John & Susan Merrell
41390 Hwy 226
Scio, OR 97374
503-551-7219 (cell)
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Soil Management

Soil management for the small farm will lead to increased productivity, whether one is raising livestock or raising crops. The soil is the soul of a farm, and proper management will decrease costs and labor while increasing profit. Proper soil management will maximaze forage or crop production while containing costs assoctiated with irrigation, fertilization and seeding.


Types of soil on the farm

It is important to know your soil. Soils vary widely, even across a backyard. The type of soil will influence:

  • Type and quantity of grass/crops/trees that the land can produce
  • How easily the soil might erode
  • If the soil will filter human and animal wastes before they reach ground water
  • How often irrigation is needed
  • How much fertilizer is needed
  • Possible problems with building foundations
  • Whether the area is a wetland

Soil type will greatly influence a soil's drainage, nutrient holding capacity and irrigation needs. Soil types include sand, silt, clay and loam.

Sand is the largest particle in the soil. When you rub it, it feels rough. This is because it has sharp edges. Sand doesn't hold many nutrients.

Silt is a soil particle whose size is between sand and clay. Silt feels smooth and powdery. When wet it feels smooth but not sticky.

Clay is the smallest of particles. Clay is smooth when dry and sticky when wet. Soils high in clay content are called heavy soils. Clay also can hold a lot of nutrients, but doesn't let air and water through it well.

Loam is a combination of all three.

The type of soil can be judged by feel. The fertility of soil must be determined by testing. Contact your local extension agent to determine sources for conducting soil testing.

Ground Cover and Weed Control

Assess your property with this brief quiz:

How much of these do you have on your property?
  1 2 3
Healthy ground cover (forest, shrubs, grass, or crop land) A lot Some A little
Weeds or plants that hold the soil Poorly (dandelion, knapweed, thistle) A little Some A lot
Bare or muddy ground A little Some A lot

If all of your answers are in the first column, your land earns an "A" for health. If most of your answers are in the second column, it is in average condition. If any answers are in the third column, your land needs immediate help!

Weed Control

Weeds spread fast, so regularly look for new weed patches on your property. Act immediately to treat them by using one or more of the weed control practices listed below. Team up with neighbors to increase effectiveness. Remember, weed control by itself is not enough. It is also necessary to modify the practices that caused weeds to become established in the first place. (The old saying states it well, "One year's weeds, ten years seeds.)

Prevention. Good land management will help keep desirable vegetation healthy and weeds under control. Avoid over-grazing that leaves bare spots for weeds. Buy weed free hay. Plant certified seed. Wash your vehicles after being in a weed-infested area. Monitor your property and respond quickly to any new weed infestations.

Biological. Biological control attempts to find something in nature that can weaken or eventually kill a weed plant. Successful bio-agents include certain fungi and insects that weaken weeds by attacking seed heads and other plant parts.

Mechanical. Mow weeds annually before they go to seed. Pull small weed patches and weeds near streams by hand. Another effective non-chemical technique is to cover weed or briar patches with tarpaulins until they die, although it is necessary to reseed the bare ground that this produces in order to keep weeds from reestablishing themselves.

Livestock Grazing. Graze weeds before they go to seed using sheep, goats or cattle. Because livestock and wildlife can easily carry and spread weed seed on their coats or in their feces, avoid moving livestock from a weedy area to a weed-free area. Some weed species, if eaten, will make livestock sick!

Chemical Herbicides. Chemicals should be the last choice for weed control. Herbicides can be effective when properly applied, but safety is questioned by many. Read label instructions carefully and follow directions. Use chemicals away from water to avoid harming you, your animals or wildlife, and to prevent pollution of streams and ground water. Only certified pesticide applicators can use restricted herbicides. Call a local farm supply store to find out about hiring custom chemical applicators to spray your weeds. Be sure herbicides will not reach and kill desirable trees and shrubs. Dispose of leftover chemicals at hazardous waste facilities.  Also, be sure to keep livestock away from sprayed areas long enough to insure that the chemicals have dissipated to safe levels.

Know Your Weeds

Noxious weeds are aggressive and competitive. They steal moisture, nutrients and sunlight from other plants. They should be removed immediately, before they:

  • Choke out desirable forage for livestock and wildlife
  • Reduce the productivity of your pasture and land
  • Cause water pollution and soil erosion because they're less effective at holding the soil
  • Spread rapidly.

Know your weeds. Many internet resources are available. In the Pacific Northwest, a good source is this site. It is particularly important to be sure that poisonous plant species do not get established in forage areas.

Soil Management Assistance

For help contact your county weed control district, extension service, or State Department of Agriculture noxious weed program to find out the noxious weeds in your local area and how to best control them. For information about your soil type, refer to your county's soil survey available from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). You can contact your local office by looking for it in the phone book's blue pages under federal government.

Alpaca Sales

"But it was all there was in sight; and somehow I thought Doc Millikin had something up his old alpaca sleeve that wasn't all foolishness..."

- O. Henry
The Gentle Grafter
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