Worm in soil Perth

Out in the field: measuring soil life

Out in the field: measuring soil life

"If there’s one thing I’ve learnt across the past 20 years, it’s that many of the best farming ideas come from farmers themselves, rather than ‘experts’ in a lab or at a desk. That’s exactly why we at Soil Association Scotland help farmers and growers test out their ideas with DIY farm trials, or ‘field labs’. With them we bring research to the field and the shed; testing interesting new ideas with the help of a facilitator (me) and a researcher, so we can find out what really works for farmers across Scotland.

"One field lab I’m particularly excited about at the moment is focusing on soil health. We’re looking at how the ways crops are grown affect soil, and what’s in it. Hugh Grierson in Perth - the farmer with the idea for this field lab - is especially interested in soil biology and the amount of ‘life’ in the soil, so I’ve been out in the field measuring exactly that.

How do you measure life in soil?

"I’ve been trying out a new method of measuring soil biology: essentially, we leave out bait and see how much gets eaten. I put baited sticks (as you can see in the picture below) into a recently sown field. The bait you can see in the grey circles on the sticks will be eaten by soil bugs over the next few weeks – it’s full of a mix of things that worms, beasties and all kinds of wee things that live in the soil like to munch on.

"The more life there is in the soil, the more bait will get eaten. We’ll use the grey circles to count how much of it goes. Then we can get an idea of what is best for soil biology by comparing soil life in fields where crops are grown in different ways.

"It’s an exciting project to be a part of and it will help farmers like Hugh get a real sense of what works and what doesn’t, on their own farms."

soil measure using a bait stick

Find out more and get involved

Soil life is just one thing we're measuring in the field lab trial. If you'd like to find out more or get involved, read about our field lab projects or get in touch with David and the rest of the Soil Association Scotland team.