Rock Hard Soils Make Everything Tough

Hoosier Perspectives

It's a bad sign when you need first aid at soils contests.

Published on: October 12, 2010

I'm a soils nut. I marvel at how the good Lord used glaciers and other features to give us different kind of soils - many good for farming, some for pastures, some for raising trees, others for building homes on. I try to convey that enthusiasm to students as a volunteer coach. This year I've worked with 20 kids since mid-August. We will take 17 of them to the state soils contest in Knox County near Vincennes the last weekend of October.

If you're betting on when the central and southern Indiana drought will break, that might be a safe bet. It loves to rain on state soils contests. Friday is the practice day when 400 kids descend on a dozen holes cafeteria style throughout the day. Last year in Elkhart County it rained so hard that only the gutsiest, i.e. the 8th graders amongst the crew, would jump in and get soil for everyone else to check.

One year when my son Daniel began his career, as a sixth grader, he literally got stuck in a hole with clay in the bottom on a wet practice day near Terre Haute. One high schooler on each side grabbed his arms and pulled him out. It was such a sight that the soil scientist watching the hole busted out laughing. Because then we had to figure out how to get his boots out of the hole. They literally pulled him right out of his boots. One went in from one end with a long handled shovel and freed them.

This year we've been at the opposite extreme. The soil is so hard that kids grab what's really moderately clay soil and want to call it sandy, just because the pebbles on the outside are all you can easily roll around in your hand. We dug three holes for practice a week ago in a very wet field. Before the backhoe left, the holes looked like they had been open for a week. And two of the three holes had drainage problems.

I was a group leader at the area contest in Hancock County near Greenfield this past week. Group leaders get radios to converse with one another. Not once, but twice, I had to call for someone to bring a band aid. Two kids split their thumb, although not deeply. One did it with a pocket knife. The other was bringing a putty knife down the side of the hole, trying to knock dirt off into his hand do he could texture it. It slipped off the face of the hole and cut his thumb instead.

The other group leaders decided I was a jinx, which is probably true. Still, that dirt was rock hard.

So get your boots ready, your rain coat and your gloves. You might want to even pick up some of those hand warmers hunters use. I'm betting a cold, rainy Friday and Saturday for Vincennes on October 29 and 30th. Don't say you weren't forewarned!