Spring Garden Primer – Do a Mason Jar Soil Test
Every year in the spring I do a mason jar soil test to see the soil structure in my garden and decide if I need to make any amendments. This is a simple and easy test to take if you are creating a new garden area, you’ve recently moved or you want to do a cool experiment with your kids.
Knowing the structure of your soil will help you determine how much water and fertilizer your plants will need, and what soil amendments to make. Your soil is a mass of mineral particles, water, air and dead organic matter. The size and form of those particles make up the basic soil structure. An understanding of your soil is the most important aspect of gardening.
There are three soil components – Clay, Sand and Silt
Clay is the smallest mineral component. These tiny flat particles fit closely together to have the greatest surface area of all soil types. Clay soil contains needed nutrients and also stores water well. So well in fact, that drainage is slow in clay soil. It is the slowest to warm in the spring.
Sand makes up the largest particles in soil. They are rounded, rather than flat. This allows for larger space between the particles and water drains quickly. Because of this, the nutrients drain faster than clay soil and your plants will need more water and fertilizing.
Silt represents the middle size pieces. It is made up of rock and mineral particles that are larger than clay but smaller than sand. Individual silt particles are so small that they are difficult to see. To be classified as silt, a particle must be less than .005 centimeters (.002 inches) across.
The combination of these three particles is called loam and is considered the ideal garden soil. Knowing how close (or far) you are from loam will help you decided what amendments to make this spring planting season.
The Mason Jar Soil Test
- Use a clear, clean, empty jar with a tight lid. A pint or quart Mason jar works fabulously.
- Fill the jar about half full of garden soil. You can use soil from different areas of the garden to get an overall view, or make a test for each garden bed.
- Fill the jar nearly to the top with water. Leave room for shaking.
- Tighten the lid and shake the jar for several minutes so that all the particles are in suspension.
- Set your mason jar soil test aside for several hours, so the particles have a chance to settle. They will separate into clay, silt, and sand layers.
Read the Results of your Mason Jar Soil Test
- The bottom layer will be the heavier particles, sand and rocks.
- The next layer will be the silt particles.
- Above that are the clay particles.
- Organic matter may be floating on the surface of the water.
- The color of the soil gives a clue to its character – light colors usually have less organic content than dark soils and dark soil warms faster in the spring.
If your jar test is 20% clay, 40% Silt, 40% sand = Loam, you have the perfect combination. You’ve been working hard in your garden!
30% clay, 60% silt, 10% sand = Silty Clay Loam
15% clay, 20% silt, 65% sand = Sandy Loam
15% clay, 65% silt, 20% sand = Silty Loam
These other types of soil will require some amending with organic materials. Common amendments include:
• Yard trimmings compost
• Leaves from deciduous trees
• Crop residues
• Manures and manure composts
• Separated dairy / horse manure solids
Download this handy publication, Improving Garden Soils with Organic Matter to learn more ways to improve your soil and happy gardening!
Other gardening ideas found at PreparednessMama: