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Soil Health Questions & Answers
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Facebook Premiere on Soil Health

Questions & Answers

May 6, 2020

Q: Any tips on keeping bugs from my peppers?

A: Check with your local State Ag. Agency, most states publish guides specific to your region that will give you Best Management Practices (BMPs) for each type of crop you would like to grow.

In long terms planning for "bug" control in your garden you should rotate the crops that you grow to different areas of your garden each year. Some insects over winter in the soil and emerge looking for the same plant they lived on last year.  Companion planting your pepper with some flowering plants such as marigold and mustard may cause some insects to avoid that area of your garden and your peppers.

In a proactive approach, if your peppers are under attack by insects, you can use 10ml of dish soap in about 500ml of water and put this in a spray bottle.  Spray all over the pepper plants especially if you see active insects.  Investigate your pepper plants daily and look for eggs or any web like material under the leaves and on stems. Squish eggs with your fingers or a towel without damaging the plant.  Continue with the soapy water treatment until you do not see any more the pest or evidence of eggs.

There are insecticides available for home application, but we would recommend first specifically identifying your pest and consulting an expert before applying broad range insecticides in your garden.

Q: Do you 'bare-root' your transplants from the OM based grow medium?

A: No, when seedlings are sown in a "starter" medium you want your seedlings to develop a strong health root system and then plant the entire plug of roots and medium into your garden soil.   Most garden centers will starter flats which provide the appropriate amount of volume of starter medium for your seedlings, you will want to start seedlings early enough that they fill the entire growing volume with roots and can be gently removed from the starter flat with an intact root "plug" (roots and media) before transplanting.

Q: Where can I send my soil test in MD?

A: The University of Maryland Extension website has great information on how, why, and where to test your soil.  Visit them here:

Q: Can one usually get soil test, e.g. for heavy metals, from USDA County Extension?

A:  A number of state or extension labs can test for heavy metals, but it is important to understand what the results mean. Most heavy metals, at soil pH's that are conducive to plant growth (around 6.5 to 7.0), will complex with soil particles and are unlikely to be taken up into the edible part of the crop (rice is a notable exception). However, it is advisable to work with your local extension agents to identify which heavy metals may be important to test for in your area, and also help you interpret your results to see if any remediation or mitigation strategies are necessary for your garden.

Here are some useful resources:

Q:  Is guano a good additive?

A: Bat and fowl guano are rich in macro and micro-nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Fowl guano is formed generally from nesting birds on island and rocky out cropping all along our ocean coast lines. Although, the source is nutrient rich, it can be a costly form of fertilizer due to harvest and transport cost in addition to loss of bird habitat. Raising chickens with chicken tractors on your garden plot will bring you the same rich/recycled waste and at the same time you are creating bird habitat.

Q: Where can I send my soil test in MD?

A: The University of Maryland Extension website has great information on how, why, and where to test your soil.  Visit them here:

Q: I have had a lot of success with biochar/ horticultural charcoal in my clay soil. Have you ever used those amendments?

A: Yes, ARS has an active program studying biochar/black carbon amendments for use in agricultural soils as well as working with other federal agencies to utilize those amendments to restore degraded soils. Research shows that biochars vary in their soil improvement properties based on their feedstock (e.g., manures, wood) and the manner in which they are produced (e.g., temperature). So, what characteristics you wish to improve in your garden, will ultimately dictate what biochar is best suited.

Learn more about biochar and soils at

 Q: Will this video be available for replay?

A Thank you and yes, it is available if you refresh your FB page.

A: This video is now available on ARS's YouTube page 

Q: Is there a general comment on impact of herbicides and pesticides on health of soil microbiome?

A: Great question! There are several research programs within the ARS that are looking into the impacts of pesticides and herbicides on soil and plant microbiomes. It ultimately depends on which pesticides you add to your garden and the timing of those additions. Let us know if you have specific questions about which pesticides and we'll try to get back to you.

Q: What about the long-term effect of glyphosate in soil?

A: Research is showing that the soil microbial community is diverse and redundant in functionality.  Although glyphosate may have direct effects on some microbes, we generally cannot detect any change in how healthy soils are functioning.  Use of glyphosate impacts the diversity of plants in your garden and changes in tillage, plant diversity (plant type) and soil type appear to have the greatest long-term impacts on soil microbial communities.

Q: How does the USDA plan on implementing better soil management and creation on mass scale?

A: USDA makes trainings, programs and resources available to producers across the US, which facilitate better soil management and increased soil health. In-field and laboratory assessments, management planning guidance, and up-to-date conservation practices help us to more fully integrate the latest soil health science in our conservation efforts.

Soil Health Demonstration Trials provide physical, economic and social data on how soil health practices affect soil building processes. These promise to provide comprehensive evidence that when effectively implementing a suite of soil health practices (i.e. a Soil Health Management System, [SHMS]), real economic and environmental advantages can result.

The combination of sound scientific and economic evidence and seeing successful producers adopting SHMSs will encourage others to implement these practices and drive their adoption nationally.