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Last week’s Eco Talk featured the second- and third-place essay winners from Conservation Field Days, held at Emerson Park in September. This educational event is open to all local sixth-grade classes and offers a hands-on experience focused on topics related to the environment. Conservation Field Days, organized by the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District, is designed to enhance the student’s classroom instruction.

When the students return to school, they are asked to write and submit an essay based on their favorite 30-minute presentation from a conservation-minded volunteer staffing a station during Conservation Field Days. This week, we are pleased to recognize the first-place winner, Tina Clayton, a student in Mrs. Carbonaro’s class at St. Joseph School, featuring “Soil.”

(Editor’s note: The essay below has been printed as submitted.)

"The Most Important Thing I Learned at Conservation Field Day" by Tina Clayton

The most important thing I learned at Conservation Field Day was about soil. Soil is inclusive of sand, silt, and clay. Clay is the most minuscule (meaning it’s smallest in size), and sand would be the most colossal (meaning it’s the biggest). Because it is the most minuscule, clay can hold the utmost supply of water (meaning it holds the most). Per contra, sand holds the infinitesimal (the least) by reason of the amount of air pockets.

An experiment we concluded was to release sand into a glass pipeline of water. The sand languished in the water because the worm excertion was being washed away. This ends up as pollution.

Another alluring point I learned was how to identify the quantity of clay in soil. If you apply pressure and the soil holds its shape the quantity of clay is higher than soil that does not hold shape. The more clay soil has, the more fertile it is.

Per contra, if soil is wet for a prolonged period of time, it becomes anaerobic. Anaerobic means the soil is lacking or has no oxygen. Soil would presumably become anaerobic on the grounds where waterlogging occurs. Waterlogging presents itself in areas where much rainfall or runoff occurs.

The concluding topic we spoke of was soil ph. Soil ph is a measurement of how much acid or alkaline is in the soil. The scale ranges from 0 to 14 with 7 as neutral. If numbers decrease from 7, soil is more acidic. If numbers increase from 7, soul contains more alkaline. In Auburn, the number is 6.

To conclude my report, soil is important. Without it, no plants would have life (which would then affect every other living creature). By going to Conservation Field Day, I learned all about soil. I hope everyone else did as well!

Congratulations to Tina for submitting the winning essay and for learning and then sharing what she learned about soil!

There is a lot we can do to manage soil in the landscape. Farmers rely on soil in their fields to produce crops, as Tina indicated in her essay. Farmers work hard to keep their fertile soil on the field, using cover crops to protect it from heavy rains and utilize other conservation practices. Additionally, cover crops help improve soil health. For those with gardens in our home landscape, we can utilize mulch to help protect the soil. Should we need to do any major projects that expose soil to the environment, then we need to take protective measures to keep the soil from moving off the location into our waterways.

As we learned in Tina’s essay, soil pH is an important number and measurement when we consider fertilizing soils. Different plants produce better at different soil pHs. The amount of acid or alkalinity in the soil through chemical reactions provides or restricts many important nutrients used by plants. For instance, people with alkaline soils (above 7 pH) can have a difficult time growing hydrangeas unless they use a supplemental fertilizer containing nutrients needed by the plant to produce the big beautiful blue flowers.

To learn more about the type of soil you have and what the soil pH is, consider getting a soil test available through Cornell Cooperative Extension. Once you have the results, a fertilizer recommendation will be given depending on what you checked for plants growing. Also, our master gardener volunteers can help you interpret the results. More information can be found at this Cornell University website:

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Judy Wright is a senior resource educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cayuga County. For more information, visit or call (315) 255-1183.