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Dig it! Soil Science Symposium at FortWhyte Alive

Posted on May 8, 2018

On Friday, April 27, FortWhyte Alive hosted the Dig it! Soil Science Symposium, a full day of hands-on learning which exposed high school students to current soil science and sustainable agriculture research and practices in Manitoba.

Soil scientists and graduate students from Manitoba Agriculture and University of Manitoba ran the stations visited by Grades 6-12 students and their teachers from nine different schools, both rural and urban.

The six stations visited throughout the day highlighted real-life applications of what students are learning in science, geography and agriculture courses, and sparked interest in possible careers and projects in environmental protection, agriculture and soil science.

Stations included:

  • Our Provincial Soil – students learned about the geological history of Manitoba, how to identify different soil types from across the province, and got to take home their very own Newdale soil profile.
  • The Rain and Snow Show – Students played roles including farm agronomist, farmer, accountant, and more to find out how different land management types such as conventional tillage, zero tillage and fallowing affect a farm’s bottom line, and the erosion of soil and release of nutrients into waterways.
  • Plants Need to Eat Too! – Students got to see different chemical and organic fertilizer types, sample soil, and see how much nutrient it takes to grow crops like wheat, canola and potatoes.
  • Whether it’s Weather or Climate – A weather station was set up, with all the instruments needed to monitor the climate, and students used instruments to measure the amount of carbon dioxide given off by soil and plants.
  • Soil Entomology – A large microscope allowed students to get up close to the diversity of life in the soil, including centipedes, millipedes, springtails and beetles, and discover their adaptations and what they do to benefit the health of the soil.
  • Growing Cover Crops – FortWhyte Farms ran this station with expertise on how to boost soil health by planting “green manure” – more accurately known as cover crops. Students made a potting mix using compost, vermiculite and peat, and seeded is with common cover crops such as buckwheat, peas and oats.

Test your soil skills with these Dig It! questions.

  1. What electrical charge do soil particles have, primarily clay?
  2. How do you tell the difference between a centipede and a millipede?
  3. In what season does the Northern Hemisphere experience the highest concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide?
  4. What are the 3 main particles found in soil?
  5. Is rainfall the dominant factor contributing to runoff across the soil surface in Manitoba?
  6. What’s special about peas and other legumes?

You can find the answers at the end of this post.

Thanks to our facilitators from the University of Manitoba, Manitoba Agriculture, and FortWhyte Farms, as well as all students and teachers for your interest and enthusiasm in hands-on learning!

Answer Key:

  1. Negative charge. Soil attracts positively charged nutrients.\
  2. Centipedes have 1 pair of legs per body segment, Millipedes have 2 pairs per segment.
  3. In winter, because there are no green plants growing.
  4. Sand, silt and clay. To illustrate: if a sand particle were the size of the Bomber stadium, the silt particle would be the size of a pickup truck parked nearby, and the clay particle would be the size of a postage stamp.
  5. No, spring snowmelt contributes the most runoff to waterways in Manitoba.
  6. Legumes have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil to be used as nutrients by growing plants. They do this by housing nitrogen-fixing bacteria in nodules in their roots.