Written by: Adam Voight
What do you think of when I say the word soil? Do you think of the dirt that stains our pants and gets under our fingernails? Or do you think of muddy foot tracks on the carpet or puddle jumping in the rain? While these thoughts may be what come to your mind when thinking of the word soil, the true definition is much deeper.
Soil is often described as the skin of the earth. It processes nutrients, serves as a foundation for construction, and acts as a living filter to clean water. Perhaps most importantly, soils are a primary factor in determining what vegetation grows where. The variables that determine the kind of soil that forms at any given point are composition of the parent material, the climate, the plant and animal life on and in the soil, the topography, and the length of time that the forces of soil formation have acted on the soil material.
Classification of soils is chiefly based on characteristics as seen in a vertical section through the soil body, such as depth, color, and texture. This section is called the soil profile, and it’s layers are called soil horizons. During the course of thousands of years the soils have formed from deposits called soil parent materials. The parent materials in NE Wisconsin, including Menominee County, are primarily glacial till and outwash. The longer the soil forming factors have interacted, the more highly developed or “mature” the soils can become. In many cases, the more mature soils found in this area have well defined soil horizons (or layers).
Recently the Sustainable Development Institute has set up two soil profile pits along the College of Menominee Nation’s Learning Path, located in the forest along the East side of the Keshena campus and extending to the agricultural research sites near the SDI building. The first pit (called soil pit #1) is located near the SDI greenhouse, and the second (soil pit #2) is in the forest just East of the Campus Commons Building. These profile pits show the complexities of soil and help to exhibit how each is classified into a unique series. Even though the soil pits are almost a half mile apart, the soils are fairly similar.
Students and others will be able to compare and contrast these similarities and differences through observation of the depths, textures, colors, mottling, coarse fragments (rocks) and roots to develop a basic understanding of soil richness, physical properties, and drainage. These displays along with others can be used as resource tools for CMN students and faculty, or anyone with a curiosity and interest in learning more about agriculture and natural resources.
The Sustainable Development Institute and Center for First Americans Forestlands extend an invitation to come see the many exhibits and demonstration sites being developed along the Learning Path, and to share ideas and suggestions for future development. The next time you hear the word soil, you may think of dirt a little differently.