If you are a farmer or keen gardener, there is no doubt that you will understand the importance of good soil. This precious resource has the ability to turn a small seed into something delicious. If you’re looking to start your own edible garden, but aren’t sure about what kind of soil is lurking beneath your feet, there is a simple solution.

Soil is not simply dirt, it is formed from a wide range of substances including decomposed rocks and organic matter. The types of soil can vary from clay, sand, silt, loam (a mixture of the previous three soil types) to peat and chalky soils. Each of these types vary enormously in their characteristics, but once you know which kind of soil you have, you can start to improve upon it.

If you’re interested in understanding the type of soil in your own garden, follow the steps that keen gardener, Kelly Robertson, has put together below:

  • Clean a large jar and lid
  • Fill the jar about halfway with soil. It may be useful to take samples from different parts of your garden, as the soil may differ from spot to spot
  • Fill up the rest of the jar with water, leaving room at the top in order to shake up the contents
  • Tighten the lid and give the jar a good shake for two to three minutes
  • Put the jar down and let it rest for four to five hours

Testing your soil

As the jar is resting, you might notice the soil doing something interesting, it will separate into distinct layers: sand at the bottom, silt in the middle and clay at the top. Once you have completed the soil test, you’ll need to work out the percentages of each layer in your jar by measuring the layers and calculating how much space each one takes up. Then simply use the infographic below to determine which soil type you have:

Testing your soil

Sandy soils may give seedlings the best start, as they tend to warm quickly in the spring. Heavier soils, such as clay and silt, are better suited to brassicas rather than root vegetables, which might struggle to push through the denser soil.

So what’s the best way to improve your soil? Compost! Alice Holden, author of Do Grow, writes that to create your very own brown gold, “You will need a balance of carbon rich ‘brown’ materials (woody things like paper) and the juicier nitrogen rich ‘green’ materials (things like grass and vegetable peelings). Essentially you just need to mix it all up. The smaller the additions and the more mixing you do, the faster they will break down and become compost.” Compost bins can be bought from your local garden centre or you can make your own from old pallets turned on their sides. With these handy-tools in your DIY gardening kit, there’s no excuse not to have a go at growing your own.

To find out more about the science behind soil, click here.

Featured image by Bernard Hubar

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