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Soil Test & Seed Starter

How you use water effectively has a lot to do with what kind of soil you have: clay, sand, loam, or something in between (like clay loam, silty clay, loamy sand, etc). To find out, grab a quart jar and a shovel and follow the steps below.

Just add water

Fill a quart-sized glass jar (a recycled mayo bottle works well) about halfway with soil from your garden. Add water until the jar is nearly full. Give it a really good shake—there should be no clumps left. Now, put the jar on a level surface where it can remain undisturbed for 24 hours. You’ll want some light for this part, so don’t tuck it into a dark corner.

Wait and watch

Sand will be the first ingredient to drop to the bottom. This doesn’t take long—just a few minutes. Make a mark on the jar at the top of the sand. Silt particles will sink next. This takes several hours. Again, make a mark on the jar. Leave it alone overnight before you check for clay. The water may still be cloudy, but you’re ready to mark the level of clay in your soil.

What it means

To make sense of the info in the jar, estimate a percentage for each layer. Next, visit the soil-type triangle. At first glance, this resembles the Bermuda triangle—complex and indecipherable. It is not. Just follow the directions and you’ll find it’s surprisingly simple.

Now what?

Now that you know how much sand, silt, and clay is in your soil, you have two choices. You can amend your soil or learn to love plants that grow in your soil type. To amend either clay or sandy soil, work in plenty of composted organic matter. Your plants will thank you.

Starting seeds

If you want unique annuals and vegetables in your garden this season, now is the time to shop for seeds at garden centres or mail order companies. Here are three methods of starting seeds indoors:

Containers from home. Sow seeds in plastic cups, margarine tubs, or yogurt cups with holes punched in the bottoms to drain excess moisture. Put containers on a waterproof tray. Cover with plastic wrap and keep out of direct sun until seeds germinate.

Peat pellets. Drop compressed pellets into warm water until they expand. Plant seeds in the expanded pellets and place in tray with plastic dome. When seedlings emerge, remove the plastic dome. As seedlings and roots mature, plant pellets in a pot or in the ground.

Self-watering seed starter.

Kit includes a seed tray, capillary mat, growing stand, and water reservoir with a clear cover. Some also include markers, fertiliser, soil, and water indicators. The capillary mat provides even bottom watering by wicking water from the reservoir. There’s enough water in the reservoir to keep seedlings moist for about five days.


º Use a sterilised, soilless mix to discourage soil-borne fungal diseases.
º Moisten medium before putting into containers.
º Place a fluorescent bulb 3 to 4 inches above seedlings to provide enough light. (Incandescent lights give off too much heat.)
º Water seedlings from the bottom to discourage damping off.
º Fertilise seedlings once they have some true leaves.