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Unearthing the secrets of soil: A GYOP exploration

Why soil health is crucial for growing potatoes.

Soil special: May 2024

Understanding Soil Composition

Soil isn't just dirt; it's a fascinating mix of tiny particles and living organisms. Some bits come from old plants and animals, while others come from rocks. And guess what? Beneath the surface, there's a whole mini world of insects, bacteria, fungi, and tiny creatures working hard to keep the soil healthy!

The Importance of Healthy Soil

Soil provides the essential nutrients, water, and support needed for your potato plants growth. Nutrients present in soil act as a treasure trove for your plants, ensuring they grow big and strong. Well-drained soil is also crucial for healthy plant development, especially since potato plants despise soggy conditions, as excess water can lead to root rot and other issues.

Exploring Soil Types

Did you know that soil comes in various types, each with unique traits affecting plant growth? Clay soil, for instance, holds moisture and nutrients well, benefiting specific crops. In contrast, sandy soil drains rapidly, often needing extra watering and fertilisation. Recognising these soil types is crucial for maximising plant health and productivity.

Conclusion

Soil forms the foundation of plant growth and is essential for successful potato growing. By understanding soil composition, health, and types, you can optimise your growing conditions and achieve bountiful harvests.  

Hands-On Soil Activities

Want to get your hands dirty? 
Here are three easy hands-on soil activities, to help you find out more about your soil type.
Activity 1:

What is soil?

Soil is a mixture of tiny particles. Some come from dead plants and animals, and some particles comes from rocks. This fun activity lets you look closer at what makes up the soil beneath our feet.

You will need:
  • Some dry soil
  • Sheet of paper
  • Magnifying glass
  • Jar with a lid.
  • Water
Instructions:

1.  Spread the soil out on the paper and look closely to see what you can find,

2. Look closely at all the smaller particles using the magnifying glass to investigate. What can you see?

Now to take a deeper look at what your soil is made up of.

1. Half fill a jar with soil, removing any big chunks or stones.

2. Add a drop of washing up liquid and fill the jar about 90% with water.

3.   Tightly replace the lid of the jar and give it a good shake, for about 3 minutes to make sure it is well mixed.

4.    Leave the jar overnight, for the contents to settle.

5.    Next day, time to examine the jar.

What do you notice? Are there any particles floating on top of the water? What is at the bottom of the jar?

Results:

You should observe a clear separation of soil particles as they settle down.

Organic matter usually rises to the surface, while sand settles first followed by silt. Clay might take a day or two longer to fully settle. Eventually, you’ll see relatively clear water at the top. Once settled completely, use a ruler to measure the height of each layer and calculate the percentage composition of your soil.

Safety note: Always remember to wash your hands when you have been touching soil.
Activity 2

Is all soil the same?

No, there are different types of soil, with different characteristics.


Clay soil tends to stick together when wet and hardens as it dries. While sandy soil crumbles apart when wet. This simple activity will help you identify your soil.

You will need:
  • Soil samples from a number of places around school
  • Newspaper
Instructions:
  1. Divide your students into teams.
  2. Each team collects soil from a different location around school.
  3. Squeeze the soil into a ball and place it on the newspaper.
  4. Observe whether the soil crumbles apart or sticks together.

From these observations you will be able to determine your soil type

Results:

If your soil is a clay type it will stick together, while sandy soil crumbles apart easily.

Safety note: Always remember to wash your hands when you have been touching soil.
Activity 3

Which will grow the best?

Plants need soil to anchor their roots and stop them form blowing away, to hold the water they need to live and grow , and to supply them with the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

You will need:
  • Grass/crest seeds
  • 3 saucers
  • Soil
  • Sand
  • Cotton Wool
  • Watering can/spray bottle
Instructions:
  1. Put some soil in one of the saucers, sand in another and cotton wool in the third.
  2. Dampen each saucer with water.
  3. Sprinkle each damp saucer with seeds.
  4. Place them on the classroom windowsill and watch for them to grow!
  5. Make sure you water each saucer as they get dry.

Check your seeds progress after one week, see if you notice any difference between the saucers.
Check again after two weeks, see if anything has changed!

What have you learnt?

Results:

When growing seeds in soil, sand, and cotton wool, you can expect to see differences in germination, growth rate, and overall plant health.
Seeds in soil will typically germinate well with healthy growth. In sand, germination will be slower due to lack of nutrients, resulting in smaller less vibrant seedlings. While cotton wool facilitates germination but lacks nutrients, leading to seedlings struggling to develop fully.

Safety note: Always remember to wash your hands when you have been touching soil.  

Plus, there are awesome resources on our website to help you learn even more bout soil, like our colourful insect’s poster and super soil science worksheet

Visit the resources page to download

Share Your Soil Discoveries

Join the fun and share your soil adventures with the GYOP family! Connect with other growers, swap stories, and show off your soil findings on social media using #GYOPotatoes.

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