Everyone strives for a garden that produces an abundance of fruits, flowers and vegetables, but sometimes our gardening efforts fail. If you want a successful garden, then you should have your soil tested. You donít need a lot of fancy equipment to test your soil. There are several ways to test the soil. You can send a sample to the local county extension agent. Some states will charge a small fee. However, the extra produce you receive more than pays for any incurred expenses. The results wonít return to you immediately. It takes several weeks for the test results to come back. Another way to test the soil is to buy a home testing kit, found in most garden supply stores or online.
Here is an easy, do it yourself, soil test. If you have kids, why not include this as part of their school curriculum. The sooner they learn about healthy soil, the more informed they are to preserving our future food supply.
Get a Soil Sample
Before taking the soil sample, wash your spade or shovel. You donít want to add other soil types that are foreign to that area.
Dig a small hole approximately 8 inches deep. Position the edge of your spade or shovel about an inch from the edge of the hole. Push the shovel into the soil taking about an inch slice. When you do this, it is like slicing a chunk of cheese. Put the soil slice into a clean bucket.
Repeat this process of digging holes and gathering samples, another five to six times throughout the garden area. When you are finished, thoroughly mix the soil samples.
Dry the Soil
Lay newspaper, at least five pages thick, over an unused, protective area in your garage, porch, or lean-to. Do not place the newspapers on top of the soil, because they will absorb the moisture from the ground below. This causes your soil samples to have trouble drying out. Spread out the soil, so it dries.
Find a Jar
When the soil dries out, mix it again with your hands. Grab several handfuls of soil. Pulverize the soil until you are left with fine granules. There are several ways to do this. You can pound it with a hammer or rock until you are left with small particles. Another method is to put the soil on top of an old fine-meshed screen. Rub the dirt over the screen with your hands. Gather up the small, fine particles until you have at least 1 cup of soil.
In a clean jar, pour the sieved soil inside until it is about 1 inch deep. Add ľ teaspoon of powdered dishwasher detergent. It is important to use powdered detergent, because you donít want a jar full of bubbles.
Pour in enough water to fill the jar two-thirds full. Cap it with a tight fitting lid and then shake the jar for 60 seconds. Turn the jar upside down occasionally to check for any unmixed soil. You want all the soil particles mixed with the water.
Determining Sand, Silt, and Clay Composition
Next, place the jar on the counter and do not mess with it. It is important that it remains undisturbed. Set a timer for one minute. When the timer goes off, take a crayon or wax pencil and look at your jar. Make a mark where the particles have settled at the bottom. This shows you the sand content.
Set the timer again for 4 hours. After the timer goes off, check the jar again. Mark the line where the soil has settled again. This line indicates how much silt your soil has. Leave the jar setting for another day or two until the contents settle. This last settling will show you the amount of clay that your soil has.
Compare the three soil levels. Which one is the thickest? If the sand level, that was the bottom layer, is 70 percent or more, this means the soil dries out quicker. Even though you can plant earlier in the spring, you will also need to water more often. If the soil content has 35 percent or more clay, then the soil retains moisture for longer periods. To help clay soil produce a lusher garden, add compost to the soil. Compost does several things. It helps break down the clay in the soil, as it provides nutrients for plant health. The best garden soil will have equal amounts of sand, silt, and clay.