What To Test Soil For
A step that I missed for my garden this year was testing my soil. There are places that will test your soil for you and ways to do it yourself. I could begin this process now that it is spring, but I have learned that it would have been more beneficial for my plants this season, had I done it in the fall. However, learning new tips should not make us regret what we have done, but inspire us to do better. Soils are tested for their texture, PH, tilth, and drainage. The texture refers to the blend of soil types that there are, and how the different particles are arranged in the mixture. All soil types have a different PH (measure of acidity/alkalinity). Alot of hydrogen ions are what give soil a high PH. Plants emit these hydrogen ions from thier roots to trade for minerals. If soil has a lack of needed nutrients the plants will quickly use them up, and continue to emit hydrogen ions. The chemical compounds that the roots trade hydrogen for must also be broken down into ions. This is only possible with the help of different microorganisms found in organic matter. A soil that has good tilth is a soil that has a balanced hold on the water and air that pass through it. It should be light and fluffy. This also depends on your soil type. Adding compost to soil, improves the stucture, tilth, and feeds the microorganisms needed for plant life. Drainage, like you may have geussed, refers to how well soil drains it’s water. You may be asking “Isnt that the same thing as tilth?”, but drainage does not only consider how well the soil holds onto water. The subsoil and the hilliness of an area also factor into how quickly water is able to pass through it, whether it has good tilth and texture or not. There are organic fertilizers and amendments that can help the chemistry of a soil. However, for many of them, such as limestone, it takes atleast a season to dissolve and desperse into the soil.
How To Test Your Soil
The UNH Cooperative Extension tests soil samples for the public.
They will tell you all that you need to know about your soil except for drainage. These professionals even tell you what amendments to add and how much if you ask for the “Organic Test”. (More information about this at http://extension.unh.edu/Agric/AGPDTS/SoilTest.htm ) If you do not live in the area look up your local cooperative extension as most are willing to help.
To test your drainage,
Dig a hole two feet wide and deep.
Fill the hole up completely with water.
Time how long it takes to drain.
Soils that are made up mostly of sand will drain almost instantly. Clay takes a day or longer, but you will want your soil to drain within an hour or two.
This test’s precision depends on how much and how recently it has rained.
Here is one simple way to test the compisition of your soil:
Fill a clear, widemoth, quart jar halfway with a sample of your soil.
Fill the rest up with water.
Close the container.
Wait a few days until the water at the top is clear.
Sandy will be at the bottom, silt and organic matter will make up the middle layer, and clay the next.
This should give you an approximate percentage of each in your soil.
If all of the soil is the same color, and you can not distinguish them by eye; drain the water, then spoon out and feel the layers.
Types of Soil
The three basic types of soil are sandy, silt, and clay. Before you test your own soil you should learn about the five types.
Sandy soil is made up of mostly minerals that cannot be absorbed by plants until they are broken down. This is not possible until it is mixed with other soil types. Water also passes through it quickly so plants are left thirsty and hungry.
Silty soil has particles sized well for holding onto water, but not becomming waterlogged.
Clay is made up of tiny particles that can all be surrounded by water. Clays are usually rich in nutrients but plants do not tend to do well as it stays wet for too long and can turn rock hard when dry.
Humus is a broken down organic material needed for plant life. It varies in compisition, but is usually dark, and it’s minerals are released as they are needed.
Loam is a balanced mix of all of the above, but mostly of silt. Loam is the kind of soil best for New Hampshire Gardens.