Determine the soil type
Clay. Loam. Sand. “Peat”, that is, mainly organic matter. Your base soil type makes a huge difference as to whether your soil drains easily, holds nutrients, works easily.
There are some very handy resources on line to help you understand your soil and its classification. In the United States the USDA maintains a database of information on most soils that includes both its suitability for building on and its potential as agricultural land.
- USDA: http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/HomePage.htm
- UC Davis (US soils data with nice user interface): http://casoilresource.lawr.ucdavis.edu/soilweb/
- The USDA classifications are defined here: Soil Classification Definitions
- Canadian soil surveys are here: http://sis.agr.gc.ca/cansis/
- Australian soil surveys are here (ASIRS): http://www.asris.csiro.au/
- Links to soil maps for Europe and the Rest of the World are here: http://eusoils.jrc.ec.europa.eu/library/esdac/index.html
One of the easiest ways to determine how much sand, clay and loam you have is to do the Jar Test.
- Put 1/2 cup of rock-free, clod-free soil in a clear jar with a lid. Add 3 cups of water. Shake.
- Let the jar sit for a while.
You can get down and gritty determining your soil type by hand. Instructions are in this document from the USDA website: