Soft. The word conjures up all sorts of things, from toilet paper to skin to kind words spoken in love, as in the proverb "A soft answer turns away wrath."
It's also perhaps the most important attribute of good soil. Hard soil--not good; soft soil--good. Yesterday I was putting in some electric fence on a brand new property we've rented near Middlebrook.
We use 3/8 inch rebar 4 ft. stakes for the posts. A yellow insulator and 17 gauge aluminum wire make a wonderful portable fence capable of retaining a whole herd of cattle. We are finishing up our first rotation through this property.
About 50 acres are gentle and rock-free enough to mow for hay; the rest is craggy and not conducive to machinery. Our intentions were to get onto this property in May but all sorts of delays ensued with electric company service and we finally got there with a herd in early July.
By that time, of course, it was what people call "blown out." Since no animals had been on it since last fall, it was a wild profusion of grass, weeds, and clovers. In order to get through the whole property quicker, we mowed what we could so it could grow back sooner--restart the biomass accumulator. The unmown portions, of course, we're grazing with mob stocking herbivorous solar conversion lignified carbon sequestration fertilization.
The last couple of weeks we've had good rains and grass is growing beautifully. Here at Polyface central, we can push these rebar stakes into the ground by hand--no pounding necessary. Soft soil.
Yesterday I needed to put in a couple of cross fences across the hay ground we'd mowed a month ago and the soil was like concrete. Pound, pound, pound. In order to move the herd over to those paddocks today, I need to put an ally from where they are to where I want them to go. That ally traverses the ground we did not mow, that had this voluminous vegetation on it--what most folks would consider an eyesore and weedpatch. What we grazed.
After hammering those stakes in on the hay ground, softness of the soil underneath where we had grazed and not mowed was beyond comparison. I almost didn't even need the hammer it was so soft. The difference occurred literally a couple of feet across the fenceline--one side hard as concrete; the other soft.
Few people realize that soil can change that dramatically in literally a few inches, depending on management. What made the difference? It was all that cellulose, that biomass accumulation, that unsightly cascade of carbon: tops, roots, seeds, moles, voles, spiders and a host of other critters. The prairie is a marvelous thing and built all the richest soils on the planet, using herbivores as pruners and predators as movers. The same principles work today if we can duplicate them, and therein lies the mandate of my life. Soft soil.
Where was the softest soil you've ever experienced?