How to find the soil composition of your garden

Knowing your soil composition is very important if you are attempting to amend your existing soil to get your premium soil for growing.  You soil is made up of four components; sand, silt, clay, and organic material.

Sand has the largest particle size of all these components and creates large gaps between them which is excellent for water to flow through and roots to grow in.  On the contrast it is terrible for retaining water and will dry out quickly.

Silt has medium size particles and if you had to choose a single component for effective growing this would be it.  Its particles are large enough to allow healthy root growth and also retains water.  Though some plants like their roots to be a little more on the drier side so in isolation this may not work for all plants

Clay has the smallest particles thus making it very difficult for water to flow through it.  Not really much positive to say about this stuff though if your goal is to hold water this property can be great when used as a substructure out of your plants normal growing area 1-2 feet down, think of it as a natural earth box.

Organic Material is the good stuff (leaves, compost, grass clipping) the stuff that makes your “dirt” alive and becoming living soil.  This feed beneficial bacteria and worms to provide rich vermicompost to add natural nutrients to your garden.

Now we know what we are looking for, lets find out what we have in our back yard.  All of my vegetable gardens are raised which consist of soil I have brought in myself so I know they will be very loamy and high in organic matter to makes things more interesting.

1. Get Dirt: I dug a small hole (about 6 inches deep in a dead part of my lawn.  I filled an apple juice container about 2/3 full.  Any container can work for this as long as it is clear and uniform in shape/volume (width/depth) at the bottom.

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2. Add Water and Shake: Fill with water about 1-2 inches from the top and shake for at least one minute to ensure particles are well mixed

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3. Let Soil Components Rest: Set on a flat surface until water on top is clear or 24 hours (whichever comes first)

Before

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After

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4. Do the Math: After the dust particles have settled you should see 3 distinct lines and possibly some stuff floating in the water.  The sediments will settle according to their particle size (sand, silt, clay) and organic material should float above the water.

Given the knowledge mentioned above we can now calculate the percentage of each soil component to determine our soil type take a couple simple measurements.

Total Soil Height = Measure from the bottom of the container to top of sand/silt/clay

Sand Height = Measure from bottom of container to top of sand

Silt Height = Measure from top of sand to top of silt

Clay Height = Measure from top of silt to top of clay

% Sand = Sand Height / Total Soil Height X 100

% Silt = Silt Height / Total Soil Height X 100

% Clay = Clay Height / Total Soil Height X 100

Example of math using my Data

69.47% Sand  = 66mm / 95mm X 100%

29.47% Silt     = 28mm / 95mm X 100%

1.05% Clay     = 1mm / 95mm X 100%

Tip: You can measure with cm/mm/inches and the formulas will still work out as long as you use the same units for all measurements

Now using your Sand/Silt/Clay percentages you can now use the triangle diagram below to determine your soil type.  Though it can vary depending on the types of plants you are growing (i.e. succulents like the sand) but in general a nice “Silty loam” is what you want to shoot for, so if you are lacking adding some organic matter is the best way to get moving in that direction

SoilCompositionTriangle

Image from http://web.bethere.co.uk/fm/soil/formed/f0107.htm

Using my data I have “Sandy Loam” soil, though if I would have dug a few inches deeper I would have had a much higher percentage of clay.  Even if you are sure you know what your soil type I recommend trying this out you might end up surprised.

Money-Saving Tips for the Organic Gardener

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Organic gardening is a hobby many find relaxing and rewarding, and you can take a bite out of your produce bills by eating the delicious fruits and vegetables your efforts yield. However, between the many different planting and gardening tools and supplies you’ll need, the costs can really add up, and anything you can do to save a buck or two here and there will help. Fortunately, there are all kinds of simple money-saving gardening tips for the organic gardener looking to keep expenses under control.

Save Money on Seeds and Planting

If you’re looking for plant trays, hold off before buying brand-new ones. Many garden centers and nurseries will be more than happy to give you their used ones, so be sure to ask if you’re heading out there to pick up seeds or supplies. You can use them as starting pots; they work especially well for kicking off a hardy plant’s growth cycle.

Reusing household items for your gardening whenever possible is one of the best ways to save a few bucks. For example, rather than purchasing seed storage containers, you can use empty film canisters, which you can label to ensure you know which seeds are which. Separating individually started seeds in yogurt containers, plastic bakery trays or ice cube trays is another strategy you can use.

More Money-Saving Organic Gardening Tips

If you’re new to the world of organic gardening, it’s a good idea to get secondhand tools and supplies; you may also find it worth your while to choose plants that are easy to grow and care for so you’re not wasting time and money on finicky, fragile and difficult plants. Mint, lemon balm, thyme, sage and rosemary are excellent beginner herbs. Garlic, radishes, kale and potatoes are recommended vegetable crops for new organic gardeners.

You can cut down on your water usage by harvesting rainwater and creating tiny irrigation moats around your garden that allow you to store water and direct it to where it’s needed. Plants thrive when they’re given rainwater to drink; it’s naturally softened, free of chemicals and additives, and it’s pH-neutral, which in turn helps you maintain the proper pH level in your soil.

Get creative to save even more. If you have old tree stumps, make them part of your garden plan instead of paying several hundred dollars for professional removal. Simply hollow out the center of the stump and grow plants in it!

About the Author

Dontel Montelbaun is a lead writer for www.livetogarden.com, and is an advocate for organic gardening. On LiveToGarden.com you can find articles from Dontel focusing on flowers, outdoor living and landscape design.

Might actually have a summer this year…

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