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  1. #1
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    Soil type - sandy, silty, clays

    Posted this on HTGT, but thought it might be worth posting here also.

    General soil classification - not that difficult!
    Put some soil in a glass jar, add water, shake, watch it settle into soil type – sand on the bottom, then silts, then clays on top.

    Whether your soil is sand, silt or clay, it is determined only by grain or particle size – this is the only defining characteristic.
    Sands are larger than 0.05 to 0.074mm, silts are particles larger than 0.002mm, clays are finer than 0.002mm. (depends on whose doing the classification)

    The water jar ‘shake and rest’ test is a simple test done to determine the range of particle or grain size in soils. Sands settle out in less than 1 ½ minutes, silts takes 10+ minutes, and clays take several hours to a full day+ before the water clears. This is not an exacting test, but will give you a general idea of the nature of your soils.

    To determine your soil type:
    Test your soils from the 6-inch to one-foot depth.
    Remove the rocks, gravel, the big roots and obvious organic matter from soil samples before doing these tests. Thoroughly dry the soil (OK to use an oven - but organic matter may stink), then, mechanically crush the dried soil to near dust – highly unlikely that you can crush an actual individual sand particle. Use whatever ‘mortar-and-pedestal’, hammer or mallet you have to pulverize the soil. This fine dusty material is what you put into the jar, then add water. Best to only fill the jar with soil to not more than 10-20% of its height, and a tall, skinny test-tube shape jar works best. Add water to fill the jar.

    Add a small drop of liquid detergent – this will deter the cohesion/adhesion between particles. Stir and shake vigorously for a few minutes until everything is in suspension. It would be nice to have access to a commercial paint mixer, as sometimes it takes that much effort to get everything in suspension, and it depends on how well you crushed the soil. Set the jar down, and leave undisturbed until the water is clear – may take a couple days if you have a lot of superfine clays.

    Organic matter may settle out between any of these soil types, be somewhat mixed in, or even float on top, and are generally obvious brown or black particles or layers. Easy to recognize!

    One can generally differentiate between the sand, silt and clay layers.
    If your water is nearly clear within minutes – you have sandy soil.
    If nearly clear within an hour – you have silt, sandy-silt or silty-sand.
    If still cloudy after an hour, you have silty-clay, clayey-silt or clay. True fine clays may take several hours to a day to settle out.
    Most soils are combination of soil types, and the general soil characteristics of your soil will be determined by the amount of material in each layer. It will help to mark the jar at each settlement layer after 1 ½ minutes, 10 minutes, one-hour, and 24 hours. If you have a well-graded soil, i.e., soil with a uniform mix of all particle sizes, these layers may not be so readily defined.

    Again, whether your soil is sand, silt or clay, it is determined only by particle size – this is the only defining characteristic.

    OK, more simple tests:

    To differentiate between fine-sand and silt – both appear dusty when dry. In the above soil/water dispersion test, sand settles out within 1 ½ minutes. Silt takes 10 minutes to less than an hour. You can observe relative thickness of the sediments for sub-classification, as silty sand, sandy silt, etc. Again, it is just particle size and how long it takes to drop out of suspension.

    To differentiate between fine silt and clay, take a ball of moist soil and rub a finger on it. If the rubbed spot appears smooth, the material is clay, but if it appears scratched, it is silt or silty.

    Take a moist ball of soil in your hand, the soil needs to be plastic. This is really subjective. If it crumbles, it’s too dry. If it’s sticky, it’s too wet. A little experimentation may be needed. Place the ball of soil in the palm of your hand and shake horizontally with jerking movements. (no dirty jokes here, please) If the material is silt or predominantly silt, the surface will become wet and shiny since water travels through silt particles relatively easy and the inertia forces cause the water to move to the surface. Clay, on the other hand, shows no change.

    Crushing of dry clay particles is relatively difficult, whereas silt lumps break quite easily.

    Moist clay can be rolled out into small threads (1/8-inch or less), whereas silt is much more difficult to roll into small threads and generally requires more water.


    I did not stay at a Holiday Inn last night, but I am a civil engineer, and I did do a summer internship during college at a USGS laboratory classifying soils for a reservoir project. And I did spend much of my career reviewing soil reports and tests for engineering and construction projects.
    Last edited by LeftyRighty; 01-14-2012 at 11:53 PM.

  2. #2
    Founder FmGrowit's Avatar
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    Soil type - sandy, silty, clays

    Thanks for posting here also.

    Here is one way to correct "clay soil"

    After you do your testing to determine the soil type, here are some things to correct various soil types to promote healthier plants. Keep in mind, tobacco does not need (or like) highly fertile soil. Fast draining soil is probably equally as important as moisture retention. I know that sounds contradicting, but "drainage" is more of what occurs after a rainstorm. You don't want 2 inches of water lying on your field/garden...typically this occurs with clay soils. Drainage is accomplished in sandy soils. Moisture "retention" is what's left-over after the soil drains. Retention is is accomplished with organic materials like peat moss and compost. Ironically, clay is also excellent for moisture retention, but too much isn't good either.

    To correct clay soil, first till or turn the area you want to amend. Note* Working wet clay is the worst thing you can do. It will only compress and make the condition worse. (it doesn't have to be worked too much, just break it up). Next, spread organic matter over the area to be amended and work it into the top 6 - 8 inches of the soil. Then, spread fill sand or masonry sand (do not use silica or sandbox sand...it is too fine and can make the problem worse) over the clay/organic matter layer and mix it in. The amount of materials to add will depend on your soil type. Generally, 50% and above sand is considered "sandy soil".

    Check the pH and texture of any amended soil on a regular basis to see how it is changing. The organic matter will decay and seem to disappear. Since clay soils tend to be naturally alkaline and the decaying organic matter will slowly acidify, it will be important to have the pH tested.

  3. #3
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    Soil type - sandy, silty, clays

    I would like to add a little something to this thread .

    If you have hard to work soil , you can till the soil in late fall or early winter . The freeze and thaw will break the soil up and loosen it .
    I like plowing sod ground in late fall and let it sit over winter , the soil will be so much easier to work with in the spring , it also lets the sod compost .

  4. #4
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    Soil type - sandy, silty, clays

    Well, I'm not going to spend a lot of time explaining this, nor search for the maps, but the USGS, states and most university ag departments have mapped the entire USA with general sub-surface soil types. You can locate your plot on a map, and determine the soil types and properties. Sometimes this info is very specific, sometimes not helpful. Contact you local or county extension office, and ask them.

  5. #5
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    Soil type - sandy, silty, clays

    Quote Originally Posted by LeftyRighty View Post
    Well, I'm not going to spend a lot of time explaining this, nor search for the maps, but the USGS, states and most university ag departments have mapped the entire USA with general sub-surface soil types. You can locate your plot on a map, and determine the soil types and properties. Sometimes this info is very specific, sometimes not helpful. Contact you local or county extension office, and ask them.
    I forgot all about the maps you are talking about . Yes you are right !!!!! I still have mine from years ago when I bought my first farm . I still look at it when I look at a new piece of land that I may be thinking about buying .
    My maps are in a book form . Soil conservation gives them out for free . it list the land and in the back it has the soil types and their usefullness .
    This maps LeftyRighty is talking about should be made avaliable online .They are very usefull !!!! They may be old but are still current .

  6. #6
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    Soil type - sandy, silty, clays

    Also, worth noting... soils on these maps are frequently given specific 'names', or classifications.
    You can 'google' these names (sometimes with the region, county or state location) and find agricultural publications or data that is relevant. Sometimes it's just junk !

  7. #7
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    Soil type - sandy, silty, clays

    Be very careful about adding sand to clay soils. Also do not expect to correct clay soil quickly. It is expected that it will take several years. Clay soil and sand are what are used to make a material that is very much like concrete it just does not withstand moisture as well. Gypsum helps break up the bond between clay particles in preperation of introducing sand later. BTU to add sand directly could result in a nightmare. Littel bits of sand added over several years works much better. The organic matter is being built up along with it.

  8. #8
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    Soil type - sandy, silty, clays

    Thanks for the information. I'm glad I ran across this forum.

  9. #9
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    Soil type - sandy, silty, clays

    Quote Originally Posted by LeftyRighty View Post
    Well, I'm not going to spend a lot of time explaining this, nor search for the maps, but the USGS, states and most university ag departments have mapped the entire USA with general sub-surface soil types. You can locate your plot on a map, and determine the soil types and properties. Sometimes this info is very specific, sometimes not helpful. Contact you local or county extension office, and ask them.
    Well Lefty, I just took about 5 minutes to find detailed information about my soil. I googled "usga soil maps CT" and the CT State Ag Experimental site survey popped up. A moment or two spent getting used to their maps, sub-maps and labeling yielded " CrC" which interprets to Charlton-Hollis fine sandy loam, very rocky. By god they got that right ! I think rocks are CT's premiere crop. We sure have the rock walls built by our forefathers. They weren't building walls. Just getting the pesky suckers out of their fields.

    So here I am knowing my native soil. I have imported some top soil but I figure I can test that against known native and see how they compare. Then I'll just modify it as you folks have suggested. I guess there are times when small plots are a blessing

    THANKS, This was an easy educational experience. Believe me boys, if I can do it anybody can !
    Oh Yeah, thanks for the soil test primer. I copied and printed it out so I won't forget it (a chronic thing now) and to show some friends

    John

  10. #10
    Member pastorj's Avatar
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    Soil type - sandy, silty, clays

    Was wondering how well tobacco plants do in very rocky (almost gravel like) soil. Will it deter proper plant growth too much?

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