FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WEDNESDAY, MAY 7, 2014
Dr. David H. Hardy, Soil Testing Section chief
NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division
Third-graders get the dirt about soil science
RALEIGH — Fifty-plus third-graders at Lincoln Heights Elementary School in Fuquay-Varina recently got a hands-on lesson in soil science thanks to two employees from the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ soil testing lab.
Jagathi Kamalakanthan and Rohan Mohammed visited the school on Earth Day and talked with kids about soil science. Mohammed is a technician who helps carry out chemical tests on soil samples. Kamalakanthan is an agronomist who evaluates soil test results and gives lime and fertilizer recommendations that will improve plant growth. However, for Earth Day, both were teachers.
Visual aids illustrated differences in soils. A tall, glass jar layered with soils artistically highlighted color differences, while boxes of soils showed differences in particle size, texture and weight.
It was the experiments that really captured the students’ attention, Kamalakanthan said. “They were eager to participate and have a chance to be scientists.”
The scientists started by asking students which soil type they thought would hold more water, and how can soil provide nutrients to plants? After discussion, Kamalakanthan and Mohammed proposed simple tests to determine the answers.
Instructors poured water through two different types of soils and compared the results. A light-weight organic soil absorbed water like a sponge, while water ran through a heavy, sandy soil like a sieve. Most students had guessed the opposite would happen.
Three students volunteered for an “experiment” involving M&Ms. To demonstrate the effect of soil acidity on nutrient availability, they were asked to play the roles of plants growing in acid, basic and neutral soils. The acid and basic “plants” were not quite as happy with their assigned roles when they found out they were not as equally able as the “plant” in neutral soil to pick up the M&Ms. Students learned nutrients can be present in soils, but that doesn’t necessarily mean plants can get them.
By the end of the session, students and teachers alike clamored for soil boxes, eager to send samples to the lab so they could find out how much lime and fertilizer their garden plants needed.
The NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division offers soil testing for residents of North Carolina. A peak-season fee of $4 per sample is charged for samples submitted from late November through March, but during the rest of the year, there is no fee.
Visit www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pdffiles/HomeApr2014.pdf for more information.