Stella Otto: The Backyard Fruit Gardener

Today's Tip: Mow vegetation short around the base of fruit trees and bushes to reduce winter habitat for rodents.

Soil Texture: a Quick Hands-on Test

The arti­cle on soils gives in-depth infor­ma­tion on soil prop­er­ties and soils best suited for the fruit gar­den. Here is a quick, handy, in the field “dirty thumbs” test to make an esti­ma­tion of your soil texture.

Take a wal­nut size scoop (a rough table­spoon) of soil.

Mix with just enough water to hold together with­out leav­ing soil in your hand as you roll it around. The con­sis­tency of mod­el­ing clay is what you are aim­ing for.

Press the soil ball between your thumb and fore­fin­ger to make a “rib­bon” of soil. Do this sev­eral times to see how well the rib­bon holds together. One of three broad char­ac­ter­is­tics of rib­bon will result:

  • a smooth cohe­sive rib­bon with lit­tle crack­ing along the edges
  • a semi-cohesive rib­bon with large deep cracks along the edge that even­tu­ally breaks apart
  • a non-cohesive rib­bon that breaks apart almost imme­di­ately or does not form at all

The first rib­bon will typ­i­cally be two inches or longer, espe­cially if it is some­what sticky feel­ing, indi­cates a high clay con­tent soil.

The sec­ond rib­bon, which will typ­i­cally hold together for an inch or two, is indica­tive of a loamy soil; whether sandy loam or clay loam will depend some­what on how gritty or not the rib­bon is. More grit, more sand.

The non-cohesive rib­bon, nor­mally less than an inch in length, indi­cates a very high sand con­tent to the soil. It will be well drained, but with lit­tle mois­ture hold­ing capacity.

©2013. Adapted from the Back­yard Berry Book: A hands-on guide to grow­ing berries, bram­bles, and vine fruit in the home gar­den by Stella Otto.