Notes on Knowing Your Soil: Easily Determine Your Soil Texture and PH by Chantal

The nature of the soil in a garden is, in my opinion, an essential element in natural gardening.

Yet it is knowledge that is often overlooked.

We try to solve it here…

Why do you need to know the nature of the soil in your garden?

The nature of the soil will largely depend on the actions to be taken in your yard.

For example :

  • what type of fertilizer and when to use?
  • with which materials, when, with what thickness?
  • is a green manure suitable?
  • how often to water
  • which plants will like it… and which ones will struggle to adapt

I could add many other actions for which knowledge of the nature of the soil is essential…

Ignoring is shooting yourself in the foot!

Almost every year “miracle” gardening methods appear …

Obviously they generally don’t consider the nature of the soil!

So it’s up to you to roll the dice and hope they land on the right side (after all, some gardeners are successful with these methods – all it takes is that the growing conditions roughly coincide with those of the method’s creator ).

So you are free to risk wasting a lot of time and energy (or even money for certain methods) only to end up getting discouraged…

OR to get a good start in determining the nature of the soil in your yard.

This is what I offer you now.

Carrying out a chemical analysis of your soil is relatively expensive.

But in observe the plants naturally present on land and through some basic testsDo you have a relatively reliable idea of ​​the nature of the soil in your garden?

It is certainly not as accurate as a chemical analysis, but you will have the essential clues to start your garden in good conditions, or to make the soil more lively and fertile.

Let’s start with the ground texture…

The texture

In organic gardening it is essential to know the nature of your soil…
In organic gardening it is essential to know the nature of the soil in your garden…

Here we determine the grain size (texture), ie the types of particles that make up our soil:

  • Clay: these are the finest particles. A predominantly clayey soil is heavy, warms slowly and cracks in drought (careful with mulching or RCW). It effectively retains water and fertilizers. The additions of organic matter should be spaced out over time, but abundantly.
  • Stringers: The silt forms the intermediate stage between clay and sand. Loamy soils are generally loose and settle easily. Green manures and ground covers are beneficial and perfectly suited for this type of soil. These are often ideal soils for vegetable crops and fruit trees.
  • sand : sand is the coarsest element. That are the light grounds. The sandy soils warm up easily and thus enable early cultivation. Organically low in organic matter (because it is very difficult to retain), the addition of organic matter (manure, compost, dead leaves, straw, hay, grass clippings, crop residues, short, etc.) should be frequent and moderate. Sandy soils also dry out easily. Often acidic, it can be useful to also add lime improvers (lithothamnium type). Green manures are generally not recommended there, because they rely on low reserves.

Of course, soils are never completely sandy, loamy or clayey, but contain different proportions of these elements. For example, a soil is said to be sand-loamy if it contains a majority of sand and then a significant amount of silt…

Observe the spontaneous vegetation to get the first clues about the texture of a soil

Certain plants can indicate the nature of the soil.

They are called bio-indicator plants.

So in the heavy groundswe will often find lady’s thumb, thistles, sow thistle or even creeping bent grass

In the light grounds, the violets of the fields or the anthemis of the fields naturally form large colonies.

These plants are only significant when they are dominant.

Roughly determine the bottom texture with the pie dough test

To confirm your analysis on the observation of spontaneous vegetation, do the so-called ” pastry“.

Take a handful of damp soil (or wet it if necessary) and spread it by rolling a bottle over it.

The thickness of the paste you will get, without it breaking, tells you the texture of your soil:

  • clay soil : less than 3mm thick.
  • loamy soil : 3 to 5 mm thick.
  • sandy soil : impossible to spread the dough without breaking it.

Discover other tests, just as easy to perform, but more accurate, in My Natural Vegetable Garden

What to do with these observations?

Whatever the nature of the soil, it won’t be changed overnight (unless the soil has been completely renewed)… but regular additions of compost will lighten heavy soils and give light soils more body.

Light soils require frequent but moderate additions of compost, while heavy soils benefit best from contributions spaced out over time but abundantly.

PH (acidic or calcareous soil?)

Here we determine the pH of a soil:

  • a soil is acidic if the pH is lower than 7
  • it is neutral if the pH is equal to 7
  • it is alkaline (or basic) if the pH is above 7.

Some plants do not tolerate limestone well, others acidic soils (which promote diseases in cabbage for example)… The ideal garden has a pH close to neutral, so it will be able to accommodate most crops.

We can determine the trend of our bottom with very simple means:

Vinegar test to find out if a soil is calcareous (or alkaline)

To find out if a soil is calcareous, pour a little white vinegar on it:

  • If an effervescent reaction occurs, the soil is calcareous
  • If the reaction is very weak, it is almost neutral
  • If it’s zero, it’s neutral or acidic… the bicarbonate test allows us to specify this

Bicarbonate test to see if a soil is acidic

The baking soda test will tell you if your soil is acidic:

  • Mix a soil sample with a little demineralized water (neutral pH) and mix well
  • Pour baking soda on this mixture
  • If you can see a reaction, your soil is acidic

Summarized :

  • fizz in the vinegar test = calcareous soil (the bigger the fizz, the more chalky the soil)
  • fizz in the bicarbonate test = acidic soil (the greater the fizz, the more acidic the soil)
  • no effervescence, neither with vinegar nor with bicarbonate = neutral soil (or almost neutral)

PH bio-indicator plants

Likewise, spontaneous vegetation gives a very reliable indication of a soil’s acidity:

Fern indicates acidic soil
Fern indicates acidic soil
  • In the acidic soilsone often finds heather, fern, gorse, sheep sorrel, foxglove, gorse, chestnut
  • In the calcareous soilswe will find in particular wild chicory, hellebore, field mustard, sainfoin, meadow sage, viburnum, cherry trees, elms, elderberries…

For a more accurate reading, use a PH meter.

What to do with these observations?

A too acidic soil can be improved by adding lime improvers and organic fertilizers rich in calcium.

A calcareous soil will benefit from green manures such as mustard… Calcium-rich fertilizers and fertilizers are of course to be avoided. But why not test an RCW consisting mainly of resinous trees (which is generally not recommended) to slightly acidify a soil that is too calcareous?

The richness of organic matter

But what is most important to the organic gardener, isn’t it above all the richness of his soil, and in particular his? humus content (stable organic matter that represents about 85% of the total organic matter in the soil, the rest is organic matter in decomposition)?

In reality, good garden soil should contain at least 5% organic matter.

Observing the spontaneous flora gives us an interesting indication of the richness of a soil

This nettle carpet testifies to the richness of the soil
This nettle carpet testifies to the richness of the soil

If it is complicated to identify the possible deficiencies of a soil without analysis, we can still get a good idea of ​​its richness of humusthis through a simple observation of the flora that is naturally present in your garden.

Thereby, small and large nettles, lamb’s quarters, hogweed, quack grass, orache, white dead nettles and purple dead nettles, black elderberry, white pimpernel, annual quicksilver…are plants that indicate a humus-rich soil.

The presence of these plants, especially if it is particularly marked, is a good sign. But remember that even if your soil is rich, it still needs to be fed.

Observe your crops to get an idea of ​​the richness of a soil

Likewise, observing your crops provides valuable information about the richness of your soil.

In a soil sufficiently rich in humus, rapid growth of cultivated plants and well-developed foliage will be observed.

What to do with these observations?

Regardless of the richness of your soil, continue to feed it effectively with various organic matter: manure, compost, mulch (straw, hay, grass clippings, RCW, etc.).

By doing so, you will maintain or even improve the humus content of the soil in your garden… which will return you in bountiful harvests.

And if your soil is really shallow, too poor, stony, difficult to work… maybe consider a lasagna vegetable garden?

For further…

Here, I hope this little article has enabled you to better understand the nature of your garden’s soil and now draw the lessons that come from it…

Discover your land and, starting from this knowledge, make it alive and fertile (which means, among other things, that you will have good harvests there), and this in a sustainable way (many soils die… at least the one you pass on to future generations will have a chance to live… if we didn’t destroy everything before…), this is what I propose to you in my practical guide ( book printed or in pdf format) entitled My natural vegetable garden.