Monday, March 26, 2012

The Good the Bad and the Muddy


Soil Judging… the trials and tribulations, the power and the glory, the fire and the fury etc…. For those of you who don’t know what soil judging is and have images of sandboxes floating through your head…you’re sort of on track except for all the tramping around, relieving ourselves in the woods, and you know, science. 
So far, some of our biggest challenges have been finding the soil pits amongst the winding and notably unlabeled West Virginia hill roads (that’s right, supposedly these are hills and not mountains according to our official score cards). Once we manage to locate the practice sites, we have the task (not for the faint of heart) of determining what’s going on with that C possibly Cr or even R layer. For non-soils (that’s your designation now if you don’t do soil science) that refers to what’s at the bottom of that wall of soil possibly getting towards the bedrock or parent material (the stuff that dirt is made from). West Virginia has some seriously flat rocks, the smaller known as channery and the larger known as flaggy. Some are soft, some are hard or anything else in between. Our job is to determine what the rocks are and what percent of the soil horizon (layer) they make up (cobbly? flaggy? channery? very channery?). Much of the stone around here is so soft you can dig it up and texture it (texturing is when we make a ball of soil, squish it around a lot, and say, “hmmm…I think this has 31% clay, and yet it feels so smooth…I think it is a silty clay loam.”). The soft rock makes it difficult to determine where the rock ends and the soil starts. This is also our first time texturing kaolinitic clay (this stuff doesn’t shrink and swell like the smectitic clays in our region). You could throw pots or make bricks with this stuff. Disagreements over clay percentages have riled even the unflappable among us.
Another challenge has been the unfortunately chilly and WINDY weather. The weather channel deceived us, so after today’s gloomy session with five practice pits at an organic blueberry farm we made several crucial stops, (the first was a liquor store) the second was Target to buy much-needed gloves, scarves and extra hoodies (we are expecting 27 degrees F tomorrow morning!). We were fortunate enough to score some hand warmers on clearance at a Walgreens.
There have been some great times like finding a vegetarian-friendly amazing Kenyan restaurant tonight (I even ordered another dish to go), hanging with the team, meeting new soils like Ultisols, and learning from our wise and all-knowing potentate Terry Cooper. Those of you who know me know that there is nothing quite like soil judging bliss…the competition, the learning, the science, the great outdoors, and the skipping a week of classes ;)

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