Which Conserves Soil And Water?

Welcome to Plant Exchange Blog. We’re about plants of the USDA Zone 4 and 5 and the people who grow them on the Northern Plains. Today’s topic is fundamental to our plants. Thanks to Yankton Press & Dakotan newspaper that published this information.

We’ve had rain lately in this region, but locally we are still in three-year sub soil recovery from the latest severe drought. California aesthetic and some industry are tied to water and soil conservation.

As gardener caretakers of our own plots on Earth, some choices we make about our plants and watering are better than others. Jeff Hemenway of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Huron demonstrates water and soil conservation with a rain simulator. His message is usually directed to farmland and rangeland, but better practices can start with one house lot or small space landowner at a time.

Hemenway and his colleague Mark Brannan from the Yankton NRCS showed how soils responded to 1½ inches of rain. They demonstrated the rain simulator with a rotating wand attached to a hose and water source that distributed water over 3 samples of clay loam soil. A rain gauge showed the amount of water distributed. Over 400 youth from high schools in the region saw the demonstration in small groups at the Missouri River Watershed Festival held in Yankton this spring.


The left sample below came from a pasture; middle tray soil plug came from a reduced tillage farm field with stubble. Third tray came from a conventional tillage farm field. Jars beneath the trays caught immediate runoff. Three jars were set behind these jars to catch seep in water.

A gardener might liken the left sample to a garden plot that had a cover crop between seasons.

Middle sample might be likened to a garden plot that had initial tilling and less tilling in later years.

Third sample might be likened to a traditional garden plot tilled once or more a season.IMG_4714

According to the rain gauge, 1 1/2 inches of water was applied to the trays with a rotating wand as rainfall simulator. Pasture sample jars had least soil runoff. Color of water is lighter than other jars and more water that seeped through the soil. Hemenway explained that healthy soil is not homogeneous. Healthy soil contains fungi, bacteria, and other soil organisms, organic matter, soil particles held together in clumps, and air spaces for oxygen and water. Healthy soil appears like the soil where earthworms are found in abundance.


To show how the water penetrated the soil, Hemenway flipped over the reduced tillage tray on the left and the conventional tillage tray on the right. Soil runoff jars were placed by the inverted samples. More of the simulated rain seeped into the reduced tillage sample and less soil and water (and nutrients) ran off. Soil was not wet on bottom of the conventional soil tray but soil and water were collected in the runoff jar. It appears that frequent tilling does not let more water soak in. Gardening practices may conserve natural resources of soil and water one garden at a time.


Want to see a video or read more about soil and water conservation? To see a video soil erosion demonstration, web search “Rainfall Simulator NRCS South Dakota”. See a tabletop demonstration by Jeff Hemenway and a range demonstration by Stan Boltz. “Garden Soil: It’s Not Just Dirt” is an article by Dr. Rhoda Burrows at South Dakota Extension website: www.Igrow.org To find soil survey data for your location, go tohttp://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/ or http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/

Thanks for your visit to Plant Exchange. Do visit our weekly blog and see what’s new. Also you will find many other categories of what gardeners and plant professionals say about plants in our region. Join us, “Like” us, or find the ease of “Followers” who receive notice of each new post.

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