Learning about Soil Health

Taking samples of soil from several different spots to ensure a representative sample for analysis.
Taking samples of soil from several different spots to ensure a representative sample for analysis.
OSU Extension Master Gardener Jim Liskey teaches 4-H'er how to prepare soil for testing.
OSU Extension Master Gardener Jim Liskey teaches 4-H'er how to prepare soil for testing.
The nutrients in the soil are determined by adding a special liquid.
The nutrients in the soil are determined by adding a special liquid.
Older 4-H members provide encouragement and information.
Older 4-H members provide encouragement and information.
OSU faculty Kelly Noack and Dan Hoynacki present completion certificates to students.
OSU faculty Kelly Noack and Dan Hoynacki present completion certificates to students.
By: Mary Stewart, OSU Extension Service, Marion County

OSU Extension Service’s Master Gardener program isn’t just for adults. A Junior Master Gardener 4-H program in Marion County has just graduated a class of nine budding gardeners who are learning how to grow food from the ground up.

In their final field experience of the year, nine Marion County youth ranging from grades 6 to 10, learned firsthand how healthy soils are important to having a resilient and productive garden. The field experience was held at the Youth Farm site.

To begin their lesson, the youth collected soil samples from three different areas of top soil. “This is clay soil,” noted Justine Colby, Parrish Middle School, as she helped pulverize the soil sample into small particles for testing. 

Next, a soil testing kit was used to measure nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium—three main nutrients plants need so they can build their own food. The youth dropped solutions into test tubes until the liquid turned a color that matched the nutrient guide.

Abigail Jeanseau, Parrish Middle School, reported the results: “There is a slight trace of nitrogen, phosphorus is low and potassium is very low.” This soil would need all three amendments for a successful garden.

Seasoned OSU Master Gardener Jim Liskey taught the class. “Everything gets back to plants, including our food” says Liskey. Plants get nutrients from soil, and we get nutrients from plants.

Dan Hoynacki, Extension 4-H faculty, says there is a need to engage more youth in gardening so they learn how food is grown. They also learn the essential leadership elements of scientific and civic inquiry.

The Youth Farm site is located on Chemeketa Community College campus and is a partnership of Marion Polk Food Share and the OSU Extension Service Youth Enviro Squad program that recruits and trains the youth farmers. 

For information about 4-H youth development education programs, contact your local OSU Extension Service office extension.oregonstate.edu/marion.

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