Carlyon Family Blog
Briana’s Introduction to Soil January 18, 2016 08:00
First big news for myself in 2016 is that my team, the Pandas Basketball Team kicked off this past weekend against Victoria Vikes, winning both games. We are currently ranked 8th nationally.
Classes began January 4th, and I am immensely excited for Principles of Animal Agriculture, Introduction to Management, and less excited for the mandatory Communications course and Applications of Linear Algebra.
This past semester I took introduction courses in plant science and soils which has enlightened me on a few things that apply back to our family farm. It relates to our day-to-day farm work and the choices our parents have made for managing our farm
Taking a soils class has been useful in my understanding of the many soils that cover Alberta and more widely, Canada. Using Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s software, Agrasid, I looked more in depth into the soils that make up our farm. Mostly Organics with some areas Gleysols appear throughout our farm. There also some very small soil patches of the Chernozemic Order. I will explain these soils a little later on.
Knowing our soils allows us to be aware of the common water holding capacity, general pH levels, and the texture. These factors as well as many others, can affect what can be grown on our land, as well as what uses it has. The Canadian System of Soil Classification has 5 levels of soil identification, listed below from largest category to smallest;
Order Great Group Subgroup Family Series.
Soils are separated into one to three horizons. These horizons and the combination of the horizons lead to the categorization of soil types. There can be up to three horizons, labelled as ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’.
Organics is a soil order that is made up of four Great Groups and Mesisol is one of these Great Groups. Almost 75% of our land is of the Mesisol Great Group, which most farmers refer to as peat, muskeg, or buckskin. An Organic Order is identified by the single horizon ‘A’ consisting of high organic matter (Agrasid identifies as ‘undifferentiated material’) consisting of various stages of decomposing plant matter. The Organics order can be in dry or wet areas. The mineral content is very low because there are no recent mineral deposits. By recent, I mean within the past 10,000 years. The soil is too new to have further developed into other soil types such as Chernozems, Solonetzs, Podzols or Luvisols which contains more minerals.
Growing crops on Organic soil is very difficult as you would face many challenges due to;
- Low water holding capacity - the soil has shrink/ swell abilities which leads to the formation of cracks
- High soil compaction - any time equipment drives through the field to seed, or spray or harvest crops, it causes large ruts
- Low soil density – with more air space, and less soil particles, a seed absorbs less moisture due to decreased contact area to soil. Less moisture can lead to a slower germination.
Screen shot of our home quarters soil type from Agrasid Information viewer
Gleysols are identified by the presence of gray or mottling appearance in horizon ‘B’ due to water causing soil reduction. Where Gleysolic soil is found on our farm, it is due to the sediments deposited by water over 10,000 years ago. In Alberta, the main soil types are Chernozems, Luvisols and Podzols, all very common for crop production. Gleysols are uncommon and the prevalence of it throughout our land has little impact on our decision making for the farm.
Chernozems are known to be great soils for growing crops because of their high mineral content and various other assets. It is highly fertile and often referred to as black soil. It is identifiable by its ‘A’ horizon containing organic matter, and its ‘B’ horizon can have high clay or carbon content. Although it is very common throughout Alberta’s grassland regions, it is rare on our farm which prevents us from utilizing its fertility.
Our passion for animal agriculture led to our decision to raise livestock on our land. Our choice to raise cattle, chickens, and turkeys on this land contributes to a higher productivity in comparison to growing crops.
To find out more about soil types on your farm, or your parents, or your friends farm, go to
Jessica`s take on Wetlands October 28, 2015 16:05
This is Jessica once again. I have began my fifth year of post secondary education at the University of Alberta. This is my second year here after transferring from Lakeland College. I am in the Agriculture, Life and Environmental Science faculty majoring in Sustainable Agricultural Systems. This program has allowed me to take a variety of courses such as animals science, natural resources economics, soil science, climates and ecosystems and a wetlands planning and management course.
I have only been in this wetlands biology class for a few weeks but it has caused my interest in the function of wetlands to increase. I have always been inclined to notice frogs and ducks but I am beginning to realize exactly how much wetlands benefit ecosystems and my appreciation for natural systems.
This past September my class had a field trip to evaluate the hydrology, geomorphology, vegetation and values of three wetlands in the Edmonton area. Of the three we analyzed, I have driven past two of them numerous as I traveled to and from the farm to my place in Edmonton. I hardly gave them a second thought. During class we were tasked with defining what a wetland is. The definition is very difficult as it cannot include open water over 2 meters deep, but it does include a black spruce forest where there has not been evidence of water on the lands surface for years.
In Alberta peatlands and prairie pothole style wetlands are considered plentiful. Wetlands are being altered due to agriculture, forestry and the oil and gas industry. I am hoping that this class will give me the knowledge to determine which wetlands are necessary for efficient and profitable ecosystem. Most of our farm land is a peat soil. We have a couple acres that could fit into the definition of a wetland. One area is filled with tall skinny spruce trees,shrubs and sphagnum (various moss species that can be up to 70% water). Although the piece of bush has vegetation indicator species of a wetland there is not sitting water because of the reconstruction of the creek channel has changed the flow of water. Most of this wetlands water source must be from the ground and surface run off can no longer travel through this area. Within this particular bush piece we have a small hay field. Generally wetlands are considered to have very high productivity.
We have a quarter of land and three quarters of it we refer to as "the swamp". In the north section there is a creek that runs through the middle and it generally holds some level of water throughout the summer. It is during the spring and early summer that the surface run off overflows the creek banks. We have water that floods through the willow shrubs and our pasture. We have had great productivity from this area due to the ample moisture and there is abundant organic matter and nutrients available to the plants.
We have not changed the condition of the wetland areas as we are not looking to change over the land use to cropping land. We have a cattle back grounding operation and this requires enough pasture land to sustain the yearling steers we want to pasture over the summer. The "swamp" land and the dry fen have value to our farm in that they provide forage farm operation as well as recreational value. I have mentioned before about the high productivity, this benefits our operation as we are able to get a high level of grazing from this piece of pasture as we rationally graze the pasture in addition to the rest of the property. In addition the grazing helps keep the willows from reaching a climax community and out competing the grass species. The variation in the vegetation to levels and species provides a mixed habitat for many different native bird, insect and ungulate species. We have personally spotted ruffed grouse, black-capped chickadee, yellow bellied sapsucker, great grey owl, blue herons and multiple duck species.
Agriculture is our families way of life and the idea of raising chicken, turkeys and cattle on pasture is satisfying in that we provide value, nutrition and a transparent meat option to our consumers. Agriculture is living off the land and coexisting with the species that were living in the area before we began farming the land. Maintaining the diversity between pasture land, treed areas, wetlands and unfarmed area has allowed us to not only farm the land but allow for natural processes and succession to produce a vast collection of wildlife species. We as a family enjoy seeing birds flitting through the tree branches or porcupines chewing on willow bark when we go find our Carlyon family Christmas tree and white tailed deer bolting from the hay field. The difference in water availability fuels the wetlands which provide a different combination of vegetation for a wide range of wildlife. Frogs, ducks, cliff swallows, moose and coyotes all provide a function for a natural system. We would like to sustain this diversity and maintain a profitable family farm operation.
Below: Canadian Geese in our dugout July 7,2013
Below: Briana un-damming the creek to prevent hay field flooding