a jar on the soil

How to Perform a Soil Test Using a Mason Jar?

When it comes to gardening, a few considerations are more important than the quality of your soil. Understanding soil texture and soil quality is often the deciding factor in whether or not your gardening is going to be a success. Soil testing can be expensive, time-consuming, and require plenty of equipment. Or you can use a simple trick that involves nothing more than a mason jar and some of your time. 

Interested in finding out how to perform a soil test using a mason jar? Then read on. This simple guide will break down how to carry out this test today.

The Importance of Quality Soil

Put simply, if your soil is not of a high standard, then nothing can change that. No amount of product, fertilizer, or add-on will make your soil go from low quality to high quality. Instead, creating quality soil is a natural process. Having quality soil is the difference between a verdant garden with ample room for growth and gardens that produce a fraction of the yield you wanted.

Soil texture is vital to understand because it plays a role in soil drainage. For a large chunk of the plants we grow, soil drainage is the be-all and end-all. Soil is made up of a trio of different particles – sand, clay, and silt – that have broken down from rocks and minerals over the course of history. 

You want to get the right balance of these three ‘ingredients’ if you will, and the typical mixture you want is around 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay. This 40/40/20 split is known as “loam,” and it is perfect for plants. If you want to know whether or not your soil matches this description, then you can use our simple mason jar soil test to find out for yourself!

Beginning of Your Soil Test

To carry out a homemade soil test using a mason jar, you must invest in a single product. To get started, you will need:

  • A mason jar that comes with a lid.
  • The soil that you wish to start testing.
  • Water to use in the combination.

You might also wish to have a measuring device. A ruler will do, but you could use a measuring tape. Now that you have everything you need to start let’s look at the process involved.

The Mason Jar Soil Test

Here are the following step-by-step instructions in making this test.

Fill up your Jar

First off, go outside and dig up some of your soil. Your sample should come around 1-2” down into the ground. The first step that you need to carry out is to fill up the mason jar with soil. You should be looking to fill it around 50% of the way up the jar. 

Add Water to the Jar

The next phase of the mason jar soil test is to add in the water. You should be looking for a 50/50 split of water and soil, if possible. Too much water (or too little) can mess with the results. So, try and aim for a halfway split – this should be enough to suit your needs.

Prepare the Jar

Now you need to take the jar and place the mason jar lid on top. Secure this lid as tightly as possible, then shake the jar for a couple of minutes. This should require pretty thorough shaking, so be prepared to keep going. When the soil is combined with the water, you are ready.

mason jar with water and soil on top of the table

Now, you need to let the jar settle down. Leave it on a cool, dry, and flat surface and sit for a minimum of 24 hours.

Determining Your Mason Jar Soil Test Results

Now that you have the actual test itself carried out, you need to wait for the results. As noted above, you need to give the test at least 24 hours to settle down. The main thing that you are looking for in this mason jar soil test is to see the particles adjusting and changing. The density of each of the trio of materials plays a role in what you will.

Sand is comfortably the densest of the particles so it will sink first. Within a few minutes of filling your mason jar, you should see the sand beginning to move to the bottom. Silt takes hours, so make sure you give the silt plenty of time to come around and start coming to the bottom. Meanwhile, clay will form a layer that sits atop the silt layer, which sits atop the sand.

You need to give this at least 24 hours because clay takes the longest to settle and can even exceed 24 hours. Another thing to note is that the longer you wait, the clearer the difference is going to become. For example, if you wait for a few days, the difference should be crystal-clear between each layer.

Calculating The Results

This is the challenging part of the mason jar soil test – you need to work out your rough levels of each of the three substances involved. To calculate the soil levels, you need a ruler or measuring tape. Basically, calculate how deep the soil itself actually goes and then measure how high each substance goes. 

Again, you want around 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay. If you find that your make-up matches this, congratulations, as you have some excellent soil. 

Improving Your Soil

What if the results you have above are not at the 40/40/20 level? The easiest way to solve this is to add some organic matter to your soil. Organic matter floats to the top of your mason jar, so separating from the three standard soil ingredients is easy.

Adding in more compost, for example, can help to improve drainage and work towards improving soil quality. It also feeds more nutrition into the soil, which can be vital for the roots of your plants. You should also consider adding a mulch layer atop your ground, as this can add more variety and organic matter to feed the soil.

As you can see, the mason jar soil test is both very easy to do and effective. Buy a few mason jars, fill them with the soil as noted above, and then wait for each test to settle. This will give you an idea of soil quality across your whole garden. Then, you can work out where needs improvement and where you could start growing immediately.

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