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Soil Description

It is helpful to assemble the equipment needed to describe soils in one place. We buy small plastic file carriers at an office supply store and fill each one of them with the following equipment:

  • Knife - Needs to be sturdy, does not need to be expensive. We've found army surplus and martial arts supply stores useful sources.
  • Squirt Bottle - filled with distilled water if soil pH will be tested, otherwise tap water is fine.
  • Soil Color Book - Munsell soil color book; a rock color chart is somewhat cheaper but lacks the detail for the range of typical soil colors that the Munsell book has. If you have wet soils, you will need additional "gley pages" to cover the greenish and bluish hues that may appear in such soils. More information about soil color is available at the USDA's Soil Conservation page on the color of soil.
  • Tape measure - a flexible fiberglass tape that can be attached to the top of a roadcut exposure, an exposure in a soil pit or alongside a core and auger sample. Note: the tape may be too big for the box and have to be carried separately.
  • Sturdy long nail or pin to hold tape in place.
  • Soil pH meter or kit - we've never had much luck with the small handheld pH meters and prefer to determine soil pH with a colorimetric kit with a color chart and spot plate. These are available from suppliers of gardening equipment as well as from scientific supply kits.
  • Trowel - find sturdy ones for the students
  • Soil description form
  • Handouts on soil texture, consistence, structure, horizon designation, etc. It is useful to have these laminated.
Specialized soil science equipment knife