top of page

Planet Project 2

Water Absorption Test

Posted Monday Oct. 7, 2019

Creamy cabbage soup with Gruyere cheese or
Autumn Harvest Minestrone

How to choose!

And that would have been followed by:
Spinach and Kale salad; potato and lentil salad; or mushroom bhajis

And for the main entreé your choice of:

Potato, pumpkin, and beetroots served with rosemary, pine nuts and feta cheese along with a side dish of caramelized baked Brussel sprouts.
Sweet potato African stew with peanuts and kale

Roast squash and chickpeas with apricot sauce

And for desert, of course, there was chocolate cake.  Or you could have had a berries and cream parfait.

That’s what I call a great menu!  So thank you everyone for getting us started.  I hope this inspires many more Vegetarian Friday feasts.

Baselines and Planet Project
So what other lessons do the horses teach us?  An important one is get a baseline.  In clinics I always think of the first day as the baseline day.  I need to see what we are starting with.  What does this horse/handler team know?  Where are they emotionally?  What is working for them?  What are the gaps, the missing elements that are being revealed?

Before I start “moving the furniture around” in a lesson I need to find out what “room of the house” I’m in and even if “the furniture” needs to be moved.  In other words I need a baseline.

The same thing applies to pasture management.  Where do you begin?  The horses are showing us the easy answer - by getting a baseline.  What is your starting point?

In last week’s podcast Manda referenced a friend of hers who told her if you are only going to do one test of your soil make it the water absorption test.  

So that seems like a great starting point for generating a good baseline.  That’s our Planet Project for this week.  It’s a simple one, but it’s very important.

Here’s what you will do:

Take a tin can.  Cut both ends off.  Sink it into the ground.  Pour water in and see how long it takes before it’s absorbed.  

That will give you an index of how easy it will be to help transform your land.  

In “Dirt to Soil” Gabe Brown talks about how restoring the health of his soil allowed rainwater infiltrate and be retained instead of simply running off his pastures after a storm.  His farm was in North Dakota where the average rainfall was only 16 inches/year.  As a comparison, my area gets 40 inches/year.  The US as a whole gets 32.2 inches/year.   For fun I also looked up the UK.  That’s only 33.7 inches/year.  That was a surprise.  I would have thought England was much wetter than my area.  

And speaking of rain I will have to wait for today’s rain to stop before heading out with a tin can to begin my test.  I think I will make several tests, one in the pasture (away from the horses so I’m not creating holes for them to step in), and another in the garden areas where I have been adding the material from the composter.

We can compare results through the week and in the process learn something more about soil.

(And it goes without saying, the last step in the instructions is: recycle the tin can.)

Horse People Can Make a Difference!


Horses for future pony in snow photo 5 n

Horses for Friday: Planet Project 2: The Water Infiltration Test

Posted: Friday October 11, 2019

Horses for future horses pushing palnet

Equiosity Podcast Episode 79: Manda Scott Pt 3: Soil Farming, Horse Welfare, and the Link to Training


Before I jump into what this means for our horses, I just published Part 3 of our interview with Manda Scott. We pick up where we left off with a discussion of regenerative farming and the connection to both the health of our horses and of the planet. We address the question of what to do with our manure piles and how to get more organic matter into our soils. And that in turn takes us straight to a discussion of this week’s Planet Project: the water infiltration test.

I’ll share with you some of what I have been learning from Gabe Brown’s book “Dirt to Soil”. Brown describes his journey from commercial agriculture (what he was taught in Ag college) to regenerative farming.

He summarizes his recommendations in the Five Principles of Soil Health. He would say these are principles developed by nature. When you learn to follow them, your land can thrive.

Principle 1: Limit Disturbance

He is referring here to tilling the soil to prepare it for crops. Even if all we have is a small vegetable garden, often we begin by tilling the soil. We’ve been taught that tilling improves the soil when in fact it is the opposite. Tilling, according to Brown (or he would say nature), breaks down soil structure.

From Dirt to Soil:

“It destroys soil aggregates, significantly decreases water infiltration rates, and accelerates the breakdown of organic matter, among other effects. During this intrusive process oxygen is infused into the soil, which stimulates particular types of opportunistic bacteria that quickly multiply and consume the highly carbon-based biotic glues.

These highly complex natural glue substances hold the micro and macro aggregates (composed of sand, silt and clay particles) together. When the glues are gone, the silt and clay particles fill the voids, which reduces porosity.

This reduction results in anaerobic conditions in the soil, altering the type of soil biota, which in turn may lead to an increase in pathogens and loss of nitrogen in the system because of an increase in denitrifying bacteria.

Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. As microbes die, they release they release soluble forms of nitrate nitrogen into the soil solution which stimulates weed growth.

Tillage also diminishes complex mycorrhizal fungal networks. The severed hyphal network can no longer deliver complex amino acids and other complex organic/inorganic molecules, thus impacting plants and animals. Fewer nutrients for plants means fewer nutrients for animals.

This is the main reason the soils on my ranch saw organic matter levels drop from an estimated over 7 percent pre-European settlement to less than 2 percent at the time we purchased the land. Consider that organic matter (carbon) controls 90% of soil functions related to plant growth, and you understand why tillage is so destructive.” (excerpt from Dirt to Soil).

Now none of us are tilling our horse pastures, but some of the mud lots I see in my area are victims of the same effect. Too many horses on too small a space break down the protective barrier of sod and churn the soil into knee-deep muck. Especially when they are on clay, the soil structure breaks down. The water can no longer be absorbed. The horses are squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces as they try to avoid ever-expanding pools of standing water.

This week I had you do a water absorption test. Brown talks about the change in his land’s ability to absorb water. In the water absorption test you are looking at the rate at “which rainfall can infiltrate our soils rather than ponding on the surface and evaporating or exiting as sheet flow.”

Here’s another short excerpt from his book:

“Our decision to stop using synthetic fertilizers on the ranch was a big step on our journey into regenerative agriculture. It was easy at that point to see the difference between our soil and our farming neighbors, including an organic producer. Their croplands clearly lacked organic matter and soil structure. The water infiltration rate on our farm had increased significantly. In 1991 the rate was one-half inch per hour. In 2015 it was one inch of water in nine seconds. A second inch will infiltrate in sixteen seconds. That’s two inches in twenty-five seconds!

That’s the power of mycorrhizal fungi and soil biology. They combine to build soil aggregates, which allows water to infiltrate, and then the organic matter stores that water. It’s not a matter of how much total rain falls on your land, it’s how much can infiltrate your soils and be stored there that counts. That storage ability is the effective total rainfall. If we have low amounts of effective total rainfall, we create our own drought.” (And we also create flooding into the areas where the rain runs off instead of being absorbed into the soil.)

I tested three areas at the barn. I used a 2 inch cylinder and timed how long it took for 2 ounces of water to be absorbed.

In my upper pasture which is a clay soil it took 3 minutes 11 seconds. On a hillside where I have put a combination of shavings and horse manure it took 1 minute 15 seconds. In the garden by the driveway where I have used my premium compost from the horses it took 9 seconds! That’s quite a difference!

So limit disturbance is Principle #1. I’ll share the other four principles in the weeks to come.

For now look at your land. Are there areas where your horses have “tilled” your soil? How can you turn things around and transform mud lots into good grazing? That’s the question we’ll be exploring in the weeks ahead.

As a sneak preview next week we’ll be recording a podcast with Jane Myers, the developer of the equicentral system. This week she shared a video in the Horses for Future facebook page on using hay mulch to restore areas that have been broken down and damaged by over-grazing. I thought that was perfect timing given this week’s Planet Project.


Manda Scott photo.png
Horses for future Project 2.jpg

Lessons From The Horses
Horse people can make a difference.  What does that mean?  

It isn’t just about pasture management and sequestering carbon.  It also means we can take the lessons that our horses are teaching us out to the broader public to help find solutions for the climate crisis.  These Planet Projects give us practice in how to do that.

Last week’s Vegetarian Friday let us practice a very important concept:
you can’t take something away without putting something else in it’s place.  

This is hugely important when it comes to the environment.  We’re forever being told we mustn’t use plastic bags at the grocery, or fly on airplanes, or drive big cars, etc..  These “mustn’t do’s” all involve taking away conveniences we have come to enjoy.  Replacing plastic bags with our own multiple-use bags is an easy switch.  Other changes are more challenging.  

So let’s think about the lesson first from the perspective of horse training.

I want to train in a positively-focused environment. I’ve learned that it doesn’t help to tell a client what not to do.  When your horse is biting at you, telling you not to hit him doesn’t help. Taking away the option of smacking your horse just leaves a void.  If I want a different outcome, I need to fill that void with suggestions for what TO DO instead.

This is an important lesson to take with us whenever we want to change behavior.  Last week we celebrated Vegetarian Friday by sharing recipes.  Thank you to everyone who participated.  That exercise gave us all some practice in providing “To Do” options.

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I am a vegetarian.  When I was three I decided that I wasn’t going to eat my friends.  It took me a while to figure out what that meant and how I was going to go about it, but essentially I have been a vegetarian most of my life.  

When I started giving clinics, almost thirty years ago now, vegetarian cooking was far less common.  So when I told my hosts that I was a vegetarian, I would often get a deer-in-the-headlights response back from them.  What do you do with a vegetarian?  How do you cook for someone who doesn’t eat meat?  I remember several very panicked hosts.  So I learned very quickly the truth of - “you can’t take something away without putting something else in its place”.  They needed some suggestions for dealing with vegetarian cooking.

Vegetarian cooking is much more common these days.  Many people are vegetarians for reasons similar to mine.  Others have chosen a plant-based diet because of health considerations. Whatever the reason, we are all learning this choice has positive benefits for the planet.

But it’s no good just telling people to cut back on their meat consumption.  That doesn’t tell them what TO DO.  If you want this to become a habit, one that’s easy to follow, you need to provide good alternatives.  That’s what Vegetarian Friday was all about.  Sharing recipes gave us many great options and ideas for creating a plant-based feast.

Last Friday if we had been able to go out together to a fancy restaurant, we would have had a great menu to choose from.  Just the soup course alonewould have been a wonderful treat:


Some of the recipes people sent in for Vegetarian Friday (Visit Horses for Future for the rest)

Creamy Cabbage Soup With Gruyère

contributed by C. Collins

(serves 6, about 45 minutes from start to finish, 15 minutes active)


  • ¾ pound cabbage (about 1/2 medium head), cored and shredded

  • Salt to taste

  • 5 cups water or vegetable stock

  • 1 tsp thyme

  • 1 Parmesan rind (if you don't have one, skip)

  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

  • 2 cups milk (whole or low fat)

  • 1 cup grated Gruyère cheese

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 1 russet potato, peeled and grated (adds body)

For garnish

  • 6 1/2-inch thick slices of French or country bread, brushed with olive oil, toasted and cut cubes. Or you can leave whole

  • Minced fresh chives (or thyme)


  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the grated potato, the shredded cabbage and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir together for a minute, taking care that the potatoes don’t stick to the pot, and add the water or stock, the Parmesan rind, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

  2. Add the milk to the soup. Stir to combine well and heat through without boiling. A handful at a time, stir the Gruyère into the soup and continue to stir until the cheese has melted. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove the Parmesan rind. Serve, garnishing each bowl with a handful or toasted croutons and a sprinkling of minced chives. If using whole slices, place at the bottom of the bowl, and ladle the soup over

Autumn Harvest Minestrone

Contributed by S. Kernek

If you live and garden in the northern hemisphere, then its harvest time. Unless you live in Montana, then it is just plain weird climate change, MT received several inches to feet of snow last week! This time of year I am busy harvesting and putting up whatever I can get in from the garden before the hard frost. It is getting cold in the Pacific Northwest. So a bowl of hearty soup made from the garden is most enjoyable. One of my old favorites:

Minestrone - 4-6 servings (I always make much more).

3 Tbs. olive oil

1 cup onion - chopped

4-5 (or more!) cloves Garlic - crushed

1 cup celery - minced

1 cup carrot- diced

1 cup eggplant - 1/2 “ diced

1 cup zucchini - 1/2” diced

1 cup green beans - cut into 1” lengths

1 cup red or green pepper - 1/2 “ diced

2 tsp salt (or to taste)

1/2 tsp black pepper (or to taste)

1/2 cup fresh basil -chopped

1 tsp. oregano (or a bunch of fresh)

2 cups tomato puree (if you have lots of tomatoes to use- make it!)

3 1/2 cups veggie stock (you can make this with all the trimmings from the herbs and vegetables you are using) or use water.

1/4 cup dry red wine

1 1/2 cups cooked chick peas or other beans

1/2 cup dry pasta (of your choice. I like small pieces like elbow or shells)

1 cup Fresh Tomatoes - chopped

Top with :

1/2 cup fresh parsley - chopped

Parmesan cheese (lots) - optional

In a large heavy pot, heat olive oil over med-high heat sauce. Add garlic and onions, stir regularly, cook until translucent and soft. Add 1 tsp salt, carrot, celery, and eggplant. Add pepper (if you are using dried herbs add them now). Mix well, cover and cook over low heat for 5-8 minutes. Add peppers, stock, puree, cooked beans, and wine.Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add tomatoes and the remaining salt. Taste test to adjust seasonings. Keep on lowest heat until just before serving. 15 minutes before serving- heat soup to a low boil and add pasta. Cook until pasta is al dente. Serve immediately, topped with parsley and parmesan. Serve with a salad of fall greens, crusty sourdough bread, and a glass of whatever (something red comes to mind).

bottom of page