Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Soil experiment

Noticing the soil - Lately I've been noticing the soil I walk on. Something that's so obvious that you overlook it completely. But without soil we would not be alive. A very precious resource that we should pay more attention to.

I have read several geology books but out in the field this paper knowledge is useless. Still I decided to experiment and research in my amateur manner. No preparation, no reading, no browsing. I bought a few cheap plastic containers in the graphic supply shop and immediately I felt very scientific.
Sampling - My first sample was taken on 4 december 2012 between Capelle aan den IJssel and Nieuwerkerk. A mole hill was very convenient. This was certainly local soil.
The second sample was taken on 8 december 2012 between Hogebrug and Oukoop. An extremely wet and sticky pancake of clay. Maybe it had been used to repair the dyke. But maybe it had been dredged up from the bottom of the canal.
The third sample was taken on 8 december 2012 between Hogebrug and Oukoop. This was just a random heap of sand. It was certainly not local. Probably it belonged to some repairs of the path.
Analysis - The three samples, from left to right: second (2), first (1), third (3). Of course this has no scientific value at all. the real source of the sample is unknown and there is no correlation with local geography. Still it feels very satisfying to bring a piece of the landscape home with you and to possess a physical sample of a place. An original souvenir, much more tangible than a digital photograph.
Sand - The sand seems to come from the seashore. Lots of transparent quartz and a few fragments of seashell, somewhat worn by the action of waves. The quartz grains still have some rough edges, they are not worn smooth. Impossible to determine what the dark grains in the sand are. Odorless.
Clay - Has dried since sampling and is very tough. Have to break the lump by force. No structure, no grains, just fine clay, like the clay used for pottery. No plant matter. Odorless.
Mixed soil - A mix of dark humus, probably some clay and some sand. Tiny amounts of plant matter. It is difficult to separate the components, the sand grains are stained by the dark soil and are difficult to see. Smells of earth, neutral, not unpleasant smell of moist soil.
Separation of components - I tried shaking the the soil and clay with water to separate the components. In 14 minutes the mix settles, but without separating into clearly different components. Probably the color is clay particles suspended in the water. There is not much difference in color. There is some difference in texture. This was a bit disappointing, so I tried another idea.
Thinking back on some of Andy Goldsworthys "stained snowball" I tried to separate the components by staining some paper with the solid components in the solution. Again there is some difference in color ad texture but much less than I expected.

Back to the drawing boards to study some theory. Already I have some new ideas. Step 1: buy a few sieves.

Sampling and Analysis of Soil

Simple soil, water and plant testing techniques for soil resource management
Four Easy Do-It-Yourself Soil Tests


  1. Hiya! Do you own any writing experience or it is just a completely natural talent? Waiting forward to hear your answer.

  2. It is just a completely natural talent. And it is widely appreciated: