Discovering Soils Types & Clay Soil

soil typesThere are many types of soil, I believe six. Ours is clay soil here so that is what I know the most about. But where we used to live was beautiful loam soil. I am going to talk about the three that I have worked with personally.

Loam soil is an amazing soil which is perfect for anything. This is the type of soil my mom has. All plants grow in this and it does not tend to dry out quickly. It works easily in the spring and even carrots grow nice and deep in it.

Sandy soil is what my sister has. It does not hold water well but if you live in a really wet area this would be an advantage. Carrots love it because they can grow really deep without much effort.

Clay soil is what we have here. It holds water really well which would be an advantage if we lived in area where there was chance of a drought. It is also great for making clay pots and mud pies. But for growing vegetables we need to alter it to be closer to a loam soil.

What soil do you have? A couple tests.

Test #1

Loam soil I believe, has a perfect mix of sandy and clay soils.  It is the kind of soil that when you grab a handful and squeeze, it forms a ball for a bit but then we’ll fall apart again. This would be without wetting it.

Sandy soil is made of mainly sand, as the name suggests. If you were to grab a handful of this soil and squeeze, it would not stay in a ball at all but just continue falling through your fingers. You would have to wet it to get it to maintain a ball at all.

Clay soil is made up of mainly clay, add the name suggests. If you were to grab a handful of this soil and squeeze it would become a ball that you would have to break apart afterwards, it would not just fall apart.

Test #2

Another way we have found to differentiate the kinds of soil is feeling it between your fingers when it is wet.

Loan soil when you do this will feel a bit gritty, a bit slimy, and a bit like you think of real dirt feeling. There would be a little residue on your hands but mainly in chunks stuck in your own hand creases.

Sandy soil when you do this feels gritty, you may have bits of sand stuck on your hands, but leaves no residue really.

Clay soil feels like slime when you do this and would leave a gross grey/brown like slime on your hands.

What kind of soil do you have? You can use these tests to try and figure it out.

Clay Soil

Clay Soil

Clay Soil

We have clay soil here. It forms a hard ball when squeezed, feels slimy when wet, and leaves a coating on my hands when it is mixed with water.

Clay soil, like sandy soil, takes a lot work to get them closer to the loamy soil we all dream of having.

What are some things we do with our soil to help reach that loamy soil goal?

When we first moved here 14 years ago..

(copied from my post Tomato Hornworms & Garden Clean-Out)

“We have clay soil here which means if you want to make a pot just walk outside and add water to our dirt. The garden has gotten better over the years. The first year everything cept the potatoes and green beans died. We had grown gardens for years and never had a year this bad. We did some research and added some special ingredients to the clay to make it more like loam soil.

Our special ingredients were kind of like lasagna: a 2″ layer of newspaper, a layer of sand, a layer of horse manure, a layer of vermiculite, and a 2″ layer of newspaper. Bake not at 350 but in sunlight (and under snow) for 5 months. We repeated these layers until the garden had about 8-10″ of special ingredients on it and then placed rocks and logs over the top to keep everything from blowing away. This recipe did an amazing job and now almost everything grows wonderfully in our garden. We do feed it something each year to try and keep it looser that solid rock.”

Some special things we do each year because of our soil type:

We only work the soil as little as possible. The more we work it, the more like a clay pot it becomes.

We have to be careful and not over water the garden. The water tends to pool and puddle. We don’t want the soil to get moldy either with all that excess water. We usually water our pants when we transplant then and then for the first few days. After that we do not water unless we have a drought. We did have had one drought type summer out of the fourteen years we have lived here.

We have to feed our garden every year. We have to add compost, manure, sometimes sand, and grass clippings. The sand tends to settle out of the clay soil so we have to add sand every 3 or 4 years.

I hope this information is useful to you. If you have any helpful hits for working with clay soil we would love to hear them

Happy Gardening!

Tomato Hornworms & Garden Clean-Out

Tomato Hornworm drawing by Artist, Thanks

Tomato Hornworm drawing by Artist, Thanks

This week the garden had a the end of season clean-out. It has been a cool fall week and we needed to clean out the garden before the rain started. All that is left are the brussel sprouts (pictured below) and some green peppers.

We are going to do something different this year and till the soil at the end of the season. Usually we till the soil only at the beginning of the season just before we plant the seedlings. But this year we have a pest that we must exterminate: the Tomato Hornworm.

Based on my reading it seems that this little pest settles into the soil as a larva type creature at the end of the growing season to lie in wait for my tomato plants next spring. So the advice we have received is to till the garden and chop up those larva for fertilizer and that should take care of 90% of the population.

We hadn’t seen these huge Hornworms in over two years and we were hoping they were gone for good. The tomatoes did great this year even with this pest devouring whatever he wanted. But the thought of what these buggers could do next year got us thinking about irradiating the pests this fall instead. So the tilling has begun. Goodbye Tomato Hornworm!

Since we are working so much at moving the soil around we decided to add a few things to it: horse manure (thanks Colby), chicken manure, and compost. After all this has been tilled in the plan is to cover the garden with the grass clippings to help feed the soil over the winter.

We have clay soil here which means if you want to make a pot just walk outside and add water to our dirt. The garden has gotten better over the years. The first year everything cept the potatoes and green beans died. We had grown gardens for years and never had a year this bad. We did some research and added some special ingredients to the clay to make it more like soil.

Our special ingredients were kind of like lasagna: a 2″ layer of newspaper, a layer of sand, a layer of horse manure, a layer of vermiculite, and a 2″ layer of newspaper. Bake not at 350 but in sunlight (and under snow) for 5 months. We repeated these layers until the garden had about 8-10″ of special ingredients on it and then placed rocks and logs over the top to keep everything from blowing away. This recipe did an amazing job and now almost everything grows wonderfully in our garden. We do feed it something each year to try and keep it looser that solid rock 🙂

What’s left in the garden? Brussel Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts