are being nourished. It is core to soil health!
It takes some practise! This short video will show you what to expect:
Scoring your soil sample with the VESS chart
Once you have measured the top and bottom depths of your sample, you need to score each one using the VESS chart.
When scoring your sample the VESS guidelines encourage you to ask yourself: Are the clumps angular? Do they have roots running through them? How easy is it to break them down? How porous are they? With gentle pressure breaking them down what size are most of the clumps?
We found many farmers find these questions quite difficult. In the video we simplify the process: it is easiest to observe what soil looks like when you break it apart during the test. If the pieces are mainly angular then give a score of 3-5 and if they are mainly ‘bobbly’ or crumb-like give a of score 1-2. Don’t understand what we mean by ‘bobbly’? Watch the video and you will see! The app helps you with the scoring when you are out in the field too.
What does a healthy soil look like?
Well aggregated soil gets first prize in the VESS test! This means that the soil particles are in a crumb structure: there are smaller particles holding together around plant roots.
Soil is aggregated by biological activity; microbes and soil organisms digest organic matter and glue the soil particles together.
Aggregated soil is good because it allows air and water to percolate and store between the particles, which fosters plant growth and supports all soil flora and fauna to thrive.
Soil may lose it’s aggregation structure due to compaction or a lack of biological activity. If you work on improving your soil with the 6 soil health principles you can regenerate it, restoring it’s life and aggregation.