“Essentially, all life depends upon the soil…There can be no life without soil and no soil without life, they have evolved together” Charles Kellogg
The best way to get to know your soil is to dig a narrow, hole about 24 inches deep. There should be a dark topsoil layer above a paler layer, known as subsoil. Your topsoil should be loose and well-draining. If it’s hard and compacted, then roots will have trouble growing in it and drainage will be poor.
There are different types of subsoils: hard clay, bedrock, stony material, and even sand. There really isn’t anything you can do about your subsoil but it’s important to know what type of drainage it provides.
A porous subsoil will allow roots to reach down for nutrients, and during dry weather, for water. If your subsoil is compacted, then your best option is to make raised beds. That way you can increase drainage and the amount of good soil available to your plants.
Is Your Soil Alkaline? Or Acid?
This video will show how to determine your soil’s nutrients. 1:38 minutes long
Measuring your soil’s pH level is important because most plants need soil which is slightly acidic, in the 6.2 to 6.8 level. For reference, a pH of 7 is neutral, less is acidic and anything above 7 is alkaline.
A laboratory test is ideal, but soil test kits are sold in most garden centers and home improvement stores. The kit will quickly indicate your soil’s pH by using a simple color system. Acidic soil using turns the testing solution an orange-yellow, neutral shows as green, and alkaline soil turns it dark green. If you have a local Cooperative Extension Service, nearby, you can have your soil tested there. They will also be able to tell you if your soil has any deficiencies and suggest ways to improve it.
Types of Soil
• Sandy soil drains easily but it dries out quickly in the summer heat. It contains few nutrients so you will need to fertilize regularly. It is a good soil for cool-season crops because it retains heat in the spring when most gardens in northern regions are being started.
• Clay is heavy and rich in nutrients. It drains poorly in winter which makes for a waterlogged garden during the spring thaw. They maintain moisture in the summer so they’re good for warm weather crops.
• Loam is a crumbly soil that combines the best features of sand and clay.
How To Check Your Soil’s Drainage
Remember the hole you dug to examine the soil in your yard? Now it’s time for a little experiment to find out how well it drains. Fill the hole with water, cover it, and leave it overnight.
If the water is still there the next morning, your soil is draining poorly. This means you may need to set up a drainage system or resort to raised beds. Excess water is deadly for plants, causing root rot and weakening the plant and making it susceptible to pests and diseases.