There are a few easy ways to do a soil sample test in your garden. It is good to know what kind of soil you have. As you watch your garden grow you can make sure your vegies and flowers have what they need. So, doing a few types of soil tests gives you lots of answers.
One way of determining your garden soil type is a fun, simple jar test. The kids will like this one. Dig up a spot in your garden or flower bed to get 6” or so of a soil profile. Take a pint size jar and fill it half to ¾ full of that soil. Then fill the rest with water and shake it all up good. The kids will each want to take a turn making sure the soil is good and shaken! Let the soil sit in the jar somewhere undisturbed for at least a day, preferably two days. When you can see the water be clear at the top, you will know that all the finest particles have settled. Now you can examine the layers of settled soil to see what your garden is made of. You may or may not see distinct layers so let it sit longer if you don’t.
The organic matter in your soil will usually float to the top of the water in the jar. The more organic matter you have the better as this is very beneficial for the soil life and plants. More on that in another blog post! The first layer on top of the soil mix is the clay layer. Clay is the smallest and finest particles of the soil so this layer isn’t usually too deep but if you happen to have heavy clay it will be more. In my picture sample it is only about 1/8” deep. The next layer is silt. Silt particles are the next smallest in size of soil components, and this is what we want the most of. This layer could be anywhere from ½” to over 1”. The bottom layer in your jar will be the sand. Sand is the largest of the 3 components of soil so it is the heaviest. We want a good mixture of sand, silt, clay and organic matter to make a loamy soil which is best for plants to grow in.
The kids will get dirty in this test! Let them play in the dirt a little here. From that same hole that you dug into earlier to get the jar test, get a good amount of soil and put it in a bucket. Mix some water with it and mix it with your hands to get it to the consistency of cookie dough. Everyone take a little blob of soil in your hand and mold it like a ball of play dough. We don’t want it too wet so if it is, then just add a little more soil. When it rolls into a ball, then begin to pinch it between your thumb and first finger. Try to keep the soil in a small ribbon so it doesn’t break. See who can make the longest ribbon before it breaks! Ideally, the best loamy soil will not make a very long ribbon! It will only be about less then an inch. If your soil has too much clay the ribbon will be longer. If this is the case you may want to add more organic matter or gypsum to amend that soil.