Creating Healthy Soil – Part Two

Silty soil. (Courtesy: Stephanie McCarthy at flickr.com)

Silty soil.
(Courtesy: Stephanie McCarthy at flickr.com)

In Creating Healthy Soil – Part One, I discussed the five elements of good soil – minerals, organic matter, soil life, air and water. I concluded that the solution for healthy soil is to properly balance the five elements.

In this article I will discuss the different types of soil texture and the things you can do to improve them.

Soil texture can range from very fine bits to rough and rocky. Determining the texture of your soil doesn’t require a rocket scientist. You simply grab some soil in the palm of your hand and wet it slightly, then run the mixture between your fingers. A gritty feel means that it is sand; a smooth feel means it is silt. When it is harsh when dry, sticky or slippery when wet or rubbery when moist, it has a large amount of clay.

Soil, regardless the kind, has distinctive physical characteristics that are determined when it is formed. To improve the soil you’re dealing with you first need to identify the soil type. Type of soil is based on the predominant type of particles present. That can be sand, silt or clay. There is a simple test you can perform to determine what soil type you have. It is suggested that you repeat the test with many different samples from your garden and lawn.

The test involves six steps and you will need several items to perform it including a one-quart jar, topsoil from your garden, water, and a marker.

Clay soil. (Courtesy: John and Anni Winings at flickr.com)

Clay soil.
(Courtesy: John and Anni Winings at flickr.com)

1. Fill about one-third of the jar with the topsoil and then add water until it is almost full.
2. Cover the jar and shake it vigorously to mix the contents. It is fully mixed when the soil clumps have dissolved.
3. Put the jar on a windowsill and observe as the larger pieces begin to sink to the bottom.
4. Within a minute or two, the sand in the soil will settle down to the bottom of the jar. Use the marker to indicate on the jar the level of sand.
5. Let the jar sit undisturbed for several hours. Gradually the finer silt material will settle on top of the sand. You can determine the separation point between sand and silt because the layers will be slightly different in color. Use the marker to indicate on the jar the top level of the silt.
6. Allow the jar to sit undisturbed overnight. Over time the clay deposits will top the silt. Use the marker to indicate the top level of clay. On top of the clay will be a thin layer of organic matter while other organic matter continues to float in the water. Actually, the water should appear murky with floating organic sediments. If not, then you will need to add organic matter to improve the fertility of the soil as well as its structure.

Study the size of the portion of each element that is layered at the bottom of the jar to determine which one is dominant. This identifies the type of soil you have.

Regardless of the result of the test, there are things you can do to improve your soil and make it healthy so that it can host healthy plants.

Sandy soil. (Courtesy: Russell Cumming at flickr.com)

Sandy soil.
(Courtesy: Russell Cumming at flickr.com)

To improve sandy soil:

· Introduce 3 to 4-inches of organic matter. This can be well-rotted manure or finished compost.
· Mulch around the plants with leaves, wood chips, bark, hay or straw. The mulch will retain moisture and cool down the soil.
· Add at least 2-inches of organic matter each year.
· Grow cover crops or lay green manure.

To improve clay soil:

· Work 2 to 3-inches of organic matter into the surface of your soil. Add at least 1-inch more each year, preferably in the fall.

· Construct permanent raised beds to enhance drainage and keep foot traffic out of growing areas.
· Perform only a minimum amount of tilling and spading.

To improve silt soil:

· Add at least 1-inch of organic matter each year.
· Focus on the top few inches of the soil to prevent surface crusting.
· Avoid soil compaction.
· Consider raising the beds.

(Next time: Soil pH)

About Robert Janis

Written by Robert Janis for LawnEq - Your specialists for Lawn Mower Parts and Small Engine Parts. We offer genuine premium OEM parts for Land Pride, Toro and many more dependable manufacturers.

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