If you have a new garden area in mind, there are several tasks you should perform before sowing that first seed. The first task is to take soil samples, and perform a soil test. The second task should be to measure the drainage of the proposed area.

The type of soil you have will dictate your soil drainage. Soil that has a high content of clay will drain slowly. Soils with high contents of sand will drain too quickly. Also your vegetable garden area may have low spots, which will cause water to pool during rainy conditions. Although a thorough soil test will tell you what type of soil you have, it is still wise to check the soil drainage using a percolation test. This will give you a better idea of where you need to concentrate on amending the soil the most - helping you to save time, money, unnecessary work, and improving your soil drainage.

Performing A Percolation Test

A percolation test is very simple and does not take a lot of time. Here is how to perform a percolation test on your soil.
    • Using a shovel, dig several 12 inch-deep by 12 inch-wide holes in various locations of your proposed garden area. It is best to perform this test in the spring or fall. If performing the test in the spring, make sure the soil has had plenty of time to thaw out. You may find that it is best to perform this test in the fall for those in the extreme north.
Dig Out a Section of Soil for the Percolation Test

    • Next, use a stick ruler and place in the first hole. This will be used to measure the water depth, and to later gauge how well the water is draining. Fill the hole with water until it is at ground level. Do this one hole at a time if you are working alone. You would be running from hole to hole like a maniac if you try to perform several percolation tests at one time by yourself.
Fill the Hole With Water

    • Once you have the hole filled with water, let the water drain out completely.

    • Now refill the hole with water again, this time use a stopwatch to time how fast the water drains.
Time How Fast the Water Drains Out

The water should drain at a rate of 1 to 2 inches per hour. If the water drains any slower or faster the soil should be amended with compost. If you have some areas of the garden that are unlevel and collect water easily, simply level them out with topsoil or compost.

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