Monday, May 11, 2009

Ahh Bureaucracy:A plea for help with soils lab

As you may or may not have heard, WJC Biology and Chemistry Departments were awarded $190,000 in appropriations money in the last budget. Since, oh March or Feb. we have been waiting to find out exactly what we can spend it on and when we could spend it. Today I find out that we have to have a final list by Friday. Did I mention it is finals week and I have two finals to finish writing, not to mention grading.

Luckily for me, we can use the money to purchase any equipment as long as students will be using it in class or in research. I say luckily, because the original request for monies was written specifically for biomedical research studies.

I would like to set up a soils lab, but have never done this before. I did not take soils class, nor do I have much experience analyzing soils. So I hope my wonderful friends might be able to help: GBKD to the rescue!

What do you need to set up a soils lab? What equipment, chemical, glasswear etc?
Is there a good resource or textbook or lab manual for soil analysis?
Thanks so much!!!!


Beth said...

For books, soil biology guide edited by dindall is good. It's not a lab manual but has ID keys for all things in soil

I like the forestry supplier kits for soil analysis (N, P, K, pH, etc) and a shaker table and soil sieves are useful too. A color anaylsis test could be good.

Cheryl said...

Here are a couple of books/textbooks that might be helpful: The Nature and Properties of Soils by Brady et al. This is the textbook that I used for my soils class. It is really good with chemical and physical traits of soil. There are a couple of soil ecology books out there: Soil Ecology by Ken Killham or Fundamentals of Soil ecology by Coleman et al (this one is more recent). We didn't have a lab manual, but I do have the book Standard Soil Methods for Long-Term Ecological Research by Robertson et al. It has pretty good step-by-step methods for all sorts of soil tests - for chemical, physical and biological analyses.

As for some other things to get: I guess for the most part I'm assuming you would be focusing on the physical and chemical aspects as the biological can be difficult and you might have to work with some nasty stuff, so I will focus on the other. Some manuals that might be good would be a soil ID key like Beth said, and also a county soil survey? The soil surveys could be hard to come by as they were probably done in the 70's, but you might be able to contact the local soil conservation service and see if they would have any or know where to go. I think my ID came from the USDA/soil conservation service but I would have to look at home (i'm in lawrence for a week). The ID keys are things you can take in the field. Forestry suppliers is a good place to get supplies...soil probes/augers of various kinds, mortar and pestles, soil sieves of various sizes (particle size analyzes,) ph meter, coolers with ice packs if needing to transport soil cold, soil moisture tins, scales, rulers/meters sticks for measuring how far the soil horizons go, an oven that can combust the soil for soil organic measurements? Probe liners could also be beneficial if you are wanting to keep cores intact and have to transport them back to the lab. I would recommend the back saver soil probe, it has extensions you can get so you can go pretty deep into the soil and it should come with a tool that helps get the soil out of the probe which can be essential in these soils :) I might also try to find (I don't know what they are called), but they are usually wooden, and they hold the soil core (typically up to 3 feet) so you can display it without it rolling all over the place and the students could see the horizons that way.

Those are some things off the top of my head. It won't be of much help this week, but when I get back to TN where my soils class stuff is, I can take a look at what sorts of things we did in our lab - hope that helps.

Sparkling Squirrel said...

Cheryl's list is slightly more comprehensive than mine would have been. At the most basic, I'd spend money on equipment to get it out of the ground (soil augers and a backsaver probe), then general chemistry kits then specific equipment (shake maker for mixing into slurries, oven, riddles, soil pH meters) . . .

Good luck!
You will survive your finals!

Erin said...

I don't have much to add to Cheryl's list. I use Standard Soil Methods for Long-Term Ecological Research by Robertson et al. quite a bit (which she suggested). I think for the lab, a dryer of some kind is essential. An ash furnace would be cool, but not as essential. If you wanted to make resin bags (or litter bags to look at decomposition) you could justify buying a sewing machine. We have one in our lab here and it gets used more than the shaker! I would get the shaker if you think you will have money to do nutrient analysis, but I can't think of another use for it for soils (that doesn't mean there isn't one). I would also get a lot of soil sampling bags from forestry suppliers or ben meadows...Paper bags can also work. I am in the middle of resin bag analysis right now, so let me know if you want to know more about that...but it is turning out to be pretty expensive and exhausting!