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SHS Garden Journal Blog

Children's Activity: Soil Scientists

Friday, April 12, 2013

Healthy Soil is the essence of Healthy Life

Soil health is important to the health of our garden plants, and in turn to our health. What goes on within our soil life affects what we see above ground. Our plants draw their nutrients through their roots from the soil, contributing to the nutrients we receive when we eat the plant.
Before we embark on planting seeds or seedlings in our garden beds, it is important to have an understanding of our soil quality, type, texture and structure.  Our soil quality can be improved by increasing organic matter, but we need to know what we are dealing with before we start.
This understanding can be achieved by performing a few simple tests to analyse your soil. Involving children in these experiments will help them to understand why certain plants flourish and thrive, whilst others may not have such resilience. 

Children as Soil Scientists:

Here are 3 activities that will engage children in the science of soil:
Soil structure
  • Find three clean glass jars take a sample of soil from three different locations in your garden. 
  • Fill the glass jars a ¼ in depth with the soil. Top this up with water to around ¾ of the jars. 
  • Place a lid on the jars and give good shake – leave the jars undisturbed for a week. 
  • After a week without mixing the contents of the jars examine the layers that have formed. 
You will see that gravel forms the bottom most layer, then coarse sand, fine sand, silt, clay, organic matter, water and air. This will show you the various layers of your soil – a balance of sand, silt and clay is loam.

Soil type

Clay, sandy or loam? 

This is a great tactile observational exercise when children feel like making mud pies.

  • Take a hand full of soil, moisten the soil, scrunch and roll in your hand, and feel its texture. 
Sand = gritty
Silt = smooth
Clay = sticky
  • Roll the soil in your hand like a rope. 
If it falls apart with no formation it has a higher sandy composition
If the shape can be rolled to more than an inch it would have a higher clay composition
If the shape can be rolled half the distance and starts to develop cracks it would be a loam composition containing a balance of silt, clay and sand. 
A loam soil composition with a good top layer of organic matter is ideal for growing vegetables.

Soil pH
Testing pH determines the acidity (sour) or alkalinity (sweetness) of your soil. Plants have certain preferences and tolerances to soil acidity or alkalinity for optimum health and growth. 
  • A pH kit can be purchased so that you can test the levels in your soil at home or school. The Manutec Soil pH Test Kit available at garden stores or hardware stores, is complete with instructions to guide you in how to perform this test. 
  • The ideal pH for growing most fruit and vegetable plants averages between 6.0 and 7.5. A pH level of 7 is neutral figures over 7 are alkaline and figures below 7 are acidic.

"Seed to Seed Food Gardens in Schools" by Jude Fanton and Jo Immig
"Earth User’s guide to Permaculture" by Rosemary Morrow

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