Measure Garden-Soil Compaction With a Carrot Test

| 11/23/2015 9:37:00 AM

Tags: sustainable agriculture, soil, Virginia, Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton,

Carrot shapes

Carrot shapes are influenced by soil texture.

As you pull carrots out of your garden this fall, you can use the roots to get an idea about your soil's quality. You might have already noticed the differences in shape between carrots grown in different parts of your garden in year past. For example, did you ever dig up a bed of carrots and find that all of the roots had split and twisted into a jumbled mess? Sometimes, carrots curl around each other because you didn't thin the crop sufficiently. But splitting, gnarled carrots that aren't closely intertwined are generally a sign that your soil is either compacted or is full of pebbles and rocks.

Soil compaction

Compacted soil (on the right) lacks both the small and the large pores that allow roots, rain, and air to move efficiently through the earth. Often, a hardpan layer (darker brown in the drawing, but not distinguished by color in actual soil) develops just beneath the level that a plow or rototiller can reach.

What do I mean by compacted soil? Even though the earth seems solid when we're striding across it, as soon as you start peering closely at the dirt, you'll notice lots of air spaces between the grains. Unfortunately, it's relatively easy to mash your soil down so those air spaces disappear, a process known as compaction.

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