Purdue Extension Corner
In the last few weeks I have had the pleasure of teaching two different groups of youth in Clay and Owen counties about gardening and nature. One of the lessons that I taught them was on soils. As the students learned about soils, it made me think that maybe there would be some adults interested in learning more about their local soils. Therefore, the next two articles are dedicated to understanding and improving the substance found beneath our feet.
There are a number of factors such as parent material, topography, climate, biotic factors, and time that determine soil formation. Basically, soil is a mixture of minerals, organic material, and space (comprised of air and water). The minerals usually make up 45-48 percent of soil. Some of the mineral material you might hear individuals discuss is sand, silt and clay. Of these minerals, clay is the smallest; being less than 0.002 mm while sand is the largest, ranging in size from 0.5 to 2 mm. Of the mineral material, clay holds water the best, causing poor drainage.
The mixture of the sand, silt and clay is what gives the soil its texture. If it has a coarse texture, then it is said to be a sandy loam soil. If it has a medium texture, then it is considered a silt loam. A fine texture then is a loam or clay soil. Around much of this area you will find soil that is considered either a loam or clay soil. If you are on the river bottoms, then you might find some sandy loam soil. The soil texture can vary on one individual property based on the soil forming factors mentioned above.
The color of the soil is impacted by the amount of organic matter and drainage. The darker it is, the more organic matter found in the soil. If the soil is not brown, but gray, then you are looking at drainage issues. To have an idea about the drainage on your land, look at how much gray soil there is 10 inches below the surface. If there is some gray, then chances are your basement will have moisture problems and any plants you plant will end up saturated in water.
To better understand the organic matter in your local soils you should have a soil test ran. A soil test should be done at least every three years to ensure that your plants have the available nutrients they need. In order to get a soil sample ready, you need to use either a soil probe, auger or spade. A soil probe can be borrowed from your local extension office. Additionally, you will need a clean plastic pail and a sample bag. The sample bag can be obtained from your local extension office or your local farm co-op. Once you get the sample, place it in your clean plastic pail. Thoroughly mix all the samples from similar locations (i.e. all the samples from your garden or all the samples from your lawn) together. Remove any large rocks or roots from the sample. If the soil is muddy, dry it before mixing. Finally, fill the sample bag to the line with the air-dried soil and take it to the local farm coop to be tested.
As always, if you have any questions or would like information on any agriculture, horticulture, or natural resource topic, then please contact your local Purdue Extension Office at 812-448-9041 in Clay County, or 829-5020 in Owen County. Youu can also reach me directly via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Purdue University is an equal opportunity/equal access/ affirmative action institution.
Upcoming opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension include:
•April 19 – Farmers’ Market Boot Camp, Terre Haute, 9:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Cost is $15. Call 765-494-1296 by April 12 to register
•April 24 – Owen County Extension Board Meeting, Owen County Extension Office, South Washington Street, Spencer
•April 26 – Youth Earth Day Program, Owen County Extension Office, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
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