How to test your soil – texture (sand, silt, clay composition)
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How to test your soil – texture (sand, silt, clay composition)

October 15, 2019

Soil texture is basically the composition of the soil in relation to sand, silt and clay, with sand being the coarsest fraction and clay being the finest. Now, it’s important to understand your soil texture as it has some major implications on soil management. It’s important because it influences water-holding capacity, water infiltration, nutrient retention and erodeability of the soil. Soil texturing is an easy thing to do. There are two main ways that you can determine your soil texture. The first is very simple. It’s a soil test and sent away to the lab for a particle size analysis. The second, also quite easy, is to do it yourself in the field. It uses your hands and some soil, a very easy thing to do. Firstly, we take our soil that we’ve sampled. You take it in your hands and you give it a nice little push together with your fingers just to break up the smaller pieces. Anything that’s more than about two millimetres in size, rocks or coarse fractions like that, should be removed before you start texturing your soil. As we break it up, so we’ve got a nice palm full of soil and we can begin a soil-texturing process. If the soil is dry then I would suggest adding just a little bit of moisture just to help it all come together, and then using your hands push all the soil together. Work it between your hands until it forms a nice moist ball. You don’t want it too wet, but you need it to come together nicely. We may need to work it for one-to-two minutes and really want to feel in this one-to-two minutes what’s present in our soil. If you’re got coarse sand you can really feel the coarse sand within the soil. And while you’re spending the one-to-two minutes, why don’t you think about what you can feel? I often close my eyes to help the process. For example; if you’ve got sand, especially coarse sand, you can really see it and feel it in the soil. If it’s a fine sand it might be slightly more difficult, but holding it to your ear you can often hear the fine sand in there, grinding together. Now clay is very much like plasticine. It makes a nice, it forms a nice ball that holds together and it’s often quite sticky. And if you’ve got a lot of silt in your soil, like this one appears to have, it stains your hands quite a lot. It feels silky to the hands, so it’s important to take that time to really feel what’s in your soil. When you’ve worked it together for a while, the next process is to form a ribbon. We push it between our forefinger and our thumb and in pushing that we’re creating what we call a ribbon. And we do this a few times so that we get an average across the ball and I’ll probably get about three out of this one. Push that through and it looks like in the surface soil we’re getting little ribbons of about one- to-two, maybe three centimetres maximum. Then you can use a ribboning chart to assess what type of soil type you have. You should be able to now, determine what the water- holding capacity is likely to be in your soil, the best plants that are suited for your soil, and any potential issues that you may have going-forward in your production system. Captions by

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