FAST Blog: Family Homestead

Permaculture, Preparedness, Homesteading & Survival

Friday, 10 March 2017

5 Ways To Test Your Garden Soil


So many people go about their garden with a sort of haphazard, hope for the best approach without observing what type of soil they are working with or having any idea what sort of problems they may come up against.


Since it's almost time for people to get stuck in to their gardening this year I thought it might be useful to share with you some different ways to test your soil so you have a rough idea of what you're working with, which will allow you to figure out maybe what amendments you may need to apply and help you get the most from your Garden this year. Most of these methods were covered in my Permaculture Design Course and are easy to do at home without forking out on complicated professional soil testing kits or specialist equipment.

You can collect soil for different parts of your land and mix it to give you an overall picture or you can target specific parts of the garden to get an more intimate knowledge of your soil.


1 - Glass Jar Soil Test


Take a clear glass jar and fill half way with soil. Fill the rest of the jar with water leaving a 1" air gap at the top to allow you to shake the mixture. Attach the lid and shake vigorously for a minute to break up any clods in the soil and allow all particles to become suspended in the water. Put the jar in an out of the way place to allow the particles to settle undisturbed

Glass Jar Soil Test
The next day your sample should have settled in to something vaguely resembling the photo above. If you look closely you should be able to see the separate layers that make up your soil. Sand are the largest particles and make up the bottom layer, Silt forms the middle layer and Clay is the smallest mineral component and falls on top. By looking at the ratio of each you can build a rough picture of what type of soil you have, in my photo example the soil is from the part of our land where the kitchen garden will go and you can see that I have almost equal parts Clay, Silt and Sand which classes my soil type as Loam - one of the best soils to garden with.

The perfect combination for garden soil is 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand.
If the combination is 30% clay, 60% silt, 10% sand = It is a Silty Clay Loam soil.
If the combination is 15% clay, 20% silt, 65% sand = It is a Sandy Loam soil.
If the combination is 15% clay, 65% silt, 20% sand = It is a Silty Loam soil.

To confirm your results if you are unsure you can couple them with the next technique:

2 - Hand Soil Test


Hand Soil Test - Form A Bolus

The following test when used in conjunction with the jar test can help form a picture of what type of soil you really have, it's time to get our hands dirty!

Use the following infographic to find out your soil type using your hands (click to see full size)

Hand Soil Texture Test
Hand Soil Test - Forming A Ribbon

Knowing your soil makeup can help to foresee what you might expect to come up against. If your garden is predominantly Clay then you will find it may be prone to waterlogging in the winter, backbreaking to dig in the summer and difficult to grow things like carrots, although brassicas will thrive on the high nutrient content that it provides. If you have mostly Sandy soil it will be fast draining and may not hold enough water for thirsty plants like tomatoes but will suit long rooted plants like tomatoes/parsnips perfectly. 

Once you know the texture it is a good idea to find out if you have acid or alkaline earth with the next soil tests

3 - Alkaline Soil Test


Collect 1 cup of soil from your garden and put 2 spoonfuls into separate containers. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the soil. If it fizzes, you have alkaline soil, with a pH probably between 7 and 8.

4 - Acid Soil Test


If it doesn’t fizz after doing the vinegar test, then add distilled water to the other container until 2 teaspoons of soil are muddy. Add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes you have acidic soil, most likely with a pH between 5 and 6.
If  your soil doesn’t react at all it is neutral with a pH of 7 and you are very lucky!

5 - Worm Test


The worm test requires a bit more energy and enthusiasm! Worms are a good indicator of your overall soil health, and it's easy to test your soil at home with a worm test. Wait until soil is warm and moist, mark out a 12 inch x 12 inch square then dig out a 12 inch cube of soil and place the earth on a tarp etc, Sift through the soil and count the earthworms. If you have at least 10 worms (the more worms the better) then your soil is healthy and passes the test. If your soil is low on worms it could be an indicator of underlying soil problems, it could be down to lack of organic matter, contamination of chemical pollutants or high salts and worms will also die if your soil is consistently too wet, too dry, too hot, too cold, too acidic, or too alkaline.
Since these wriggly subterranean helpers do so much to improve the soil in your garden it is well worth giving them a favourable environment; Earthworms adore damp organic matter like compost and love to chill out beneath mulch and no till gardens in general. 

Whatever your soil type do not despair, there is no type of soil that cannot provide an abundance if given the right TLC. I have yet to find any soil that does not benefit from good quality compost and organic matter, after all you can garden on top of solid rock/concrete with raised beds of good compost!


I hope you've found this post useful. We're linking up once again with Amy of Love Made My Home for Five on Friday, and a quick reminder that as of the 24th of March the link up will be hosted right here on FastBlog! Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend :)




Instructions: Select all code above, copy it and paste it inside your blog post as HTML

Share:

31 comments

  1. Brilliant post, we have heavy clay here, so I treat my soil each spring, to breakdown the clay.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We were on heavy clay when we lived in Essex so we know the struggle well!

      Delete
  2. I admit I'm a 'plant it and hope' kind of gardener. We have two cats who dig it up for 'personal' reasons so it's a bit of a waste of time to do anything too adventurous. But we have lots of greenery, and in summer there's honeysuckle and a rather pretty clematis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Our next door neighbour has more cats than any sane person needs so we put bits of orange/citrus peel around the base of anything we plant to try and deter them, it seems to be working so far

      Delete
  3. Interesting post. We have heavy clay and have learned what thrives on it over the years. I have a few pots for plants that cannot tolerate it but I still love to have in the garden.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clay has more nutrients in it than any other soil type so it is fantastic to grow in once you accept its limitations

      Delete
  4. What an interesting post! I admit I'm that gardener you described in the first paragraph. We only have a small spot and I've only been growing food for a couple of years. It seems to grow fairly well. The biggest problem I have is deer. They keep eating everything. Any tips for deterring the deer?

    Happy Five on Friday

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would hazard a guess that spraying a strong chilli mix around edges would deter them, that and male urine. The other alternatives are fencing (barriers, not rapiers!) or growing a "sacrificial" crop especially for the deer on the perimiters in the hope that they wont need to venture further in to the "people" garden

      Delete
  5. Very useful indeed, thanks. I am a bit of an armchair gardener but having dug up parts of our back garden to make space for more house, I know it is heavy in clay. 'We' work our own compost in the soil regularly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. compost/organic matter works wonders, although if you look in to "No Dig Gardening" (specifically the free material that Charles Dowding shares) then you may be able to save a lot of time and energy :)

      Delete
  6. Awesome post!!! So much helpful info here. Thank you!!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. What a great post, thanks for all this useful information. 🐞

    ReplyDelete
  8. Very useful post. Happy Weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  9. My favorite is the worm test! I love that we have more and more worms in our garden as the years go by, rather than less. It lets me know that our efforts toward sustainability are successful. This is a great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Worms are amazing creatures, although scary when looked at under a microscope!

      Delete
  10. This is a wonderful post Tricky to encourage everyone to understand the soil we are all working with.
    The company I work for manufactures biological fertiliser and nutrients and you are so right about the earthworms.
    They are our greatest friends in the garden!
    I loved your post this week.
    Living in the Antipodes down under, our seasons are opposite to yours in the Northern Hemisphere, so things are slowing down here.
    Autumn has arrived and the soil temperature is dropping slowly.
    My first plant catalogue arrived in the mail yesterday a sure sign of the change of seasons!
    Shane

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would love to hear more about the company you work for, what types of fertilisers do they produce? I bet its incredibly interesting

      Delete
  11. Hi Tricky your interesting post has just hit home that we not only are empty nesters without the dog, we are also for the first time ever gardenless (and hopefully wormless!) in our new life. I look forward to posting about the orchids that we will be filling the house up with... I bet they have a certain soil that they thrive in best?!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Orchids are beautiful and incredibly easy to care for, they actually do better without soil though

      Delete
  12. What an interesting post, I shall pass it onto my husband who is the main gardener here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He'll likely know it all already if he's in to his gardening but it's useful for people starting out

      Delete
  13. What a great post as we contemplate the beginning of the gardening season here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love seeing everyone's gardens come to life on the blogs as we go through the year

      Delete
  14. Hello,
    This post must be very useful for many gardeners! It is sad that I am not good at dealing with soil. Happy weekend to you and your family!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to be incapable of growing even windowsill herbs so there is hope for everyone, just keep trying :)

      Delete
  15. This is so interesting to me! I love gardening - but tend to do a lot of container gardens - due to space and critters on our hill on the bay. We tend to have clay in our area - so that would be my guess. Although, we live in an area close to wetlands...so not sure if that would change things too?
    Thanks for the great lesson! Blessings on the week ahead. xo

    ReplyDelete
  16. Great post! Very informative. Soil is THE most important thing to do to have a healthy garden. Thank you.

    Cindy

    ReplyDelete
  17. Love this post, so helpful and relevant :D

    ReplyDelete

We are always glad to hear your comments, thoughts and opinions :)

Etsy

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Blog Design Created by pipdig