In this video, Lindsey, our horticulturist, will be showing you a few ways to do a simple soil test at home, only using mason jars, some water, a little bit of simple math and a little bit of dish soap. This is a really easy way to tell the soil composition in your garden.
0:00 Materials Needed
1:28 Basics of Soil Texture Test
4:24 Soil Texture Triangle
6:51 How to Test Soil Sample
9:40 Test Your Soil at Home
TRANSCRIPT FROM VIDEO:
Hi, my name’s Lindsey. I’m here at the Urban Farm and today I am gonna be showing you how to do a simple soil test at home, only using mason jars, some water, and a little bit of dish soap. This is a really easy way to tell the soil composition in your garden. What you do is take a soil sample. I filled these up about half way. You wanna use a clear mason jar. You just dig a hole, fill it with your soil, add water, and about a teaspoon of dish soap. And that helps separate the layers. And all soil is made out of three essential components. And these are sand, silt, and clay. Depending on where you live, what kind of fertilizer you use, what kind of amendments you have added to your garden, your soil composition is gonna be a little bit different. But knowing our soil composition is essential to know how we water, how much we water, what kind of fertilizers, and at what frequency we need to add them to our garden.
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So first, I’m gonna show you the examples that I did yesterday. The soil is tested super fast, you just need to let it sit overnight. And you can see, especially on this one, on the bottom here. So where my finger is, and under these are sand particles. Sand particles are the biggest particle. And as you can see, even just how they’re settling, there’s a lot of space in between them. This is why sand lets go of water. It doesn’t retain water as well as other soil types. So when we have cacti and other plants that we want to have good drainage because they don’t like soggy roots, we add sand to their soil. So here you can see this is from one of our garden beds in the hot house area. This area has a lot of sand in the soil. This means we have good drainage. It also means when we’re thinking about fertilizer, that fertilizers and any nutrients that we add to the soil are gonna run through more quickly. This is something that we need to think about, but perhaps we also need to water more because we don’t have as high of clay content in our soil. Clay is this top band that you see right here. It has the finest particles, so it sits on the top. And clay is amazing at retaining moisture. It will just sit in the clay particles. They hold on really tight. So when we have high clay concentrations in our soil, we don’t need to water as often, and clay is better at holding our nutrients in. So perhaps that means we don’t need to fertilize as much. And this middle band is silt, and this is a combination of the two. It’s particles that are too big to be clay, and also particles that are too small to be sand and we want a good mixture of these. The ideal composition is a healthy mixture that gives us both water retention from the clay as well as drainage. We don’t want plants to be sitting in pure clay. It constrains the roots and it’s not as accessible. The water isn’t as accessible.
In this example from another bed, you can see that there was a lot more silt. So in this example, silt takes up the majority of the concentration and there’s just a little bit of clay, and some clay might continue to settle, but for the majority you can see that there was a lot more clay in this, in this sample than there was in this one. And then your organic matter debris, and like any pearlite and things, roots will just float to the top if you want. Visually assessing your soil sample is a perfectly good way to understand what your soil texture is.
But if you wanna be more scientific, you can use one of these soil texture triangles. And these are really helpful. You just have to determine the percentage of each that you have. And then it’ll tell you the exact composition of soil you have. And then you can go and research from this and determine what kind of amendments you need to make, what watering recommendations are for your specific type of soil. So this is just a little bit more specific, and this is also really easy. So what I did is just you measure the total amount of soil that’s in your jar. So I have just under three inches here. And then I just measured each in centimeters, each section, and then you just do the simple calculation of what percentage that is. So for this first one, it was a total of 42 centimeters. 25 of those centimeters were sand, 12 were silk, and five centimeters were clay. And then I just calculated the percentages. So we had 60% sand. So I’m gonna go to my chart then. And sand is on the bottom. So I have 60% sand, and then it was 28%, so it’ll be 30% silt. So silt is over here, and then it was 12% clay. So we will have that right around 10. And then what you do is you just follow them all to each other. So I’m gonna bring clay down and I’m going to bring that up and this will go over. And that lands me in sandy loam. And if we think about this, this makes a lot of sense because in both of our samples we had the majority was the sand and the silt. So this is a great way just to confirm what kind of soil we have. And now I can do research specifically on sandy loam soils. So the soil texture triangle is something you can really easily find online, and it is just a great resource.
Now I’m just gonna show you how I took the soil sample. It’s super simple. You can either take from one exact area, if you wanna know the soil composition of let’s say a raised bed, or if you wanna know the soil composition of your property in a larger scope, I would suggest making multiple holes and then taking a little bit from each to get kind of a composition of your total soil area. And you wanna get as deep as you can because that’ll give you a better idea. The soil is always a little bit different at the surface.
So I’m just gonna dig a deep enough hole. I get that worm out there and then I’m gonna fill my jar halfway. Okay. And then once you get it in there, you are just going to fill your jar with water. Make sure you leave enough room so that you can shake it. And then you just add about a teaspoon of dish soap. And this just helps separate those layers. It makes it a little bit more distinct. You don’t need to use dish soap, but I think it helps.
You can already see it settling, but what we wanna do is shake it really good, get all those particles mixed up, give it a good shake until everything is mixed. And then we leave it to sit for at least 12 hours. But I do overnight, the sand will start settling right away. So within a couple minutes you’ll have a pretty, pretty clear layer of sand and then your silt will take a few hours. And clay is the one that takes the longest to settle. So that’s why I suggest letting it sit overnight. I let this one sit for about eight hours yesterday and all the clay still wasn’t settled. So it’s just helps to know for sure what you have. Once it all settles and you’ll be able to tell, the water will clear up a little bit. So if your water still looks kind of orangey or it has a little bit of coloration, that means that all of your clay hasn’t settled. So we can see in this one, we see the sand is already starting to settle, and that’s because it has those really big particles that just goes straight to the ground.
This is a really easy way to test your soil texture at home. And whether you just wanna do it based on what it looks like visually, or use the more scientific method with the soil texture triangle, these are great ways to just have a basic understanding of what your soil composition looks like. This can help you determine how much you need a water. If you have a heavier clay soil, you don’t need a water as much as if you have a sandy soil where all the water just runs through those big particles. This can also help with fertilizer. Fertilizer runs through the same way. So having a basic understanding of what our soil looks like, it helps us here on the farm. And it’ll help you learn more about your soil too.