When starting a new garden it’s good to know what kind of soil you’ve got.  Soil particles range in size from very small clay particles to medium-sized silt to larger sand.  Clay holds water best but allows little aeration, while sand provides fast drainage and good air flow but holds water poorly.  The best soil combination will hold moisture as well as allow a good air flow to plant roots.  Loam, which consists of 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand is considered ideal.

Here is a simple test to determine your soil type:

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Fill a glass jar about half full of your garden soil.

 

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Add water until the jar is about three quarters full. Add a tablespoon of dishwasher detergent. (liquid or granules)

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Put the lid on the jar and shake it vigorously for about three minutes to separate the particles.

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Set the jar on a table or wherever it can remain undisturbed. After a few days you will see three distinct soil layers—sand on the bottom, silt in the middle, and clay on the top. Organic material will usually float on top of the water. In general the darker the water, the higher the organic content in the soil.

After a few days you will see three distinct soil layers—sand on the bottom, silt in the middle, and clay on the top. Organic material will usually float on top of the water. In general, the darker the water, the higher the organic content in the soil.

If you live in Arizona, a list of labs that can professionally test your soil is available through the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Service at cals.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/az1111.pdf.

Contributed by Jim Mast