soil health

Job Opening: Assistant/Associate Extension Educator In Soil Health

Search #: 496069
Work type: Full-time
Location: Hartford County Extension Ctr
Categories: Faculty Extension Educator

The Department of Extension is seeking applicants for a full-time (11 month) non-tenure track Assistant/Associate Extension Educator in Soil Health. The successful applicant will assess, develop and deliver impactful extension programs on soil health, regenerative agriculture, and conservation practices. These programs will build an Extension program focused on creating more climate and economically resilient agricultural systems through improved knowledge of soils and soil health and will include soil and livestock manure management. This Extension Educator will collaborate with UConn personnel, state and federal agency partners, growers, and producers as appropriate. The successful applicant will develop an interdisciplinary education and applied research program in soil health addressing diverse cropping systems that include ornamental and turf crops, food and forage crops as well as composting that utilizes manure, food waste, and other organics. They will have familiarity with how to leverage federal, state, and regional programs to protect, preserve, and restore Connecticut soils. This includes collaborating with USDA – NRCS, CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, CT Department of Agriculture, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and other stakeholders to ensure growers, farmers and land managers are well informed and have the proper tools and knowledge to successfully build and maintain soil health. The plan of work will include making recommendations for using appropriate management practices and the latest technologies to protect water quality and quantity as well as other natural resources of CT and Long Island Sound.

To learn more and apply click here.

2023 Spring Urban Agriculture Tour at Green Village Initiative

Save the Date for the upcoming Urban Ag Conservation Tour we will be co-hosting with partners on April 29, 2023, as part of our CT Soil Health Initiative with USDA NRCS.

Hosted at Green Village Initiative’s Reservoir Community Farm in Bridgeport, learn about support for urban farms and organizations. Leaders in the industry will be on hand to explain ways to get funding for urban farm infrastructure. Tour Reservoir Farm with Executive Director Ellie Angerame, as she demonstrates urban farming methods that have proven so successful. 

Registration is free and available at CT NOFA:


Climate Smart Agriculture

Interested in making your farm more resilient? Concerned about climate change? Join us at the Litchfield County Extension Center on February 9 to learn about ways to enable your operation to be sustainable. Dinner provided! For more information and to register, visit:

For special accommodations, please contact

NEW online Soil Course: Soil Health and Climate Adaption for CT Growers

As part of UConn Extension’s Solid Ground program we are sharing a NEW online Soil Course: Soil Health and Climate Adaption for CT Growers, led by the one and only soil scientist, Kip Kolesinskas!
This 10-module online course is for growers looking to learn more about analyzing their soils, understanding soil health, assessing farmland, implementing conservation practices on the farm, and adaptation and mitigation strategies that can be used in the face of a changing climate. The course will run from 01/11/23 until 4/01/23.
The course was created by Kip Kolesinskas, a former USDA NRCS Soil Scientist and current UConn Solid Ground Professional Soil, Conservation, and Land Use Consultant. 
The course will begin with a live online event on January 11th hosted by Kip, after that you may work through the course at your own pace. Kip will host another live online event on March 29th to wrap up the course, you will have until April 1st to complete the modules. The fee for this course is $60, if you have 8 of the 10 modules completed by 04/01/23, you are eligible to be reimbursed half of the course fee ($30). Deadline to enroll is January 3, 2023.

Using Coffee Grounds in Your Garden

wooden spoon with coffee grounds on it

We are frequently asked if coffee grounds can be used in a garden. The short answer is yes, coffee grounds can be used in garden soil!

Coffee grounds contain some major nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) as well as some micronutrients, so put them to work in your garden. Allow them to dry and then spread them around the base of plants.
Apply no more than one-half inch of coffee grounds when putting fresh coffee grounds directly to the ground as mulch. Because coffee grounds are finely textured and easily compacted, thick layers of coffee grounds as mulch can act as a barrier to moisture and air movement in soils.
So if you are using coffee grounds as a “dressing” for specific plants or trees, apply the grounds in a thin layer or work into the top layer of the soil.
Article by Gail Reynolds, Middlesex County Master Gardener Coordinator

Urban Farmer Trainings in Hartford

Urban Farmers and Hartford area Friends!   

Get ready for Urban Farmer Trainings in Hartford!

August 21st and August 28th
At Keney Park Sustainability Project and KNOX Inc
9:00am to 4:00pm
Join the I Got Next Farmers (Lauren Little Edutainment, Samad Garden Initiative, Micro2Life and Derrick Bedward) as they cover topics such as 
  • Community Farming
  • Soil & Plant Health
  • Seed Saving & Plant Genetics
  • Regenerative Soil Amendments
  • Methods of Indoor
  • Soil-less Growing
  • Micro-green Growing
    Register here: by August 14th to claim your spot!!
    Micro-green Growing

    Nutrient Management in Canaan

    dairy cows in East Canaan at Freund's Farm
    Photo: G. Morty Ortega

    Nutrient Management on farms is a balancing act between how much manure needs to be spread and how many nutrients crop fields need. We work with dairy farmers throughout the state to address the challenge of managing nutrient distribution on their fields through research and outreach, innovative technology, and by fostering collaborative partnerships.

    The Canaan Valley Agricultural Cooperative Waste Management Program formed in 1995 when Peter Jacquier of Laurelbrook Farm received a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant. Jacquier worked with four other farmers to organize the cooperative. The farms improved manure management and disposal practices and adapted new technologies on their farming operations. Extension guides manure digester discussions, and assists with manure management through data collection, soil testing, and ongoing research using drones and other types of innovation.

    Dairy farmers in the cooperative, and other areas of the state, are developing strategies for anaerobic digestion and to deal with phosphorus accumulation in farm soils as a result of the grant.

    Methane digesters reduce odor and make farms more neighbor friendly. Digesters are expensive and need off farm food waste to help make the system profitable.

    Some digester companies include food waste tipping fees in the economic analysis, but not the increases in manure hauling costs to dispose of the added digestate. Farms need accurate hauling cost numbers to include in the economic analysis of the digesters to determine overall profitability of these projects. Extension continues to facilitate discussions with Canaan dairy farmers and others to address these challenges.

    Article by Richard Meinert

    No-till Vegetable Production

    No-till vegetable production: soil health, weed control, and crop yields

    Article by Shuresh Ghimire, Extension Vegetable Specialist, UConn Extension

    Building healthy soils, integrating cover crops, and managing weeds are key elements of vegetable farms. The use of no-till and cover crops provide a wealth of soil benefits thereby improving the productivity of the farming systems. However, due to limited agricultural land, farmers often have increasing pressure to keep greater portions of their land in cash crops. Cover-crop based no-till practices allow farms to gain the benefits of cover crop rotations while still earning a financial return from the land.

    No-tillage cropping systems are known to provide many benefits to soils that can improve crop productivity. Those benefits include better soil aggregate size and strength which means better soil structure, better infiltration, lower bulk density, better water holding capacity, decrease in erosion, and improved water quality. Other benefits include higher cation exchange capacity, which results in higher soil nutrient holding capacity and greater potential mineralizable nitrogen (increased soil nitrogen bank). Additionally, no-till contribute to increased organic matter (carbon) which serves as a food source for soil microbes. Soil microbes are responsible for the decay of organic matter and cycling of both macro-and micro-nutrients back into forms that plants can use.

    Though no-till systems offer a multitude of soil building as well as weed control benefits, implementation is limited, particularly in cooler climates like New England with shorter growing seasons. Correct management of cover crops used in no-till practices is critical because mismanagement can lead to undesired consequences, including serious weed issues rather than effective weed control.

    No-till and cover crop acres were increased significantly in Connecticut from 2012 to 2017. No-till acres was 18,153 acres (487 farms) according to 2017 Census of Agriculture, which was 54% increase from 2012. The cover crops acre was ~22,000 acres in 2017, which was 7.6% greater than 2012 (Soil Health Institute, 2019).

    In this article, I present farmers’ experience and some research evidence that show the use of no-till and cover cropping can provide a wealth of soil benefits thereby improving the farm profitability.

    Bryan O’Hara and Anita Johnson have been growing vegetables for a livelihood since 1990 at Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, Connecticut. Over the last twenty plus years of intensive vegetable growing at the farm, they constantly sought ways to improve the health and vitality of crops and soils.

    no till vegetable production“We slowly moved into no-till over the course of many years with experimentation. So, I do like to caution people to make sure it works for you before you put your whole farm into a new system because there are a lot of details.” Bryan says “We switched into no-till because we saw very strong improvement in crop health, less disease pressure, quite stunning results in plant disease and insect resistances, and very reduced need for weed control. We also saw the improvement in soil structure that resulted in much less irrigation needs. All of which resulted into greater profitability because crops were more vigorous, easier to harvest, stored better, and needed less labor.”

    An experiment in Blacksburg, VA, tested the effects of three cultivation techniques (conventional-till, strip-till, and no-till) on ‘Gladiator’ pumpkin production, weed pressure, soil moisture, and soil erosion in 2014 and 2015 (O’Rourke and Petersen, 2016). Overall yields were higher in 2015, averaging 20 tons/acre, compared with 17 tons/acre in 2014. In 2014, pumpkin yields were similar across tillage treatments. In 2015, the average fruit weight of no-till pumpkins was significantly greater than strip-till (13%) and conventional-till (22%) pumpkins. Weed control was variable between years, especially in the strip-till treatment. Soil moisture was consistently highest in the no-till treatment in both years of study. Conventional-till pumpkin plots lost ~9 times more soil than the two conservation tilled treatments during simulated storm events. The 2015 yield advantage of no-till pumpkins seems related to both high soil moisture retention and weed control. Research results suggest that no-till and strip-till pumpkin production systems yield at least as well as conventional-till systems with the advantage of reducing soil erosion during extreme rains.

    Jamie Jones of Jones Family Farm in Shelton, CT practices no-till pumpkin production.

    no till vegetable productionFigure 2 taken in mid-April shows winter rye with an herbicide strip where the pumpkins will be planted in June.  “We will roll the rye with a roller crimper when the rye starts shedding pollen, averaging sometime late in May”.  Jamie says “We planted this winter rye late September or early October in the last fall. It followed a cover crop of sorghum sudangrass that was planted after the strawberry field was turned under in early July”.

    Another research was conducted at University of Massachusetts Amherst to evaluate the nutrient cycling and weed suppressive benefits of forage radish (Raphanus sativus L. longipinnatus) cover crop mixtures to develop an integrated system for no-till sweet corn production (Fine, 2018). Treatments included forage radish (FR); oats (Avena sativa L.) and forage radish (OFR); a mixture of peas (Pisum sativum subsp arvense L.), oats and forage radish (POFR); and no cover crop control (NCC). Fall-planted forage radish cover crops showed successful weed suppression and recycling of fall-captured nutrients. Results indicated that POFR and OFR provided improved N cycling and sweet corn yield compared with FR and NCC. Early season N from decomposing cover crop residue was sufficient to eliminate the need for N fertilizer at sweet corn planting, thereby reducing input costs and risks of environmental pollution.

    Steve Munno, the Farm Manager at Massaro Community Farm in Woodbridge, CT, also uses cover crops and no-till to improve the soil health for organic vegetable production. “The combination of peas, vetch and oats works great in the no-till system”. Steve Munno says “With a single sowing of this cover crop mix in late summer we see significant accumulation of biomass throughout the fall from the peas and oats, an excellent winter cover protecting the soil, vigorous spring growth of vetch which produces more biomass and provides flowers for pollinators, plus nitrogen fixation (peas and vetch) and organic matter build up for the following crop”.

    no till vegetables at massaro community farmLounsbury et al. (2018) tested whether reusable plastic tarps, an increasingly popular tool for small-scale vegetable farmers, could be used to augment organic no-till cover crop termination and weed suppression in New Hampshire. The authors no-till transplanted cabbage into a winter rye (Secale cereale L.)-hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) cover crop mulch that was terminated with either a roller-crimper alone or a roller-crimper plus black or clear tarps. Tarps were applied for durations of 2, 4 and 5 weeks. Across tarp durations, black tarps increased the mean cabbage head weight by 58% compared with the no tarp treatment. This was likely due to a combination of improved weed suppression and nutrient availability. Plastic tarps effectively killed the vetch cover crop, whereas it readily regrew in the crimped but uncovered plots. However, emergence of large and smooth crabgrass (Digitaria spp.) appeared to be enhanced in the clear tarp treatment. Although this experiment was limited to a single site-year in New Hampshire, it showed that use of black tarps can overcome some of the obstacles to implementing cover crop-based no-till vegetable productions in northern climates.

    Bryan also shares his experience using tarps “Black and clear tarps are often superior to tillage events as some weeds can survive the tillage events, but tarps are really effective at giving us weed free surface to begin planting or seeding into”.

    Download a PDF of this article.


    Fine, J.S. 2018. Integrating cover crop mixtures and no-till for sustainable sweet corn production in the Northeast. Masters Theses. 637.

    Lounsbury, N., N. Warren, S. Wolfe, and R. Smith. 2018. Investigating tarps to facilitate organic no-till cabbage production with high-residue cover crops. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems:1-7. doi:10.1017/S1742170518000509

    O’Hara, B. 2020. No-till intensive vegetable culture: pesticide-free methods for restoring soil and growing nutrient-rich, high-yielding crops. Chelsea Green Publishing, U.S.

    O’Rourke, M.E. and J. Petersen. 2016. Reduced tillage impacts on pumpkin yield, weed pressure, soil moisture, and soil erosion. HortScience 51:1524–1528.

    Soil Health Institute. 2019. Progress report: Adoption of soil health systems based on data from 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture. Soil Health Institute, Morrisville, NC.

    Have Your Soil Tested for Macro and Micro Nutrients

    person holding a cup of soil
    Photo: Dawn Pettinelli

    Send your soil sample in for testing now. Our standard nutrient analysis includes pH, macro- and micro nutrients, a lead scan and as long as we know what you are growing, the results will contain limestone and fertilizer recommendations. The cost is $12/sample. You are welcome to come to the lab with your ‘one cup of soil’ but most people are content to simply place their sample in a zippered bag and mail it in. For details on submitting a sample, go to UConn Soil and Nutrient Laboratory.