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Your Garden - Testing the Soil.


 
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James Kilkelly
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 25, 2007 12:10 am    Post subject: Your Garden - Testing the Soil. Reply with quote

Your Garden - Testing the Soil
By Terry Blackburn

Finding out as much as you can about your soil will help you make informed decisions about what the soil will need in order to provide a nutrient rich environment for grass, plants, and shrubs. Knowing about your soil will also prevent you from buying flowers and plants that will not survive in the type of soil you have.

When testing the soil, you should keep the following in mind....

Soil type pH of soil
These are the two components, you as the future lawn care expert, should be concerned with. Other components such as rocky soil you will need to worry about down the road.

Soil Type
You can very easily test your soil type. Gather a few small handfuls of soil and place it into a mason jar or other glass container that has a lid. Add a cup of water and shake. (Put the lid on first). After you are done shaking the jar, let it sit overnight.

There are four basic soil types:

Arrow clay

Arrow silt

Arrow sand

Arrow loam

Both clay and silt soil types are the sign of poor drainage techniques. Sandy soil is the result of the soil not getting enough water. Loam soil is the ideal combination of the other three types of soil. This is a garden care person's dream come true because most flowers and plants will thrive in this soil.

After letting your sample sit overnight, you will notice that the soil has separated into different levels. Sand will be at the bottom, silt is next, and clay is at the top. If all of your layers seem the same size, get down on your knees and thank the lawn gods, because you have LOAM! If one layer appears larger than the other layers, then you have that type of soil.

. Soil sample, photo / pic / image.

pH of Soil
There are three levels on the pH scale that your soil can fall under regardless of the type of soil it is:

Arrow acidic below 7

Arrow alkaline (base) above 7

Arrow neutral 6.2-7.0

These numbers represent the pH levels on a scale of 1-14. You should know the pH of your soil for several reasons. These can include knowing the right types of plants and flowers to purchase so you can save existing plants and flowers. You will also know which chemicals to use and how often to use them.
If there are any harmful chemicals in your soil you will learn what you can do to help you soil.

Since different plants can grow in different pH levels, you will want your soil to be as close to neutral as possible. This way, you will have more variety in terms of the kinds of plants and flowers to use in your garden. This will save you money and effort when looking for plants.

But how can you test the pH level of your soil?
Well, there are three ways to find out your soils pH level:
Use a home test purchased at garden centre, use an old-fashioned mixtures of soil and vinegar and soil and baking soda or perhaps send a soil sample to a lab. Depending on your time, interest, and willingness to play in the soil, so to speak, you should choose the option that is best for you.

Arrow (1) Home test -
These tests can yield results in a few minutes. If you are fascinated with your soil and would to really like to experiment, then this is the option for you.

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Arrow (2) Old-fashioned mixtures -
This soil test is for the truly adventurous. But it is also the least expensive and will give you a rough estimate of the pH level of your soil. Gather two samples of soil and place them in separate glass jars. You should fill the jars about 1/3 full of soil.

Next add water to both to create mud, like you did when you were determining the type of soil in your yard. Next, add a tablespoon of baking soda to one jar and a tablespoon of vinegar to the other.

If the jar with the vinegar begins to fizz, then you have alkaline soil. If the jar with the baking soda begins to fizz, then you have acidic soil. If neither jar begins to fizz, then you have neutral soil. This is a good activity to do with the kids or to make the kids do on their own.

Arrow (3) Send a soil sample to a lab -
Many universities and county agricultural offices will analyze your soil and send you a detailed report within a few weeks. If you are opting to go this route, be sure to plan in advance because you may miss the planting season.

Sending samples is usually not too costly and you will learn everything you didn't care to know about your soil and them some. These reports are as detailed as they come.

Retesting the soil
If you receive news that your soil is too acidic or alkaline, you will have to take measures that including liming and adding nutrients in order to get the soil as close to neutral as possible. Each year, you should have your soil tested in order to make the necessary adjustments.

Terry Blackburn. Internet Marketing Consultant, living in South Shields in the North-East of England. Author and Producer of blog www.lawnsurgeon.blogspot.com. Author of "Your Perfect Lawn," a 90 Page eBook devoted to Lawn Preparation, Lawn Care and Maintenance. Find it at www.lawnsurgeon.com

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Last edited by James Kilkelly on Tue Mar 02, 2010 1:41 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Michael196
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 13, 2008 8:45 am    Post subject: Soil Tesing in Castlebridge Co Wexford. Reply with quote

After reading about the clay, silt and sand soil types, I tested my soil type over the weekend. I scooped up some compost taken from the composter earlier this year and did my soil test with the jam jar and water.

Yep, I got sand on the bottom, then the silt then the clay. From the composter I would say mostly silt and clay and maybe 1/6 sand, that seemed reasonable and I was Happy with that result.

Then I took a sample directly from the site. This site is on a hill, dries out in the summer and plants have difficulty establishing. We are aslo about 4 miles as the crow flies from the sea. I got 1 layer this time: Sand. When mixed with water and roots in the ground takes on the appearance of soil, but when soil tested, i just got i big layer of sand. BIg contrast with the composter sample.

For remediation, all I can do is add a lot of compost when planting trees and hedges, and this approach has worked well in the last planting season. An original hedge was planted without adding compost, and is still struggling today, in its thired year. However this year i managed to add the complete contents of a two year old compost heap as 6 inch mulch to my struggling beech hedge. So hopefully next year I will see an improvement.

I thought the soil test was interesting and worth doing. I also got a ph meter and checked about the place. I got a range from 6.0 to 7.0. I plan to alter the ph downwards for potatoe growing next year.
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foxroxks
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 29, 2009 10:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I decided to give this a bash. I will get a proper test kit next time I'm in the gardencentre but I'm just curious there doesnt seem to be any levels to the soil. Any ideas what I'm starting with here?


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walltoall
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 29, 2009 8:21 pm    Post subject: That jar in the window Reply with quote

I'm a northsider and I know techically 'fermo' is south but you can take it. In answer to your question I think you are starting with a pasta bake jar, but under no circumstances should you put the contents in MY dinner, as it looks decidedly off.
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foxroxks
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 29, 2009 9:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Rolling Eyes Thanks you have been so helpful !
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Liparis
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 29, 2009 10:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can't see it very well, but perhaps a bigger jar would allow it to settle out better.It doesn't lok to me as though you have given enough room, it's all just droped as soon as you stopped shaking. Eiher use a sidgen less soil or shake harder and longer than youve done. Now that it's soaked you could try putting a little more water in and giving a reall good prolonged shake.
Bill.

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greengiant
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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 11:43 am    Post subject: Just can't tell my soil type! Reply with quote

Twice now I've done the jar soil test and can't for the life of me tell what soil type I have as, like foxroxks, it just doesn't seem to form into any layers. So, I was wondering is there something I can buy to add to the soil (raised borders each side of the garden) that will cover all angles and just turn it into a soil that most flowers will grow in? For example, a while back I bought in B&Q a bag of loam - will that do the trick if I add it to the existing soil? I'm anxious now to plant some stuff before it gets any later in the year! Heeellllllppppp..... Confused
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Liparis
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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 9:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Look around where you are gardening, see what others are growing, it will give you an idea. I would just go ahead and plant and sow, most things will do OK and as the season progresses you will identify what needs done. Ue well rotted farmyard manure as mulch if you can, mulching with it after a wet period and before the surface dries out. This will work into the soil during the season, then dig in farmyard manure autumn/winter, great soil conditioner. I doubt a bag of loam will do much really, especially the rubbish that's passed off as loam these days. I saw one person open a bag of loam that was full of stones and pieces of brick rubble and other trash. I know it's not easy to come across the materials, but your own loam made from grass sods are much better. I really think buying loam is a complete waste of money, I'm not sure if it's a plain old rip-off or whether the people producing it don't actually know what loam really is!
Bill.

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greengiant
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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 9:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Liparis, I'll get stuck in and plant some things at the weekend!
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michael brenock
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PostPosted: Thu May 14, 2009 9:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

for a quick test of your soil, wet a fistful and squeeze it in your fist, then let it drop to the ground from a height of about 2 ft.if it breaks and crumbles on impact it is a good loam , if it fails to form a lump it is sandy and if it stays in a lump it is a clay soil. this determines the physical composition and structure of the soil not the fertility. it is the proportions of clay silth sand and humus that determines a soil type. a simple test for drainage is to dig a hole one foot deep and one foot square and during a rainy period observe if the hole fills with water, more importantly take note of how long it takes the water to drain away after the rain has stopped (not more than 24 hours is best). Humus is the organic part of soil contains all the living parts,bacteria, insects virus etc. The mineral parts clay sand contain the major and minor elements except Nitrogen which is in humus. garden soil is a complex commodity and in short supply
hope this helps
michael brenock horticultural advisor (retired)
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greengiant
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PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 9:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks v much Michael. Soil certainly is a complex thing, as I'm discovering! As an aside, can you or Liparis tell me roughly how long would a sod heap take to break down sufficiently to use as a top soil? I started mine about a month ago and expect to add more shortly - are we talking about next Spring?
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Liparis
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PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 12:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Probably next spring at the earliest. Don't forget, your sods will be more valuable as a potting/seed sowing compost so keep some for that, if not all. Use your farmyard manure to condition your garden soil.
Bill.

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PostPosted: Sat May 16, 2009 10:57 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot Liparis, your advice is greatly appreciated.
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brian.shaugh
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PostPosted: Tue May 26, 2009 8:35 am    Post subject: a bit misleading Reply with quote

'Both clay and silt soil types are the sign of poor drainage techniques. Sandy soil is the result of the soil not getting enough water. Loam soil is the ideal combination of the other three types of soil'

Clay and silt solis are not a sign of poor drainage techniques not is sandy soil a result of not getting enough water - they are all a result in general of the geology of the area. They can result in poor drainage(clay) or lack of water in the soil(sand) but are not a direct result of it.
Sandy soil has very large particles allowing water to pass more freely through it where as clay is a very fine particle - a simple test is to rub you soil through your index finger and thumb, you will fell sand particles. I grew up on a farm near Curracloe in Wexford which was very sandy - nothing in the word is going to turn it into clay any time soon I'm afraid. I now live near the slaney river in Enniscorthy - it's a very heavy clay soil, no amount of drainage will every turn this into sandlike soil. Thanks for the tips on the test which is handy.
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Green fingers
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PostPosted: Tue May 14, 2013 4:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have clay soil. What would I add to loosen it up? I have added manure etc.
This is in the raised beds in my polytunnel. Thanks
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