Look over your garden site. Does the soil appear the same throughout the site? If so, take a cup of soil and study the particles in the soil. Try to estimate what percentage of the particles are clay, sand, gravel, and organic material. Write your estimates down so you can remember them. If you have more than one type of soil, do the same analyses for each type.
Definition of Particle Types
Sand. Sand is composed of many different sizes of particles. You should be able to see individual particles without the aid of a magnifying glass. If you water sand, the water runs through very quickly. Try squeezing it into a ball. Notice that sand does not hold its shape. Sand may be tan, white, or even black depending on what minerals are mixed in it. Most sand is white or tan-colored quartz.
Clay. You cannot see individual clay particles without a strong magnifying glass. Pour water through clay. Note that it does not easily drain. Clay feels sticky and forms a compact ball when squeezed. Clay´s color depends on the minerals mixed with it.
Gravel. Gravel may come in several sizes. Look to see if the gravel consists of the same size rocks or if the rocks vary in size and shape. Look at the rocks. Are the edges smooth or rough? Generally, smooth rocks have come from riverbeds where they were smoothed out by the action of water. Rough edged rocks have always been on dry land or are freshly chipped from larger boulders.
Organic matter. Organic matter is anything coming from a live plant or animal. This includes manure, dead leaves, plant stems, and chopped pieces of wood. Organic matter makes dark colored soil. It also helps the soil hold water and nutrients. If the soil is light colored, indicating it is low in organic matter, it will have difficulty holding adequate moisture and nutrients for proper plant growth.
Soil Type Definitions
Now that you have noted percentages of the different soil ingredients, determine which soil type you have.
Loam is the best possible soil. Loam consists of various particle sizes. It contains sand, clay and organic matter. Loam crumbles easily when you try to make a ball.
Sandy loam has more sand than clay particles. If you try to make a ball with it, it will fall apart easily. Sandy loam drains easily.
Clay loam is just the opposite of sandy loam. It has more clay than sand and does not drain easily. Clay loam soil holds together when you try to make a ball.
Gravel is a combination of any of the loam types with a substantial amount of gravel. Unless you are a rock gardener, you won´t want to garden in this site. Large size gravel may cause problems when working the soil by damaging rototillers and other equipment.
Now that you have studied your soil, what conclusions have you drawn? Is your proposed garden site a good selection? If not, start the process over and find a better garden site.
The next article will discuss the issue of soil fertility. See you there!
This content was written by Diana Pederson. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Debra Jensen for details.