Howdy everyone. So far, my blog posts have taken the shape of creative musings and anecdotes. Today, I want to be more informative! Today, our subject is soil, something that I find endlessly fascinating—and frightening. This post will be the first in a series about soil, and I can’t say how many posts the series will feature. Basically, I’ll keep posting about the topic as I unearth more about it! (Puns!)

Back to soil. Soil is intimidating. We gardeners are used to tackling the stuff above ground, and that’s complex enough. Sometimes we feel like we’ve followed all of the rules, but one morning, we’ll mosey into the garden to discover that the harvest we’d been anticipating just isn’t there. And dealing with what’s underground can seem so much worse. Right under those tomatoes of yours are roots snaking through the dirt, weed seeds waiting to germinate, battalions of bacteria, and layers after layer of earth—all out of sight and hard to even touch, at least without tools.

Yet despite how scary soil can be, focusing on the soil of your garden is one of the most important things that you can do. The chemical composition of your soil determines whether your plants will thrive—or even survive, in dire cases. Furthermore, enriching your soil is perhaps one of the greatest forms of preventative upkeep that you can do in the garden. With the right soil, your plants will have the easy access to water and nutrients, and which is great, because malnourished plants struggle to fend off disease.

So, what is the right soil? An ideal garden soil is a sandy loam that is half solid and half porous, which allows for water and insects to move about. There are three forms of little particles that you can find in your garden, in some combination:

  • Clay – Clay particles are miniscule and flat, with a tendency to pack together tightly. As a result, clay retains water maybe too well, hoarding it from hungry plants. To see if your soil’s mostly clay, roll a damp ball of soil and poke it with your finger. Soils with lots of clay will not break.
  • Sand – Sand particles are the largest of the three, and they’re a bit jagged. Sandy soils will drain very easily, but this can be a problem, leaving your plants too parched. If you poke your damp ball of soil lightly and it breaks easily, then you have sandy soil.
  • Silt – Silt particles are jagged like sand, but they’re smaller. A damp ball of silt-y soil will also break easily, but it will require a little more pressure than would sandy soil.

loamy soil

A sandy loam, pictured above, consists of 20% clay, 40% sand, and 40% silt. Of course, reaching this ideal soil is not as simple as mixing these three elements together in your backyard.

But more on that later.