Sometimes gardeners forget that not everyone speaks our language. We talk about sandy loam soil, clay soil, sand, and silt as if everyone knew exactly what those were. Well, not all gardeners know, and nongardeners, or beginners, certainly do not know all the terms for soil. I can help with that. First, the terms:
About ninty percent of soil is made up of rock of different sizes. These sizes are sand, silt, and clay. About ten percent of soil is made up of organic matter. This is what supports life. The rock determines how the soil drains water, how much air is in the soil, and how easy it is to dig.
Clay contains the smallest particles. They hug each other close and do not easily let water or air through. On the plus side, clay holds in nutrients and water. Plants can drown, though, because the water pools and air cannot get in to the roots. In hot climates, the clay may bake and become cement, killing the plants.
Silt is a particle between sand and clay. It drains well but holds nutrients better than sand. Pure silt is very rare, but is also very fertile. Rivers deposit silt when they flood the bottom lands, which is one of the reasons those lands are so fertile.
Sand is the largest particle in soil. It drains well and has lots of spaces between it for air. The down side is that it drains too well and nutrients and water just run through, leaving plants thirst and starved for nutrients.
The ideal soil is a balance of sand, silt, and clay. It is called sandy loam and is the Holy Grail of soil. This drains properly, but not too well. It holds nutrients and allows air to circulate. It is usually found near rivers, or where rivers used to be. Not too many people are blessed to have this type of soil.
Fret not, however. Soil can be improved by the addition of organic matter. This is why compost is added — to make clay soils drain better and to help sand hold moisture. Compost adds nutrients and helps add air pockets in clay soils. You may not be blessed with sandy loam, but you can improve your soil and grow wonderful vegetables with a little work.
For more help gardening, buy my book, Preparing A Vegetable Garden From The Ground Up
Available in print or ebook from Amazon.com or other retailers, this book walks you from choosing the site of your garden all the way through what to do after the harvest. Buy a copy for yourself or a friend today!