Friday, March 9, 2012

Soil 101

Soil. (Insert deep breath…release).
I realized why I’ve procrastinated this post. Soil is boring. Don’t get me wrong I love working, mixing and prepping soil, but writing about soil feels like a college term paper. 

In determining what to write, I decided to bring a spiritual side to the soil post.

The parable of the sower in the New Testment is a favorite of mine:

Matthew 13
  • 3 And he spake may things unto them in parables, saying, Behold a sower went forth to sow;
  • 4-And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up;
  • 5-Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
  • 6-And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
  • 7-And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:
  • 8-But others fell into good ground and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

We know the seed is the constant and the soil is the variable, and when the seed fell in “good ground” it bore “fruit.” One thing that always comes to mind when reading this parable is other seeds fell into different, poor soil conditions and alas didn’t survive. 
However, poor soil can always be worked into “good ground.” It takes work and sometimes more than expected, but the seed will grow given the right conditions. 

The question then comes, “Am I prepared to receive the seed or the word of God? What must do I to prepare my ground?” Another interesting note- soil needs continuous preparation. I can’t buy potting soil and think the same nutrients will exist year after year to sustain life forever. It continuously needs work just like me.
Of the soapbox and on to soil.

WARNING: Although the same rules apply everywhere, my garden is in Utah where the soil is more alkaline and clay like.

Soil Part 1: Types of Soil (term paper outline)
Three types of soil:
  • Sand
    • Pros:
      • Great for root penetration
      • Drains well
      • Creates great air pockets for roots
    • Cons:
      • Doesn’t hold the soluble nutrient like nitrogen
      • Little water retention
  • Silt
    • Pros:
      • Higher in nutrients
      • Allows root penetration
  • Cons:
      • Quick to erode
      • Retains water a little too well and slow to drain
  • Clay
    • Pros:
      • Usually higher in nutrients
      • Good water retention
  • Cons:
      • Clay is so thick it makes it difficult for root penetration
      • Can retain too much water
      • Clay particles are so tight it allows for little air in the soil and doesn’t release nutrients

Obviously, a mixture of all three soils would create a happy medium. So how do we create that without breaking the bank?
  • Adding decomposing minerals, organic matter and fertilizer overtime will greatly increase the quality of any soil. For example, adding decomposing organic matter such as yard clippings or leaves greatly increases water penetration, aeration and draining of clay soil.

So how do we improve the soil we have?
  • There are 16 elements for plant growth including; Nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, chlorine, boron, and molybdenum. (Successful Home Gardening)
  • Return plant base materials you eat or grow to the garden, eliminating any diseased plants and nutrients will increase. (Carrot peals, tomato greens, leaves, grass clippings, sawdust, etc.)
    • Items to avoid include:
      • Treated grass clippings, anything for a redwood or black walnut. Regular walnut leaves are a bit toxic but lose it after a few months of decomposing.
      • (more on this topic next post)

Side note:
  • I avoid a compost bin because it’s a pain and unnecessary (but that is just me.) I find there is always a spot in my garden that isn't in use and just add my plant base leftover to the unused area.. DO NOT DO THIS WHERE PLANTS ARE GROWING. For the soil to break the matter down, it becomes nitrogen deficient. However, with a few months the nitrogen will return even higher along with other nutrients to enrich the soil.

Ok-Enough soil talk for now. This post is too long! Tomorrow I'll post how to change the composition of your soil to make it plant worthy.  


  1. Love this! I hope to see you at "How Does Your Garden Grow?". Where in the world are you? One of my readers just posted pictures of ripe cherry tomatoes and we won't even have ours in the ground for over a month and a half!

  2. No green thumbs here. But love the connection to scripture!

  3. Love how you connected this to scripture. Also plan to bookmark this one for reading again. I'm in Western PA where the temps are still fluctuating quite a bit. My thoughts are just starting on what my garden will have, but I don't know anything about soil, so this will be helpful. Thank you!

  4. I loved this! So informative. We have clay dirt here too in the Desert, but the animals just eat everything, and we have extreme hot and cold. It's very challenging, but I will keep coming for your tips!