Healthy Soils Initiative

Created in 2017, our Soil Health Initiative serves to increase awareness of the importance of soil health within Worcester County. Worcester County Conservation District (WCCD) has a Conservation Planner on staff to conduct assessments and offer technical assistance to Worcester county residents. WCCD is proud to say that our Soil Health Initiative has grown to include workshops and lectures, as well as our soil sampling service, all of which are beneficial to agriculture, suburban, or urban land uses.

What is Soil Health?

(Adapted from: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/)

Soil health is the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. Soil contains living organisms (microbes, arthropods, etc.) that when provided the necessities of life – food, shelter, and water – perform functions required to produce food and fiber.

With this in mind, when soils are managed as a living ecosystem they can better provide nutrients for plant growth, absorb and hold rainwater for use during dryer periods, filter and buffer potential pollutants from leaving our fields, serve as a firm foundation for agricultural activities, and provide habitat for soil microbes to flourish and diversify to keep the ecosystem running smoothly. At WCCD, we are working to promote soil health, by encouraging practices that follow these soil health principles, established by the USDA:

  1. Manage More by Disturbing Soil Less
  2. Diversify Soil Biota with Plant Diversity
  3. Keep a Living Root Growing Throughout the Year
  4. Keep the Soil Covered as Much as Possible

Also, adding livestock to your land management where possible and practical (while using best practices and not overgrazing) can improve soil health.

For more information on soil health, please see https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/health/ or additional resources below.

We offer the following services to assist farm, forest, and garden owners in promoting soil health on their land:

WCCD Soil Health Services

WCCD offers soil sampling to Worcester County land owners and occupiers.  For a reasonable $40 per sample fee, our staff will visit your site and take soil samples for you.  They will then dry your samples and mail them to UMass Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Lab located in Amherst, MA.  Once the lab has finished their analysis, our staff will then walk you through the results, and can make recommendations based on your needs.

Interested in learning more or ordering a soil sample? Click here for more information.

Composting

Integrating compost into your soil is one way to improve your soil health and at the same time reduce your household waste. Composting, when done correctly, can give a boost to your soil’s ecosystem by adding organic material, nutrients, and a diversity of micro-organisms. We sell compost bins and help landowners install and know how to use them.

Riverdale Mills of Northbridge, MA designed pre-cut modular panels for us. The picture here shows 5 panels for a complete composter with cover. The 36” x 36” panels with with 1-1/2” space openings, which allows for ventilation to improve composting. The panels are made of the highest quality, strongest and longest lasting 12.5 gauge high performance weather resistant PVC coated wire mesh available. The PVC coating has a smooth thick uniform coating that does not peal or crack even when exposed to harsh marine environments. The cost of each panel is $16, a whole set of 5 panels is $80. You may purchase panels online here or by contacting our seedling sale coordinator, Kathryn Zichelle Sullivan () if you are interested, and we can help you effectively start to compost, or improve your current composting efforts.

Workshops

We offer workshops on soil health, composting, plant-soil interactions, soil mapping, and other Our staff and affiliates can offer workshops or guest lectures upon request. Just email our conservation planner Joel Betts at with your interest or a request or for more information. First see our workshops page here topics [insert link, go to our workshops page, see below for information to add to workshops page]. Our workshops page also offers a list of workshops that have been offered by WCCD in the past and potential future topics.

“If I am not a farmer – is this for me?” Soil health is for everyone! WCCD strives to make conservation accessible to Worcester county residents, independent of scale. Call our office with any questions [list phone number].

Additional Soil Health Resources to Browse:

NRCS Soil Health Resources- https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/nd/soils/health/

(North Dakota NRCS – based, but they are one of the leaders in this area)

Cornell University Soil Health Resources – https://soilhealth.cals.cornell.edu

Soil Food Web, by Dr. Elaine Ingram – https://www.soilfoodweb.com

Sustainable Agriculture Resources and Education (SARE) – https://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/What-is-Soil-Health

National Soil Maps through NRCS Web Soil Survey – https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/App/HomePage.htm

Soil Health Card – https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/PA_NRCSConsumption/download?cid=nrcseprd401840&ext=pdf