Analyzing Your Soil

I don’t know about you, but visions of summer tomatoes are starting to dance in my head.


Even though it is too early for planting, it’s the perfect time to start playing in the dirt and preparing the soil in our garden beds.

(I really do love this part.)

If you are new to gardening or want even better tomatoes this season, healthy soil is the best place to start.

Healthy soil is soil that drains well and allows minerals to be easily absorbed by the plant.

Unfortunately, most of us have either clay soil, which has very poor drainage, or sandy soil, which has very poor water retention.

Not sure how much clay or sand is in your soil?

The best way to know is to conduct “the jar test”…..

Analyzing Your Soil Using the Jar Test

You will need:

*A shovel or spade

*A quart-sized jar and lid

Step #1: Dig A Hole

Grab your shovel and dig a hole in an area where you would like to have a garden bed. (Call 811 before you dig–safety reasons!)

Dig up the top layer of grass (or weeds, in my case) and remove as much grass/weeds as possible.


For my sample, I literally went out to the middle of my back yard and dug a hole.

Step 2: Collect a Sample

Fill a quart-sized jar three-quarters full with soil from the hole.

Again, try to remove as much debris and rocks as possible.


Step #3: Fill Jar With Water

Fill the jar with regular ol’ tap water, leaving about an inch of head space.  Screw lid on tightly.


Step #4: Shake It Up

Shake the jar up for at least a minute, making sure every last bit of soil gets mixed up in the water.


Step #5: Settle Down

Allow the jar to sit undisturbed for at least a day to allow the soil particles to settle into layers of sand, silt, clay and organic matter:


I think it’s safe to say that I have sandy soil.

Sand is the heaviest and largest soil particle so it will settle at the bottom.

Silt is the next largest soil particle and will settle on top of the sand.  (Hmm…where is MY silt layer, I wonder?)

Clay is the smallest and finest soil particle and will settle on top of the silt.

Water and organic material will float to the top.

So Now What?

If you are like me and have mostly sand, you will need to add plenty of compost and organic materials (rotted leaves, mulch, etc.) to your soil.  This will help the soil retain water and nutrients.

If your jar is mostly full of clay, then you will also need to add plenty of compost and organic materials to the soil.  This will improve your soil’s drainage and nutrient absorption.

And if you have a well-proportioned mix of clay, silt and sand, I would like to know where you live so I can move in.  🙂


How does YOUR garden grow?

Share the progress of your garden by linking up with me this growing season!


How to link up:

1. Click on the link below to enter.

2. Copy the url of your gardening post and enter it into the link.

3. Comment and encourage at least one other gardener. 🙂

Click here to enter your link and view the links of others!


24 thoughts on “Analyzing Your Soil

  1. I don’t have anything to link up–YET. I’ve never grown anything edible, but I want to this year. Tomatoes are definitely on the list. Really appreciate this post, as I have experienced the misery that is trying to grow flowers in clay.

    • Isn’t clay the WORST?? Until moving to Clyde, all I knew was clay. My poor Momma has to break up clay clods in her soil with a sledgehammer. Isn’t that crazy? I figured up there you would have Miracle-Gro-like soil with all that rain and lushness. :/
      There will be more posts to come on how to amend that tricky soil.:) I want you to have tomatoes, too.

  2. That is an awesome little home test. I’ve not seen it before. I was able to garden in the same location for 25 years and while it was just a wreck when I moved in, by the time we moved I had awesome beds. I can’t even imagine how much I spent on peat moss and organics. I’ll probably have to start all over again when we move, and I can’t wait to try this.

    • Yikes! I need to catch up more on your blog–you are moving? I bet those beds ARE so nice. What kind of soil do you have? I had to start all over again, too, but moving from clay to sandy soil was such a nice change of pace. Ok, headed over to catch up!

  3. What a great test! I know we are all about clay in our yard. We keep encouraging a change by adding peat moss and a bit of sand each ear, not to mention lots of mulch. It is improving. I would interested to do this test and see where we are at! I did link up as well, to share some my aspirations for my garden and yard this year!

    • Yay! Thank you, Maureen. Looking forward to reading.:) I bet your soil is nice after the peat moss. Do you compost as well? I, too, need to do this test with my established garden beds–hopefully all my amendments have made a difference.

  4. Thanks for the tutorial! I will have to give it a try. It is time for me to start preparing our garden for planting too… I need to get our peas planted next week! 🙂 Hope you have a great week.

    • “Plant you peas on the Ideas of March.” Do you follow that rule? I have never planted peas before but I have seeds ready to go this year! Any tips? Thanks for reading:)

  5. My gardens were all created on sandy soil but I have been amending them each year. I need to try this test when the snow melts to see how the soil has changed. Nice post.

  6. Pingback: Creating A Simple In-Ground Compost Bin |

  7. you made a great point about calling 811 before you dig. this is something everyone should do if they are going to be digging for any reason

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