Learning to Test Soil Health at Chicoyole Farm

By Donne Gonzales, NMAA Farm Trainer, and the Sembradores Team

On April 17th, 2024,  the Los Sembradores team was able to spend time with Taylor Z. from the Taos Soil & Water Conservation District. Taylor was able to lead the crew in how to properly gather information on soil health. He shared with us the many different ways to determine soil health. Some are easy and low cost, others can be exact and sent to soil labs for approximately $50-70 depending on the type of test. 

Ideally, happy soil should act like a sponge. It should soak and retain moisture easily with little erosion. If it has healthy growth of grass, alfalfa, vegetables, it’s a good sign. It means there is soil cover which can help in retaining moisture, saving soil from erosion, and having a safe temperature especially in the heat of summer.

We looked for worms, bugs, and healthy roots. We learned that roots should be growing both vertical and horizontal. If the finding of earthworms or their channels is visible it’s another plus! 

Below we have the thoughts that were shared by Sembradores after this experience:


“Over the past few years I’ve begun to understand how important soil health is for our collective future. I know the health of soil is directly related to the natural water process, the nutrients in food we consume and the landscape around us. It was a pleasure to learn how to assess the health of soil with or without lab testing. This session also helped me further understand I am fortunate to steward land with great soil health and now it is my responsibility to ensure the soil health remains intact or improves as I begin farming the land. I would like to implement heavy ground cover and mulching to protect and infuse nutrients into the soil. As I am on an incline, I am also planning to use resources from the land, (specifically branches collected from tree pruning for fire safety and tall grass trimmings) to slow down water flow during wet season and when the acequia is used to irrigate the field. I am grateful to have had this experience and look forward to continually learning about soil health and sharing this knowledge with others.”


“A soil test is something I’ve always wanted to do. I thought it was too expensive, the results too detailed to understand and how do you know if you’re sending the right samples. Taylor did a super great job explaining everything in a clear, concise manner. I loved that he brought a specialized soil collecting gadget and a shovel to demonstrate soil sample collecting. I feel 100% confident to do this on my own and understand the results.”


“Our visit on Chicoyote Farm with Tyler Zander from Taos Soil and Water was very informative. We learned practical knowledge used for soil testing. One of the most impactful lessons I learned is that I can test my soil by simply analyzing it through my senses. Tyler shared a copy of an In-Field Soil Health Assessment with indicators that they use to determine soil health through first-hand interaction. Once we were given a baseline understanding of what healthy soil is composed of, and how it looks, feels, and smells the testing was accessible and easy. We discussed sustainable processes to regenerate unhealthy soil and alternatives to existing intrusive methods such as tilling to prepare the soil for growing seasons. The other techniques include cover cropping, silage tarps, and experimentation to see what works best in our ecosystems. Because acequias are shared waterways, our community connection and understanding our impact on the soil is essential information.”


“We had someone from Taos county come by and gather a few soil samples to do a soil test. He told us about the Haney soil health test and showed us an example of some test results from another farm. He explained a good bit about what the test results meant and what good macro and micro nutrient level should be at. He also demonstrated some other soil tests that can easily be done without the use of a lab analysis, such as the infiltration test and slake test which could easily be done at home. He also gave us copies of an In-Field Soil Health Assessment which can give you a good idea of the health of the soil from simply making observations. I will use the assessment and home tests on my personal garden for this season and in the future I would like to send some soil samples in for a Haney soil health when I expand on my personal farm site.”

For more information on how to conduct a soil test on your own farm or ranch, visit: 

Slake Test info: https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/danecountyag/files/2020/02/Slake-test-handout.pdf

Haney test lab: https://www.wardlab.com/how-healthy-is-your-soil/


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *