Knowing what type of soil you have and what type you need for the crops you have in mind is one of the very most important aspects of successful farming. Knowing your soil type will help you choose crops that will be successful, and understanding the quality of your soil will inform you as to what you need to do to amend and improve it for success. In this article, we discuss the most suitable types of soil for farming. Read on to learn more on what type of soil is best for farming.
What You'll Learn Today
- Begin With Soil Testing
- Seven Types of Soil You Are Likely to Encounter
- Why Is Soil Testing So Important?
- How Often Should Soil Be Tested?
- What Are Cover Crops?
- It’s Important To Take Good Care Of the Soil
Begin With Soil Testing
Test your soil yourself, or call in the help of your county agricultural extension to determine exactly what type of soil you have.
Generally speaking, good growing soil should have well-balanced nutrients such as magnesium, potassium and nitrates. Excesses of any nutrient or micronutrient can spell trouble.
Seven Types of Soil You Are Likely to Encounter
This is a very desirable type of soil because it is light, airy and provides a good growing substrate for a wide variety of vegetables.
It provides very sharp drainage and is a good choice for root vegetables like carrots, turnips and parsnips. Herbs, such as thyme, bush clover, creeping Juniper and Bayberry also do well in sandy soil. Fig and pomegranate trees thrive in sandy soil.
3. Loamy Sand
This is a combination that makes the most of these two good types of soil. It provides good drainage and good nutrition for vegetable crops such as tomatoes, leafy greens, beets and carrots.
Clay is not light and airy, and is not typically good for most fruits and vegetables. Even so, there are some types of plants that grow well in soil with a high percentage of clay.
Among them are cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage; some herbs such as red valerian and Yarrow, and some trees such as Black Walnut, maple, pear and cherry.
Silt is quite fertile and provides lots of good nutrients for vegetables such as turnips, cabbage, carrots and lettuce. Fruit trees such as pomegranate and citrus do well in silty soil, as do berries including raspberries, strawberries and blackberries.
6. Chalky Soil
Chalky soil is quite alkaline, and generally needs to be amended to correct this imbalance. Even so, vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, sweet corn and beets can do well in soil with a high chalk content.
7. Peaty Soil
It can be quite beneficial if organic matter such as compost and lime are mixed in to lower its acidity level. This type of soil can provide an excellent substrate for legumes, spinach, cabbage and also for root crops.
Why Is Soil Testing So Important?
If you don’t have your soil tested, you’re flying blind. Different types of crops need different levels of drainage and nutrition.
The pH level of the soil is extremely important in determining whether or not your crop will thrive or fail. Good testing tells you exactly what you have and exactly what you need.
When you have your soil tested, you’ll know the levels of:
With this knowledge, you can decide what you want to plant and what you need to do to have the healthiest and most productive crops.
How Often Should Soil Be Tested?
Because crops tend to deplete soil of nutrients, it’s a good idea to test the soil every couple of years. It’s also smart to practice crop rotation to avoid heavily depleting your soil of the nutrients needed to feed that crop year after year. Wise crop rotation gives the land a rest and enriches it.
Alternatively, you can consider using the ancient three field system we have described here.
What Are Some Bad Things That Could Be In Soil?
Some types of insect infestation (e.g. grub worms) can be very detrimental in the soil. If you find that there’s a lot of pest larvae in your soil, you’ll want to add in beneficial, predatory insects and beneficial bacteria to help balance that out and get rid of the bad bugs in your soil.
You may also find that there are small rocks in your soil, which under certain circumstances it is a good idea to remove.
You may also find that your soil is bad because it’s lacking in nutrients. Instead of amending it with harsh chemicals, it’s a good idea to add organic compost, manure and other natural amendments. Plant a cover crop that can be turned under as “green manure” when it has matured.
Here is our guide on how you prepare soil for organic farming.
What Are Cover Crops?
Cover crops are crops that improve the soil by protecting it against erosion, making it more receptive to nourishment (e.g. legumes) and enriching the soil when they are turned under at the end of the season.
Planting a cover crop suppresses weed growth and baffles pest insects that may come back year after year when the same crop is planted in the same place every growing season.
These crops are often plowed under once they have matured, and they naturally decompose to enrich the soil.
Typical cover crops include:
Of course, all of these crops could also be harvested at the end of the season. Alternately, they may be used as grazing for livestock.
Soybeans are especially attractive to deer, so fields that have been sown in soybeans for the purpose of rejuvenating the soil are often left open to attract deer to be “harvested” as a source of meat.
It’s Important To Take Good Care Of the Soil
Soil maintenance is essential. The soil is literally the foundation of your farm. If it is improperly managed, you’ll lose your fertile topsoil to erosion. If it is allowed to become depleted, you will not be able to produce healthy crops. Here are some benefits and disadvantages of sub-soiling.
Understanding what type of soil you have and what you need to do to take good care of it is the basis of good farming. For more on clearing your land, see our article on clearing land for farming.