Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Guest blog: How & What to Plant in Different Soil Types

I am happy to include guest blogs on Self-Sufficient in Suburbia. In this post, Jessie Wang writes about soil types. If you want to write a post for the blog about growing food, keeping an allotment or cooking the food you have grown, please email me on jonathanwallace@compuserve.com. Your post should be informative, relaxed in its style and fit the beliefs of the site: sustainability, local production, environmental protection and promotion of good health through growing and eating you own food.

How and What to Plant in Different Soil Types

I believe everyone can grow their own, no matter what soil type you have andeven if you are a beginner gardener!

If you are a beginner, you might be wondering where to start. So, in order to help you to start your self-efficient journey I’m going to help you understand the four most common soil types and the right fruits and vegetables for each.

Enjoy reading!

1. Acidic Soil

Acidic soil is soil that has a pH value below 7. This type of soil appears a lot in the regions with high precipitation. Since plants always prefer an acidic soil environment, you can grow almost anything here! This is because the acidity better dissolves the nutrients and minerals within the soil. However, the pH level of an ideal acidic soil should be between 5.5 and 7.0. If lower, it could be too acidic and harm the plant.

How to identify the soil type:

1. One easy way that everyone can do is using baking soda. Give some liquidity to the mud by mixing dry dirt and distilled water. Then put baking soda onto the mixture. If you see bubbles, it means it is acidic.

2. Otherwise, buy a soil pH test kit. If it shows between 5.5 and 7, it’s great!

What to grow and what to bear in mind:

It’s summer now, and we all love strawberries. The good news is that strawberries are one of the best choices for acidic soil! They prefer this type of soil environment and will naturally thrive. Otherwise, blueberries, carrots, garlic, sweet peppers, tomatoes, squash and pumpkins are all great choices.

But, before you start your happy planting journey, here are some tips to remember for acidic soil. It would be wise to add some mulch in late autumn, so as to protect the plants’ bases from winter conditions as the roots of acid-loving plants are normally quite shallow. Also, take advantage of your used coffee grounds, or go ask the local coffee shop for them if you aren’t a big coffee drinker. Spread them over the soil three times a year for happy, healthy plants.

2. Chalky Soil

The colour of chalky soil is light brown to white. It contains many stones, normally chalky white stones, lime, and calcium carbonate. This soil is alkaline and free draining. Many people say that it’s not fertile land, however while that is true in many circumstances, when there is clay present too the nutrient levels would be higher and the soil may have a better water holding capacity. Chalky soil drains well and warms up fast in spring. It is also easy to cultivate in rainy season.

How to identify the soil type:

1. Use vinegar to test: this type of soil type is very easy to identify by pouring a little household vinegar onto it, since the calcium carbonate within the chalk will present itself when touching weak acids like vinegar. If the mixture fizzes, it is alkaline.
2. Use a soil test kit: The PH value of chalky soil is between 7.1 and 8.0.
What to grow and what to bear in mind:

Since chalky soil is alkaline, and cannot be acidified, it is better to choose plants that will thrive in alkaline conditions. Vegetables such as spinach, beets, sweetcorn, and cabbage, and fruits like pyrus, sorbus and arbutus will do well in chalky soils.

What you need to remember is that since chalky soil lack nutrients, using additives like fertiliser and compost is very necessary, as well as frequent watering in summer or on hot sunny days as chalky soil dries up easily.

3. Sandy Soil

As the name suggests, sandy soils contains a high proportion of sand and little clay. Sand particles are large enough to allow water to drain easily. However, it also means that it will dry out quickly. The rain will take away the nutrients so unsurprisingly, it is also called “hungry” soil!
How to identify the soil type:

1. By using your eyes and hands – sandy soil will not form distinct shapes, so an initial test can be trying to mould the soil into little balls. If it just crumbles away, even with water added,, there are high chances it’s sandy soil. Also, it is normally brown in colour.

2. Sandy soil is actually a little acidic. So using the baking powder or pH testing method as introduced in the Acidic Soil section can work. After you get the result, see and touch the soil according to method one, and you should be able to tell if it’s sandy or just regular acidic soil.

What to grow and what to bear in mind:

Ideal crops for growing in sandy soil include watermelons, peanuts and peaches. Sandy soil is light, easy to warm up, and easy to dry out, especially in spring and fall. Therefore, you should remember to add quality topsoil to your sandy soil in these two seasons. Also, it would be sensible to water and feed the soil a bit earlier in spring than you would otherwise.

4. Clay Soil

Typically, ‘clay’ soil is at least 25% clay. It is a quite nutritious and watery type of soil, because the nutrients get stuck to the clay minerals and there is little space between the clay particles, so it’s hard for the nutrients to get washed away by rainwater. It’s also known as “heavy soil”.

How to identify the soil type:

Feel it and play with it: Clay soil will crack and is rock-hard when dry, and lumpy and sticky when very wet. So you can try to roll it between your fingers - it should form into a shape fairly easy if it is wet. You should also be able to feel the very fine particles if you rub it between your thumb and forefinger.

What to grow and what to bear in mind:

While most vegetables will be suitable for clay soil, leafy vegetables, teas, beetroot, turnips and mooli would definitely grow well.

For clay soil the thing you need to remember is that unlike sandy soil, it drains quite slowly and will take longer to be warm up in spring. It’s also easy to crack in summer as mentioned above, so watering on a regular basis is necessary.

So now you understand the different soil types better, go to your garden and find out what soil type you have! Once you know, you can also use this plant finder tool (http://www.coblands.co.uk/knowledge-base/plant-finder) to see which flowers are suitable for your own garden.

About the Author: Jessie Wang is a freelance writer who blogs about gardening, education and leading an eco-friendly lifestyle. You can contact her by email: jessiewang0909@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of USDA

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