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It's all about the soil.
The combination of the USDA Web Soil Survey and soil tests from Peaceful Valley give you extensive information about your soil. Plan your land use and soil amendments based on this data and you’ll have productive land.
The Web Soil Survey is a gold mine of information, but you do need to swing your pickaxe to find all the good stuff. Put on your mining helmet and follow these steps to get to the valuable ore.
The soil survey site has a fondness for abbreviations, so you’ll often see WSS (the Web Soil Survey) and AOI (the piece of land you want to survey, called an Area of Interest).
Still with us? Good.
You also have to draw your piece of property on the Web Soil Survey site. You get to choose between drawing a rectangle and drawing a polygon.
We’re walking you through the Web Soil Survey because we found the site’s own Getting Started page a bit confusing.
Keep this article open in a separate window or tab while you go through the Web Soil Survey site.
Home page of the Web Soil Survey
Begin at the beginning on the home page of the Web Soil Survey. Go to the top of the page and click on the big, green, round button that says, “Start WSS”.
Area of Interest map page
You will then be taken to the Area of Interest page which is mostly a green map of the United States.
In the left sidebar you will see many options, but if your property can be identified by a street address you want to go to Address. In that box, type your complete street address including city, state, and zip code—but don’t use any commas—and then click the View box just below that.
After a minute or so you will be shown a map with an orange marker. To get more detail, click ONCE on the orange marker. Wait between clicks, as the map takes you from 800 feet, to 400 feet, to 200 feet, to 100 feet at the smallest (the mapping is probably not detailed enough to show data on a smaller map).
Time to draw
Once your property is within the map, and you can clearly see the boundaries, go to the bar just above the map and click on one of the two icons that says AOI. One has the red outline of a rectangle and the other has the red outline of a polygon.
After you click on one of the AOI icons, put your cursor on the map itself and you will be able to draw that shape around your property. Click after you have drawn the shape. The shape you drew will be covered in green lines.
If you need to start over, click again in the View box below your address.
Soil Map tab
Now go to the to yellow tabs at the top of the page and click Soil Map. The details of the soil in the shaded area will be shown in the left sidebar. Don’t worry about writing it down. It will be saved for you to print or download.
Soil Data Explorer
Go back to the yellow tabs at the top of the page and click Soil Data Explorer. The left sidebar will open with a range of possible kinds of information. Click on one of the choices; to see that information, click the button below it that says View Rating. For instance, different colors on the map will correspond to different kinds of soils. When you find information you want, go to the upper right yellow box that says Add to Shopping Cart.
Shopping Cart tab
Finally, a tab whose name is familiar to us all. Click on this top yellow tab if you’d like the “product”—your soil analysis. You will be able to print it out immediately or download it.
When you’re new to your land or new to soil testing, we strongly recommend laboratory soil testing. Laboratory soil testing means that you gather multiple soil samples and Peaceful Valley sends those to a lab and provides you with both soil analysis and instructions on how to amend your soil. Once you know the basics of your soil you can do spot checks with home test kits over the next few years, but best practice is to repeat the laboratory soil tests every three years.
For in-depth information we recommend these books on soil:
Use the Web Soil Survey and our soil tests to know all you can about your soil—the basis for all life in your organic farm or garden.