A very important part of veggie gardening is soil. It is the foundation for plant growth and a large part of what determines your success or failure at growing the veggies you wish to have. With that in mind, soil is something we should pay extra attention to not only caring for but also knowing more about.
If someone were to ask what type of soil you had in your garden, how readily would you be able to answer that question? Knowing the answer to this is vital to being able to properly cater to the needs of the plants you are growing. Different types of soil have different care requirements and needs, so the more you know, the more thorough you can be. There are actually three soil components that make up the bigger picture. They are:
- Clay is composed of small, flat particles that interlock tightly. It holds water well and is nutrient rich but warms and drains slowly.
- Silt falls right in the middle. It consists of mineral and rock particles less than .002 inches in size.
- Sand particles are large and round. They fit together loosely and therefore drain quickly and need more water and fertilizer to compensate for this.
When these three combine in just the right balance, the end result is known as loam. As far as soil goes, loam is what we as gardeners strive for because it is the optimum soil for growing. In order to get or maintain loam, some detective work may be necessary. First of all, you need to determine how close or how far away you are. Then you will need to determine how to make the necessary adjustments. Though this sounds complicated, a simple soil test is all it takes to get you pointed in the right direction.
To get started, you will need a clear container with a lid that fits securely. A good option is an old peanut butter jar, for example. Make sure your jar is clean and take it out to the garden then fill it half way with soil from your garden. Take your jar to a water spigot and fill almost all the way with water before replacing the lid. Give it a thorough shake to fully agitate the soil and then allow it to rest for a few hours. What you will see upon returning to the jar is a breakdown of your soil composition right before your very eyes.
At the bottom will be the heaviest particles, such as sand. Silt will follow with clay settling on the top. If you see floating debris, that is likely organic matter. Soil that is dark in color has more organic matter and will be prone to warming faster in the sun. Lighter soil is just the opposite. The photo below depicts the ideal combination that represents loam soil. That breakdown is 10-30% clay, 30-50% silt, and 25-50% sand.
If your soil does not come up in a mixture such as this formula, adding organic matter can swing the balance in your favor. Lawn clippings, leaves, and manure can be tremendously useful when added to soil. Making such adjustments and periodically re-evaluating your soil will help you keep things where they need to be for optimum healthy plant growth. All it takes is a clear jar and some vigorous shaking to get you started, so get busy evaluating your soil for loam qualities today so you can make the necessary adjustments for a better veggie garden tomorrow!