Soil is the thin layer of material covering the earth’s surface and is formed from the weathering of rocks. It is made up mainly of mineral particles, organic materials, air, water and living organisms—all of which interact slowly yet constantly.
Most plants get their nutrients from the soil and they are the main source of food for humans, animals and birds. Therefore, most living things on land depend on soil for their existence.
Soil is a valuable resource that needs to be carefully managed as it is easily damaged, washed or blown away. If we understand soil and manage it properly, we will avoid destroying one of the essential building blocks of our environment and our food security.
Types of Soil
Sandy Soil is light, warm, dry and tends to be acidic and low in nutrients. Sandy soils are often known as light soils due to their high proportion of sand and little clay (clay weighs more than sand). These soils have quick water drainage and are easy to work with. They are quicker to warm up in spring than clay soils but tend to dry out in summer and suffer from low nutrients that are washed away by rain. The addition of organic matter can help give plants an additional boost of nutrients by improving the nutrient and water holding capacity of the soil.
Clay Soil is a heavy soil type that benefits from high nutrients. Clay soils remain wet and cold in winter and dry out in summer. These soils are made of over 25 percent clay, and because of the spaces found between clay particles, clay soils hold a high amount of water. Because these soils drain slowly and take longer to warm up in summer, combined with drying out and cracking in summer, they can often test gardeners.
Peat soil is high in organic matter and retains a large amount of moisture. This type of soil is very rarely found in a garden and often imported into a garden to provide an optimum soil base for planting.
Chalk soil can be either light or heavy but always highly alkaline due to the calcium carbonate (lime) within its structure. As these soils are alkaline they will not support the growth of ericaceous plants that require acidic soils to grow. If a chalky soil shows signs of visible white lumps then they can’t be acidified and gardeners should be resigned to only choose plants that prefer an alkaline soil.
Loam soil is a mixture of sand, silt and clay that are combined to avoid the negative effects of each type. These soils are fertile, easy to work with and provide good drainage. Depending on their predominant composition they can be either sandy or clay loam. As the soils are a perfect balance of soil particles, they are considered to be a gardeners best friend, but still benefit from topping up with additional organic matter.