Bob Barr came out to Mike Starkey's Brookston soil a few years ago sure of what he would find. A half-inch of rain fell the night before. The hydrologist and professor involved in a project to study and improve water quality going into Eagle Creek Reservoir in Marion County knows all about Brookston soil. Water moves through it slowly. He was going to find areas with water ponding when he visited that morning.
Then he arrived at the field, located near Brownsburg, along a creek, and scratched his head. Except for one area of ponding in a filter strip next to the creek, he didn't see nay ponding. The soil wasn't even that wet. He couldn't wait to find Starkey and determine what magical formula he used to keep his Brookston soils acting like well-drained soils as far as water infiltration goes.
"We have concentrated on improving the soil, but I wouldn't say we've done anything special," Starkey says. "We no-till, and have for years. We also apply gypsum as a soil amendment. It tends to improve the soil too. And we believe in cover corps. We try to get a cover crop on those fields when we can in the fall."
Barr put 2 plus 2 together. No-tilling and increasing worm channels, amending the soil with gypsum and incorporating cover crops added up to a plan for better water infiltration. That's why he wasn't seeing the ponding he expected on Brookston soil. Still not convinced, he asked Starkey if he could do an infiltration test.
The break line on improved soil vs. typical Brookston subsoil is about 19 inches. Normally when Barr pours a jug of water into a tube on the top of Brookston soil to do an infiltration test, he gets a couple hours of chair time, watching the water slowly move along. "I dumped in the water and I hardly got in the chair," he relates. "The water was down the tube and gone very quickly"
Once he saturated the top 19 inches, things reverted to normal. He poured in water and waited three hours for very little to happen. But it was the initial infiltration in such a short time on a normally heavy clay, dark, wet soil that he found so interesting.
Barr will continue to work with Starkey. His next goal is to figure out how to best manage the subsurface water coming out through tile lines.