A Thorough Look At The West North Central Midwestern U.S.A.
Soils in this area run the gamut – from the fertile gently rolling hills in the eastern section – to the dry, dusty prairies in the western section – from the frigid north – to the temperate climate in the south.
Suffice it to say, that no matter where you are – remember – a savvy gardener always gets a soil test every year to know what he needs to do to give his veggies a happy home!
Some takeaways from this installment of Soil Analysis Across The Globe are:
- Greenhouses are a smart move in most of these states – along with greenhouse heaters.
- Irrigation techniques – or rain barrels – and soaker hoses – are routinely used to hydrate crops.
- There is also an occasional need to grow everything in a raised garden with rich, imported topsoil.
- Cover crops help reduce wind and water soil erosion – and add essential nutrients to the soil. Mulching also offers added protection.
Peruse at your leisure or click on the state of your choice – for an in-depth soil analysis of a specific area of interest.
Out of the seven soils found in Iowa, the state soil, Tama, is the most prolific – covering over 930,000 acres and 28 counties.
The topsoil is comprised of either silt loam or silty clay loam. Colors range from a dark grayish brown – to black – when wet. It is rich in organic matter – running up to 14 inches deep.
The underlying subsoil – which is below the plowing and tilling depth – is basically yellowish brown silty clay loam particles that extend downward as much as 4 feet – with only a sparse collection of organic material.
Outside of adding a little 10-10-10 occasionally and a little lime or sulfur to raise or lower the pH levels, soil amendments are not really needed very much. Just keep an eye on your veggies – if they grow slowly and they’re getting enough sun and water, then add some fertilizer every couple of weeks.
Tama’s drainage is excellent and it has a great ability to retain water – so, unless the growing season is unusually dry, you won’t find many home gardeners employing soaker hoses.
The northern 70% of the state is in hardiness zones 4 and 5 – and, the remaining southern portion sits between zones 5 and 6.
Iowa prides itself as being the leading producer of corn in the U.S.A. And, apple trees can also be found in abundance.
One problem to address is the possibilities of erosion. To keep from losing the valuable rich topsoil, it is imperative to use a cover crop in the off season – which will not only hold the soil in place but also add needed nutrients for the next growing season.
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Harney soil, the state soil of Kansas, is a derivative of the word “harahey” – an Indian tribe of the same name whose descendants are the Pawnee Indians. This was 5 centuries ago when Coronado crossed Kansas in search of the Seven Cities of Gold.
Over 90% of the state produces wheat, corn, soybeans, sorghum, and hay. Kansas produces more wheat and sorghum than any other state in the nation.
There are 4 million acres of west-central Kansas land containing Harney soil. The topsoil layer is very deep with a ton of organic matter – making it extremely fertile. However, periodic applications of standard fertilizers enhance produce yields.
The topsoil is a dark grayish brown silt loam, densely packed with organic material – about a foot deep. The subsoil is a medium to light grayish brown silty clay loam with very little nutrient value.
Coincidentally, over 90% of the state falls within hardiness zones 6 and 7 – with the remainder – in the north of the state – sitting squarely in zone 5. Most vegetables can grow in these zones. For the veggies that need a bit more warmth in the north, a greenhouse is the obvious remedy.
One major problem is a lack of an adequate amount of rain to water crops. So, farmers and home gardeners have to use irrigation and soaker hose techniques to keep their produce watered until it is harvested.
Due to dry spells, wind erosion is prevalent. During periods of rain, water erosion takes over. By reducing the amount of tilling, adding wind breaks – like trees – and boosting ground cover and mulching, erosion of the topsoil can be minimized – keeping these prairie soils healthy for growing veggies. Areas are sometimes given at least a year’s break between plantings to protect the soil from erosion.
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Lester soil has topsoil that is chiefly a very dark grayish brown loam covering 600,000 acres across 17 counties – mostly in south central Minnesota. Moving down into the subsoil shows a change to a dark yellowish brown clay loam.
This state soil is deep, well drained dirt – developed and deposited over several millennia by advancing and receding glaciers during the ice age.
The soil image shown offers a perspective of a cross section of Lester soil that is approximately 6.5 feet deep. The horizon changes are distinct – which indicate the extensive time period necessary for soil formulation.
For farmers and home gardeners that are lucky enough to live on this soil, they have access to premium dirt with a high natural fertility. Minnesota’s principal crops are corn and soybeans. Enhancements with scheduled applications of a standard fertilizer can get the most out of crop yields.
The northern half of the state sits squarely in hardiness zone 3 – graduating eventually to zone 5 in the southernmost regions.
Local techniques for controlling soil erosion and reducing water runoff are:
- Keep plowing and tilling to a minimum.
- Use “terrace” and “contour” gardening.
- Add cover crops during the off season.
Menfro – Missouri’s state soil – propagates mainly along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and their major tributaries. The governor’s mansion is built on Menfro soil. Daniel Boone’s first home – west of the Mississippi River – was on Menfro soil. Hannibal, MO, home of Mark Twain, is on Menfro soil. There are 780,000 acres of Menfro soil in this region.
This soil is not only well drained – but also a very deep and permeable sediment deposit seen mainly on gentle slopes, hills, and flat plains. The downside is that Menfro’s dark brown silty loam topsoil averages a pretty thin 3 to 4 inches in depth – with a low percentage of organic matter – 2 to 4 %. The yellowish brown subsoil is the same – with the addition of some clay – and, almost no hint of organic matter.
Many home gardeners are gravitating toward raised garden beds to grow their produce – due to the thin soil in many areas. Alternatively, a rigorous schedule of fertilizers and pH enhancers will prove beneficial – but, get a soil test first – to get a better handle on how to treat your garden dirt.
Ranking seventh nationwide, the most important Missouri commercial crop is soybeans – followed by corn, cotton, wheat, specialty tobacco, grapes, veggies, and fruits – pretty much in that order.
The northernmost third of Missouri falls inside of hardiness zone 5 – while the remainder of the state graduates from zone 6 to zone 7. So, even though commercial farmers will stick to the basic “cash crops” – home gardeners can still grow just about anything they want. However, they may want to have a greenhouse handy to extend the growing season a little longer.
We’re getting out into cattle country as we enter North Dakota. The state soil, Williams – covering more than 2.2 million acres across 20 counties – is deep and fertile but, lacks adequate rainfall – only an average of 14 inches per year.
Williams soil produces wheat, feed corn, soybeans, and sugar beets – plus a few sunflowers. Other than that, the concentrations in North Dakota are livestock production for meat and milk. Thus, the bulk of the great state of North Dakota is dedicated to rangeland.
North Dakota takes first place in the nation supplying honey, durum, and red spring wheat.
The topsoil is a dark gray brown loam – with high concentrations of calcium – and, sparse concentrations of organic matter. Subsoil compositions are light brown-to-olive brown clay loam.
The upper horizons – above the bedrock – are 6 feet deep at a minimum – more in some areas. This means a very deep water table and an expensive well to dig if you don’t have access to city water.
Hampering garden success is a short growing season of only about 4 months a year that is free of frost, making it a real challenge for the residential gardening. Even mid-summer barely breaks the 70 degree Fahrenheit mark. And frigid winters can reach 60 below zero! Gawd! That’s cold!
All I can say is “Get out the raised gardens, soaker hoses, greenhouses, and greenhouse heaters – and have at it if you want to grow some veggies!” Because, the southern two-thirds of North Dakota is barely in hardiness zone 4 – leaving the northern one-third in a freezing zone 3!
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Nebraska’s state soil is Holdrege – covering 1.8 million acres in the south central portion of the state. These uncommonly deep soils are rife with small to medium clay and silt particles – great for water storage below ground but, bad for water circulation underground.
Wind erosion is prevalent – so, the abundant natural fertility of the dark grayish brown silt loam Holdrege topsoil – found mostly in the flatlands – is prone to getting blown away at a moment’s notice. The subsoil is a light brownish gray silty clay loam.
Commercial corn production is rampant on Holdrege soil – ranking Nebraska third in production. This is mostly due to the rich organic matter deposited by prairie grasses.
Home gardens are best if the topsoil can be protected from wind erosion – using wind breaks – such as a fence or a line of bushes or trees. Till the garden only when necessary – and, add cover crops during the off season. These are essential steps to protecting the rich soil.
Also, due to the limited amount of rain during the growing season and increasing restrictions on water use, it behooves the backyard gardener to employ soaker hoses and rain barrels to capture enough water to keep the garden alive and healthy.
With the southern half of Nebraska reaching only hardiness zone 5 – and the northern half sitting squarely in zone 4 – greenhouses may be necessary for growing veggies with longer maturity times.
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Last on our list for the West North Central portion of the Midwest United States, is South Dakota’s state soil – Houdek. The interesting thing here is that Houdek is native only to South Dakota. You won’t find it in any other state.
South Dakota’s main commercial crop is corn – followed by soybeans and hay – not to mention its large cattle and hog production. They rank nationally in the top ten for production of these and a few other major crops.
Houdek’s 600,000 acres of thin, chalky, dark grayish brown loam topsoil – 6 to 8 inches deep – has a low mixture of organic matter – 2 to 4 %. It crumbles easily and has an overall neutral pH level – running to slightly alkaline in some areas – which means sulfur products need to be periodically applied to make the soil slightly acidic and give garden veggies a happy growth medium. The subsoil looks the same – but, with increasing quantities of small to medium clay particles.
Both wind and water soil erosion control is necessary. Control wind erosion with bush or tree windbreaks – and keep water erosion in check with cover crops during the growing off season.
The bulk of central South Dakota sits in hardiness zone 4 – with a thin strip of zone 3 in the north – and a very thin strip of zone 5 in the south.
Though there are 165 frost-free days each year, greenhouses should be used to increase temperatures and extend the growing season for crops that take longer to mature – because most of those frost-free days are not warm enough to keep many plants comfortable and the average annual temperature is less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Though yearly rainfall averages between 22 and 25 inches, it is sporadic at best and the wise gardener will use soaker hoses supplied from rain barrels to keep the plants hydrated sufficiently.
Well, this was a whole bunch of information to assimilate! Did you Midwesterners in the West North Central region learn anything that you didn’t know before?
Comments and emails are welcome. I am pleased as punch to have your input!