Cover Crops in Low Rainfall Wheat Fallow Regions of Eastern Washington

Following a National Forum on Cover Crops and Soil Health, producers became interested in conducting on-farm demonstrations to improve soil health through cover crops.

Continue reading “Cover Crops in Low Rainfall Wheat Fallow Regions of Eastern Washington”

Washington State Soil Health Committee Grant Recipient Presents at Cropping Conference

One of the 2017 Washington State Soil Health Committee grant recipients presented at the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association’s 2018 Cropping Systems Conference Program in Kennewick, WA.

The Palouse Rock Lake Conservation District received a grant to purchase four, 48 inch AquaSpy Soil Probes. Additionally, they purchased a two-year subscription for a cloud storage service. The probes will upload data every 15 minutes via a solar powered on-site apparatus.
The purpose of the grant was to document measured changes in soil moisture, temperature and conductivity every four inches to a soil depth of 48 inches. This will be during a fallow season and after wheat winter was planted in the follow in the fall.
The equipment will document changes through the harvest of 2018.

Tardigrade Are Soil Stars that Can Survive in Space

This interesting article mentions one of the soil stars, the Tardigrade, which has survived space travel. In fact, 68% Tardigrade came back to Earth alive after being launched into space without spacesuits!
Here is the excerpt about them from the article on alien microbes:
“Little, if anything, is (publicly) known yet about the actual characteristics of the “alien” bacteria. The fact that they were found on the outside of the ISS, in low-Earth orbit, is intriguing, but nothing conclusive can be said until it can be determined they didn’t originate from Earth itself. There are many different kinds of microorganisms on Earth, and it is possible that some could get lofted into low-Earth orbit. They are already known to exist in the upper atmosphere and it’s also known that at least one type of microorganism can survive in space itself for some periods of time – tardigrades (water bears). In 2007, some living tardigrades were sent into space on the outside of a FOTON-M3 rocket for ten days by European researchers. 68 percent of them survived the trip, including coming back to Earth. Perhaps there are some other tiny earthly bugs which could do that as well.”
Read the full article from EarthSky here.

Washington State Soil Health Project Reports 2017

These are the first reports for the eight new contracts for 2017-2020 and for the continuation in 2017 of the first round of projects, which received additional funding. The results are encouraging and, in some cases, fascinating. By demonstrating positive outcomes, these results will promote better soil practices in our state.

Palouse Rock Lake Conservation District:
A new project to measure and compare moisture retention in cover crop fallow and direct seed fallow.

This study is a home run. By comparing moisture retention every four inches up to 48” in side by side cover crop fallow and direct seed fallow, the study has these results so far:

  1. No net loss of moisture in cover crop fallow as compared to direct seed fallow
  2. Decrease in soil temperature in cover crop fallow, which benefits soil organisms
  3. Suppression of weeds without herbicides
  4. Reduction of soil compaction, which enhances moisture absorption and retention
  5. Reduction in soil erosion
  6. Early signs of possible increase in yield

San Juan Conservation District:
Continuation of biochar project begun in 2016. Following up on the original six-farm test plots, in which biochar was added to soil, the yield will be evaluated in the spring of 2018. In addition to the test plots, biochar kilns were designed and provided to forest landowners on each of the four ferry-served islands. Workshops were offered on each island to demonstrate how to make biochar from forest waste. Online instructions are available for making biochar at home.

Biochar was added as an alternative to the slash burns in the County’s draft Solid Waste Management Plan.

The San Juan CD also starts a new three-year project to introduce no till-direct seed practices to the county, including use of cover crops to improve soil health and limit use of chemicals.

Underwood Conservation District:
Completion of original 2015-2016 project to monitor soil moisture in test plots in an orchard, using a control plot, a plot with compost, and a plot with compost and mulch

Results so far show no significant difference in moisture. We are waiting to hear if there is any difference in productivity (yield). We have questions about the 2017 workshop: how may attended, who were the presenters, and what did they present?

Washington Environmental Council:
Continuation of Nisqually Community Forest project which aims to create a template for sustainable forest practices in Pacific Northwest forests.

  1. The project has linked sustainable forest practices with improvements in both water quality and quantity
  2. DOE’s Clean Water Revolving fund was changed to allow sustainable forest projects including forest land purchases
  3. First certified Carbon Project with 520 acres saved from clear-cutting with Microsoft buying the carbon credits
  4. Set up protocol and step-by-step process for creating and selling carbon credits to offset the cost of land purchases
  5. Demonstrating that by growing trees longer, e., longer harvest rotations, the forest is more resilient and stores more carbon over time; older forests also provide better wildlife habitat

    Whitman Conservation District:
    Experiments with various cover crops in the Palouse to identify those best for fall and for spring and to determine whether pelletized compost adds extra yield or other ecological benefits. This will be evaluated in the spring of 2018.

Washington State University: Soil Health Field Day
Soil Health Field Day in Davenport at the experimental farm. Well attended with dozens of farmers and conservationists. Highlighted soil differences between no-till and conventional test plots.

Washington State University:
First year of three-year study of soil characteristics in irrigated agriculture in Eastern Washington.

  1. 60 soil samples were studied from 30 growers to establish a baseline.
  2. Some of the results were surprising, for example, that the amount of soil fines was inexplicably low in many sites.
  3. Several “exemplary soils” were discovered, which were also surprising. More research will be done to discover the secret of those exemplary soils
  4. This study includes a process of evaluating which soil health measurements are of value, and which are not.

Everything Soil Workshop at the Wilke WSU Research Farm

It was so exciting to see such a nice turnout for the “Everything Soil” workshop at the Wilke WSU Research Farm this June. Attendees and speakers from several different WSU programs explored issues surrounding micronutrients, pH, legumes and even satellite imagery for soil assessment.

Soil Health Quality Cards

The race is on during the National Decade of Soil. The states are racing to find better ways to measure soil health. As the new soil health tests are published by federal, state, and local resource managers, we will share them here.


Oregon Soil Quality Card

Palouse and Nezperce Prairies Soil Quality Card


Georgia Soil Quality Card

Maryland Soil Quality Card

North Dakota Soil Quality Card

New England Soil Quality Card

Ohio Soil Quality Card

Pennsylvania Soil Quality Card

The Secret of Walla Walla Secret Sweet Onions

Walla Walla onions are the official state vegetable of Washington state. But there’s a special secret to these onions’ deliciousness. The reason WallaWalla onions taste amazing is the amazing prime farmland soils in Walla Walla. Some of the richest most fertile soils on the planet grow onions that can actually be eaten raw with a smile. For more info on the growth of Walla Walla sweet onions, take a look at this History Link article.

Kill Slugs Safely, Improving Soil Health


Besides being an excellent natural slug repellent, seaweed is a good soil amendment.

Seaweed repels or kills slugs because it is salty. Mulch it around the perimeter of the area you want to protect, piling it a few inches thick, to create a barrier. It will improve the soil while repelling snails and slugs.

Diatomaceous Earth

Commonly known as Insect Dust, Diatomaceous Earth repels snails and slugs because it is sharp and jagged, made of microscopic skeletal remains. You can sprinkle it on plants, around the plant bed as a barrier, or make a spray with it. Mix it with water to spray on plant leaf surfaces. Experiment to see how it works best with the snail and slugs in your garden. Diatomaceous Earth is an excellent soil amendment, giving the soil microscopic spaces for air circulation, for improved water retention, and for microbial habitat.

Healthy Soil, Healthy Wine

One of the current “best practices” for the wine industry is biodynamic viticulture, as successfully practiced in Oregon and for many decades, if not centuries, in Europe. Wines grown with biodynamic practices have “brightness and a purity of place.” Terroir is the word, something with a lot of cache these days.

At Bergstrom Wines in Newborn, Oregon, Josh Bergstrom, the winemaker, studied viticulture in Burgundy, France. He found that the best producers had biodynamics in common, so he adopted biodynamics in his family’s estate vineyards.  This means no synthetic chemicals or fertiziers. It focuses on building soil health and adding animal and plant biodiversity. The wine produced by Bergstrom has no residual insecticides or pesticides, plus tasting “bright” and earthy, with its natural terroir due to grapes grown in living soils rather than chemically altered or degraded soils.

In September 2016, Oregon’s King Estate Winery became the largest biodynamic vineyard in the United States, as certified by Demeter USA. Demeter USA is the world’s only certifier of biodynamic farms and products.

Check out the full article in Alaska Beyond, the onboard mag from Alaska Airlines, page 73 of the April 2017 issue: “Ecology Meets Enology” by Kerry Newberry.