Trying to make Loam-like soil

Mark_IacopettiApril 15, 2012

Hello, I am new to gardening and I'm trying to grow a multitude of vegetables and fruits this year.

Two in particular are Watermelon and Cantaloupe. I have looked all over the internet for the best soil to grow the melons in and all sites say that "Loamy" soil is the best.

Now i know that loam is a mix of clay silt and sand, but I was just wondering if i just added sand to my topsoil i lay down would this do the trick?

And if it wouldn't where could i go about getting clay or silt? and how much would i add of everything?

Sooo many questions but I'm new to this and Haven't been able to find a good answer yet. Any help will be appreciated.

Thank you,

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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

No clay or sand! Instead, the Silver Bullet is compost. Lots and lots of compost, at least two inches each growing season.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 1:01PM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

In the garden I have added a 3" or greater layer of compost (to my heavy clay) every other year for a long time. I can now grab a handful and it crumbles through my fingers.
Adding sand to heavier soil just turns it into adobe, so your watermelon and cantaloupe would have to grow out of a brick. Go with jean001a's recommendation!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 1:40PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

Loam means a soil with a lot of organic matter. Don't be confused on that 25 % of this and that. I have never heard of soil that would contain 25 clay, 25 sand and 25 percent silt and 25 percent organics. I don't think such a thing even exists. It is better to have just one kind of soil be it clay sand or silt and add OM organic matter. That is what loam is. A soil with 25 percent clay, sand 25 and silt 25, would not be a good soil either because sand and clay do not go well together. Sand is the same as clay, but sand has big particles, clay has small ones and silt has medium ones. I know organic matter sounds like too much work, you want to do something and be done with it. But, soil is like a plant you have to keep tending it all the time to make it stay good. It is never finished, but it always in a state of flux.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 3:32PM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

To the original poster for watermelons and cantaloupe. I live in neighboring Indiana and unless you have sandy or sandy loam like the Vincennes, Indiana melon growing area, you may have trouble getting watermelons to size up. The secret is rich soil of fairly loose texture. If you can only treat the immediate planting row or hill, then if you have heavier and stiffer clayey loam like me, add either sharp or slightly coarse sand and peat moss to that area...also compost and some fertilizer. Raise the melon rows or hills up into small hills to make the soil in the early going warmer and drier as melons just detest cold and wet soil until the roots are well established.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 5:03PM
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"sand is the same as clay" (!)

Except for being different in every way that matters.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 5:46PM
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Tropical, your numbers don't add up to 100 percent.
While the definition of loam I have is many years old and is one of several types of loam this one says loam is about 45 percent sand, 25 percent silt, 25 percent clay, and 5 percent organic matter. Very those numbers some and you would have a sandy loam or maybe a clay loam.
The soil I garden in is sand, Lake Michigan beach sand, but I have not had any problem growing melons as long as the soil was amended with sufficient amounts of organic matter. When soil OM dropped below 5 percent there was not sufficient soil moisture for the plants to uptake the nutrients they needed to grow well.
While loam is what every gardener wants there is not enough of it in the world for each of us to have some. But we can add organic matter to the soil we have and make that soil better and if sufficient levels of OM are maintained the plants we put in that soil will grow, quite well.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 7:16AM
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"Loam means a soil with a lot of organic matter."

Organic matter doesn't have anything to do with a textural classification (which the word "loam" is). It describes a soil whose sand silt and clay percentages fall within a range.
Here is a pretty fun calculator to play with.

If you have a soil that's 45% sand, 47% silt, and 8% clay you have loam. A soil that is 40% sand, 30% silt and 30% clay? Still loam. Those soils will look, feel, drain and behave differently but they're both "loam". Add and remove organic matter all the live long day and they'll still be loam.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 8:35AM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

I was referring back to something else, 25 25 25 25 equals 100, I did not bother to do it each time, it sounds so repetitive.

I was referring back to another thread in which the OP complains that one person says 25 25 25 25 clay sand silt OM, but others don't agree.

Is loam an ideal soil? I think the best soil would be all sand with lots of OM. If you have a lot of OM you need good drainage. OM can cause the soil to stay wet longer. I think a small amount of clay would not hurt, but mostly sand is better. It also depends on the climate and what you are growing. Cacti would like my sand, but they won't like my OM and they won't like the climate not being hot enough, so they tend to rot. CA natives like sand, but they don't like San Francisco temps, and when it is not hot, the soil stays wet longer. Each time I try to plant CA natives they die. But, if I lived just 50 miles away from the fog zone, they would do great in the same soil.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 10:46AM
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Tropical, that may have been me.I want some clay or silt to hold nutrients & H2O, better then mulch & sand.
But many say it can not be done, that making soil is not like baking a cake! But I am Hard headed, hands on guy & this is what everyone said about organic gardening 20 years ago.
Now person who went to school half their life say all organic matter is not good, yet I have grew plants in 95%-100% organic matter. They say you can not mix slay,silt & sand, too.
Maybe they are right, but I did not let the non organic PHD,s stop me from trying organic gardening years ago, why would I let any other stop me.
I think it was you who had small balls in your trail mix & I will try to prevent that by mixing dry soil with dry silt. Yes this may be a total failure, but I have time & room to do this.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 11:48AM
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"I think it was you who had small balls in your trail mix"

I need to know what store sells that trail mix because I want to steer clear.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 12:09PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

That is funny, I added some clay to my sand and it ended up being small balls. It took forever to crush each and every one. Never again.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 12:14PM
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tropical_thought(San Francisco)

To Joli:
High OM matter is good for containers, and can work for vegables, but typical things like shurbs and trees don't do well in high organic matter. I once planted some things like primroses and pansies in compost without mixing it with my native soil. I wanted to save time. I thought I did not have to mix it. In two weeks all of them had died. I believe it being bold and trying out new things. In fact, sometimes one finds a new way to do things that is better by experimenting. It is good to keep notes what you do in the garden. I write down what I did in the garden in a document on my computer. I also take photos of the garden, they help to remind me what was going on years earlier. But, also I agree one does not get too wild with the experimenting. For example trying to change the whole garden PH in one week by adding lime. I just read somewhere lime is bad for earthworms. Earthworms are a sign of good garden health.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 1:07PM
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toxcrusadr(Zone 6a - MO)

Mark, to answer your original question, it is impossible to know what to add to any soil to get the type of soil you want, until you know exactly what you've got to start with. It sounds like you are getting some new topsoil, so you may want to have it tested at your county Extension lab to find out your nutrient values. If you can't tell by look and feel whether it's sand, silt, clay and how high the organic matter is, kimmsr can describe the 'jar test' to estimate.

The simplest approach, though, is to look at it and if it's not very dark with lots of organic matter (and random 'topsoil' usually isn't), till or dig in a couple inches of compost, plant and see how things grow.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 5:11PM
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You two are too funny!!!:-)
I meant trial soil mix, being that you said you would not do it again.
I had a trail mix with chocolate ball, but to much fatty for me.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 10:51PM
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Keep in mind that plants want to grow, and very often they will grow in spite of what we do to them and the soil they grow in. What we need to do is learn about the plants we want to grow and the types of soils they evolved in and try to replicate that. Most of what we want to grow needs a soil well endowed with organic matter that is evenly moist but well drained. There are, however, some plants that need leaner, meaner soils to grow and develop the flavors we want them to have, think herbs.
Rather than trying to make a "Loam like soil" make what you have into a soil that is good and healthy (balanced nutrients and soil pH) that will grow strong and healthy plants. Mostly, that means adding enough organic matter which sounds very simplistic but is more difficult then it appears, sometimes. It is a concept that is difficult for some to grasp.
To know if your soils pH and nutrients are in balancve means a good, reliable soil test. Contact your local office of the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service about having that done, and then dig in with these simple soil tests,
1) Structure. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. A good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drains� too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.
to see what you have and what you need to do to make that soil better.

Here is a link that might be useful: UI CES

1 Like    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 6:45AM
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AS mentioned before, loam is a textural class (not structure) and organic matter is not in the definition.

That is funny, I added some clay to my sand and it ended up being small balls. It took forever to crush each and every one. Never again.

Wasn't it cat litter clay you used? If so part of the problem is you were using an expanisve clay.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 10:26AM
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wayne_5 zone 6a Central Indiana

Again, to the OP.......Melon soil, and particularly watermelon soil, needs to be deeper and looser than for some of the others veggie plants....not some day and am working on it but for the first year. Make the first year count as melons are the hardest thing to keep disease free for me. Most of the others are kid's play compared to the melons.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 12:02PM
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