Posted on 25 January 2012 by

Learn about Your Soil-Part I Soil Texture

By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

How well ones garden does is connected with the soil.

Soil is such a generic term that many individuals do not understand what the term really describes.

Soil is loosely defined as particles that are sand, silt or clay that are combined to create a certain mixture.

This mixture is dependent on the environment and is not limited to particles but also includes living organisms such as fungi, bacteria, worms, and other soil bound creatures.

To be an informed, responsible gardener, one must first know their soil and its organisms. There are three simple tests that can be done at the garden that will give the gardener a basic understanding of their individual soil. These include the feel test, moisture cast test, and the ribbon test.

The first test that any gardener should do when they enter a garden space that they plan to plant is the feel test. This test requires the gardener to dig below the turf line, if that is present, and collect a small amount of soil. The next step is dry the sample completely.

Once that is done, break the sample up by rolling it in the palm of your hand. After the sample has been broken up, rub some soil between the thumb and forefinger. Feel the grittiness the of the soil. Grittier the soil the more sand is in the sample. A gritty soil can be an indication of a moisture problem. Sandy soils have very large pores that do not store water very well.

If, on the other hand, the soil particles feel very smooth, then this is an indication that there is a lot of clay in the sample. This could be an indication of a drainage problem. Clay particles are small and in doing so do a great job at storing water.

The second test that any gardener should do is the moisture cast test. This test can be done with the same soil used above. To begin this test, one must first dry the soil. Once it is dry, the gardener will need to moisten it gradually. It is easier to add a little water at a time, knead and mix the soil, and add additional water as needed. The goal is to moisten the soil enough that it sticks together.

Once it is mixed, create a ball and place it in the palm of the hand. Squeeze the hand around the ball and let go. Then, move the “cast” from hand to hand. The more the “cast” stays together the more clay is in the sample. If the “cast” does not hold together at all, then there is a large amount of sand present.

The third test is the ribbon test. To perform this test, one needs a ball of soil that has been premoistened to the point that it is holding together. Once this is done, roll the ball into a cigar shape and place it between the thumb and forefinger. Push the cigar shape piece of soil through the thumb and forefinger. As you do this “soil ribbon” will begin to form. A ribbon that is nonexistent is an indication that a high percent of sand is present. If the ribbon is 3-inches or longer, then this is an indication of a very clayey soil. Ribbon length between these two measurements can be an indication of a silty or loamy soil.

While the tests described above are very simple, they do provide basic information that every gardener should know about their soils. Without this type of information, one cannot responsibly garden with fertilizer nor can the gardener be a true caretaker of their land.

So until we blog again, dirt may be on your floor but soil breathes life into us all.

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