Identifying Your Soil (complete with useful links)

Identifying Your Soil

Identifying our vegetable garden soil is number one on our garden planning list. Why? Because without doing a proper garden soil analysis, we won’t know if our soil needs any amendments. We also won’t know if our soil drains well. Soil is the most important ingredient in our vegetable garden so we want to be sure we start with a good, healthy foundation.Identifying Your Vegetable Garden Soil @ Montana Homesteader

Identifying Your Garden Soil

I recently enjoyed a day trip to go soak in some hot springs with one of my good gal pals who also happens to be a seasoned organic farmer. While we soaked, I told her about our quest to do a garden soil analysis. She told me about a helpful USDA soil survey website that she used the first year on her farm and found it to be quite accurate.

The USDA Web Soil Survey [ ] is a wealth of soil information. This online tool can be used to pinpoint the soil types on your property. The website has a step by step guide on how to use the soil survey to access your site specific information.

You can use the tool by entering your address to pinpoint a block of land around your property for identification. While the website does not have the data for your exact property, it does have detailed soil information for your area. The information in their database is supposed to be fairly accurate based on soil testing that has been done in your identified area.

I also found this handy flow chart showing how to test your soil type by hand. It involves holding a handful of dirt, slowly adding water and molding it in your hand. The chart on the website will help you identify your soil type by how your mud ball forms and feels. We’re going to try this once the ground thaws. Our plan is to compare the results of the hand test to the data we found on the USDA website to make sure the data is accurate for our garden soil.

Our Vegetable Garden Soil

According to the USDA map, the top 9 inches of soil on our property is silty clay loam. 9″-60″ is clay. This is pretty accurate compared to the chicken scratch we could decipher written on the well log copy we have for our property that is dated in the 1970′s.

What does this mean for our vegetable garden? I started doing some research and determined that silty clay loam is actually a good thing to have as our topsoil. I read that it is nutrient dense. This makes sense since we live in an area surrounded by farm land.

What we are a bit worried about is that less than a foot down from the surface is clay. Clay is known for not draining water well. Instead of water seeping down into the ground, water will sit on the surface and pool. While the top layer of our vegetable garden soil may drain well, less than a foot down when the water hits clay it will start to build up.

I read that brassica (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli) may do well in our garden soil but root vegetables will likely have difficulty pushing down through the dense clay soil below.  This does not bode well for our vegetable garden!

Now that we have more insight into the composition of our vegetable garden soil, it is time to figure out the best gardening method for our situation. I’ve already started researching options on how we can have a successful vegetable garden despite the presence of clay so close to the topsoil. Over the next month I’ll be sharing more about our garden planning process as we explore options for gardening in an area with clay soil.

Do you know what type of garden soil you have?

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