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How to Do a Soil Survey

February 28, 2014 - Stephanie Brown
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Two great tools for understanding your soil—from the USDA and Peaceful Valley 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. How to use the USDA Web Soil Survey 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…
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Video Transcript
Hi I'm Tricia an organic gardener. I grow organically for a healthy and safe food supply, for a clean and sustainable environment, for an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Organic gardening is all about the soil it's critical that you have information about your soil's characteristics in order to have a successful garden.

When we talk about soil type we usually mean soil texture soil texture is determined by the size of particles that make the soil. The three basic particle sizes are called sand, silt and clay. Sand is the largest pieces visible with the magnifying glass, Silt is smaller than sand visible with the microscope, clay is the smallest particle size and visible only with an electron microscope. In most parts of the country the United States Department of Agriculture has surveyed the soil, check out our blog for instructions and a link to the USDA site. If the information for your area is incomplete or you just wanna do your own soil testing I'll show you how.

To figure out your soil texture you'll need a clear quart jar with a lid water tablespoons of non sudsing detergent the kind you'd use for a dishwasher or you can use a water softener. Crush the clods of your soil measure out a cup add the tablespoons of detergent fill your quart jar two-thirds full of water add the cup of soil and shake the jar vigorously for five to ten minutes to further break up the soil when you're done shaking the jar let it sit for twenty four hours. The next day when the soil has settled take out a marker and mark the band's of soil particles. The particles in order from bottom to top are course sand, fine sand, silt and then clay. The water still might be a bit cloudy clay particles can take as long as a week to fully settle out using a triangle like this will help you determine your soil texture based on the percentage of composition. Loam soil which is considered the most desirable is made up of nearly equal amounts of each particle. Now you know about your soil type but another important piece of information to know about is how your soil drains. Drainage is determined by slope soil type proximity to bedrock and water table levels if you want to know about your drainage do a percolation test.

To do a percolation test start by digging a hole roughly the size of a five gallon bucket fill the hole with water and let it drain once it drains fill the hole again measure how much water is in the whole come back an hour later and measure again. A drainage rate of one to two inches per hour is considered well-drained if it takes more than twenty four hours to fully drain than the site has very poor drainage. Knowing your soil type and information about your drainage will help you make informed decision about where to place plants how much irrigation and how much fertilizer you use knowing your soil type is going to help you save water because water behaves differently in each different type of soil. Course sand soils hold point zero five inches of water per inch of soil depth so that means if you need to give plants one-inch of water per week and you do it all at once most to the water just drains deeper leaching it with nutrients like nitrogen when working with stand use closely spaced high-flow emitters for a shorter period of time more frequently. On the opposite end of the spectrum are clay soils which can hold point one seven inches of water per inch of soil depth because of the small particle size it takes a longer time for the water to soak through the soil so if you water heavily over a short period of time most if it runs off instead of soaking in. Clay soils are ideally watered with wider emitter spacing low flow emitters for a longer period of time and less frequently. Loam soils are more like clay soils they have a water capacity of up to point one eight inches per inch of soil depth. The way these soils behave with water also plays into how they hold nutrients sandy soil does not hold nutrients well and clay holds them very well again loam is somewhere in the middle. Your plants will love you if you know what kind of soil you're asking them to live in so get to know your soil and grow organic for life.

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Categories: Soil Test, Soil Test Kit, Soil Testing, NPK Test Kit, pH Soil Test, Orp Tester, Field Meters, Soil, Compost & Vermiculture, Organic Gardening 101


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