We’re new to growing our own veggies. This will be our first time… well there was that one time I threw some butternut squash seeds outside in the middle of summer and was devastated when they flowered and died a horrible death. But yeah, aside from that… we’re TOTAL newbies.
We’re busy building our low-budget raised bed as we speak. (I’ll add the link in here as soon as we complete it and post it on the blog).
But we’re told that soil quality is where we should begin and so I give you… everything I have learned about how to test your soil type – without sending a sample away and waiting to hear back. We’ll do that next year when we have more time.
How to Test Your Soil Type at Home
What You’ll Need:
Large, clean Mason jar – with lid
Teaspoon of dish detergent
Step 1: Take a sample. You’ll want to do this in the area where you plan to place your beds. In our case, we’re doing raised beds, but to save money we’re not buying soil and instead we’re going to just use what we have out back and supplement as needed. Be sure to take a sample from below the surface. You’ll want to dig down at least 8″ for the best sample.
Step 2: Fill your jar about half way with soil.
Step 3: Add water till the top “curve” of the jar (leaving space for shaking the jar contents).
Step 4: Add a teaspoon of detergent.
Step 5: Shake well. VERY well. Making sure that all contents are “in motion” before you stop.
Step 6: Set the jar on a flat surface and walk away for about 24 hours.
Step 7: Analyze your results as follows below.
Starting at the bottom of the jar, the contents will settle in the following order: First to settle will be sand, then silt, and clay will be the last to settle. (There will probably also be all kinds of things floating on the surface – this is organic matter and can be ignored).
So, looking at our jar after 24 hours we see:
Yikes, that water color looks weird, right? And those floaty bits (the organic matter) make it looks kinda creepy. Let’s zoom in…
You have NO idea how hard it is to find the right light to make the jar contents visible, but not so much light that you have ridiculous reflection on the glass. This was the best I could do…
Now I happen to know that this isn’t correct — I think we made the mistake of sampling soil from too close to our compost heap and judging from these results that was compost sand, not soil. Our soil is about 80% clay, 10% sand and 10% silt. We have great black dirt, but it’s way too sticky and holds water a little too well (remember this?)
How to Fix Your Soil
Being new to this I really don’t have any suggestions for amending your soil based on my own experience, so instead I am going to link to some reputable sources for your convenience:
Loam Soil (You lucky bugger!)
We were pretty sure we were going to be dealing with clay soil and so we’ve been hoarding chicken and goat bedding and poop for a couple of months. We also started a vermicompost bin – though I must say I grossly underestimated the number of worms we would need to be able to adequately supplement a raised bed the size we’re going for. This property is full of trees and in the fall we have quite a blanket of them on the ground. I piled them all up dutifully in the compost bin as well. Now, I know that these things aren’t all ideal for use just yet – probably won’t be until next Spring – but thankfully my father in law has been piling up old leaves and grass clippings for a few years now so we will have some decent compost to use.
I am toying with the idea of just turning our earthworms loose in the raised bed, and starting the vermicompost bin over with a fresh batch of worms. Hmm… I will let you know when we’ve done it.