Know your soil structure
In order to get the best out of your garden, it is important to learn as much as you can about your soil. It is after all the medium you will be growing all of your plants in, so knowing what you have to work with can save you a lot of disappointment in the long term.
One of the most basic characteristics of soil is its composition. Luckily for us, there are really only three kinds of soils that you need to remember.
Soils are classified as being either clay, sandy or loamy.
Clay soils – rich in nutrients, but slow draining.
Sandy soils – quick draining, but struggles to hold on to moisture and nutrients.
Loamy soils – generally considered to be the best soil for vegetable growing (as well as for many other kinds of plants) because it doesn’t stay soggy while retaining moisure and nutrients.
The Soil Squeeze Test
To work out what your soil type is, take a handful of moist soil from your garden, and squeeze it in your fist. Then, open your hand and take a look. You can expect one of three things to happen:
- If the soil forms a sticky ball: you have clay soil. This soil type is fertile but isn’t liked by plants that need free-draining soil.
- If the soil fails to form a ball: you have sandy soil. If you try to shape it, it keeps falling apart into sand-like particles. It is usually light in colour. This soil has low fertility and is in need of amendment to grow many plants successfully.
- If the soil forms a ball but looks like a crumbling piece of cake when pressure is applied: you have loam or silt soil. It is usually darker in colour due to the high level of organic matter decayed into it. It is a mixture of sand and clay.
Now that you know what kind of soil you have, you can work on improving it – see these tips below!
The best solution for sandy soil is to add organic matter such as compost or aged animal manure, and mix it through the soil. Our test showed that just by mixing fifty-fifty organic matter with sandy soil it improved the water holding capacity of the soil – only 150 ml of water drained through.
Gardening Australia, April 5, 2008
Clays need to be de-compacted first. Dig deeply or use a rotary hoe for larger areas and rip that soil. Let air and water percolate in. The next step is to add organic matter. Lots of it.
Jerry’s clay soil fix, Organic Gardener Jan 26, 2013