Check your soil condition

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					Check your soil condition

Visual Soil Assessment, it was originally developed for farmers and soil conservators. But the basic
principles are the same for any soil - so with permission we've adapted the technique for the home
garden.

The test we describe below is designed for parts of the garden that have not been cultivated or cropped
for several years (such as lawn), so it's ideal for checking out soil condition before breaking in new
ground.

Allow around 15 minutes for the test. For best results the soil should be moist, neither soaking wet nor
bone dry.

You'll need:

        A spade
        A plastic basin
        A flat piece of wood (such as ply or particle board) to place in the bottom of the basin
        A large plastic bag (around 500 x 700mm)
        This report and a pen.

The drop shatter test
Dig out a 20cm cube of soil with the spade. (Most spades are 18-20cm wide.) Many soils will come out as
a single lump, especially if slightly moist. If yours doesn't cling together at all, dig out enough to have the
equivalent of a 20cm cube.

Drop the soil from a height of one metre (about waist height) onto the wood in the bottom of the basin so
it shatters into pieces. Drop large clods again once or twice. Don't drop any piece more than three times.
If it breaks into small pieces with the first or second drop, move on to the next stage. If roots are holding
the soil together, pull it apart along any large cracks. Avoid crushing any pieces smaller than they break
into naturally.

Spread the plastic bag flat on the ground beside the basin and transfer the soil onto it. Grade the
fragments as you go so the largest clods are at one end and the finest at the other.

Soil structure and consistence

Compare your sample with the photos below and put the appropriate score

Then calculate your total score to find out what condition it's really in.

Visual indicator of soil quality                       Your soil score            Weighting*             Ranking


Soil structure and consistence                                                    x3
Visual indicator of soil quality                       Your soil score        Weighting*           Ranking


Soil porosity                                                                           x3


Soil colour                                                                             x2


Number and colour of soil mottles                                                       x2


Earthworm count                                                                         x3


Total score                                                                                        ______




* Some factors are more important than others so a weighting system is used. Multiply your visual score
by the weighting to get the ranking. Then add up the rankings to get the total score.

What your score means

If your total score is...

        less than 10 Your soil is in poor condition

        10-20 Your soil is in moderate condition

        20+ Your soil is in good condition.
Soil porosity

Now take a slice of soil from the side of the hole created by taking your original 20cm cube, break it in half
and look at the exposed soil. Alternatively, take large clods from your plastic bag.

Compare what you see to the photos below. Mark the score on your card.




Soil color

Examine the color of a handful or slice of your soil. Using the photos below as a guide, record the score.
Soil mottles

Look at the side of the hole or at the largest clods on your plastic bag and compare them to the photos
below and record the score.




Earthworms

Sort through the soil on the plastic bag and count the number of earthworms you can find in five minutes.
Make sure to look carefully through the soil that was closest to the surface.

				
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