Whether sending a sample to a lab or just doing a simple at home test, getting a good sample is necessary. If your garden is large you may want to test several areas or get a sample from several areas and mix them together. To gather a good sample dig down at least 7 -8 inches with a spade or shovel, then take a slice straight down the edge of the hole to get all the soil layers. Place in a shallow box or container and allow to dry. Remove debris, such as rocks, sticks, roots, and other foreign matter. Pulverize the clumps and clods so the soil is very smooth and fine. Below is an easy to do experiment to see what type of soil you have.

Mason Jar Soil Test

  1. Fill a tall, slender jar one-quarter to one-third full of soil.

  2. Add water until the jar is three-quarters full.

  3. Add about a teaspoon of non-foaming dishwasher detergent.

  4. Put on a tight fitting lid and shake hard for 10 to 15 minutes. This separates all the particles.

  5. Set the jar where it will not be disturbed for several days. The soil particles will start to separate and form layers. After a couple of minutes mark the level of the sand particles (these settle first). After a couple hours mark the level of silt particles (this will be the second level). Then when water seems to clear (maybe one or more days) mark the level of the clay particles ( the top level).

  6. Measure the thickness of the sand, silt, and clay layers and the total thickness of the soil level.

    • Thickness of sand deposit     _____

    • Thickness of silt deposit        _____

    • Thickness of clay deposit      _____

    • Thickness of total deposit      _____

  7. Calculate the percentage of sand, silt, and clay. Divide the thickness of sand/silt/clay level by the total soil thickness level. Move the decimal point to the left two places or multiply by 100 to get the total percent (%) of each layer. Use the Soil Texture Triangle to see what you’ve got. 


_________% Sand                

_________% Silt                  

_________% Clay