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What can my soil show me?


Let your soil show its secrets. What is the solid “stuff” of soil? What microscopic lives do we live atop? Who are the world’s biggest recyclers, providing and regenerating nutrients to keep our ecosystems healthy above and below ground? Read below for a few ways you can learn a bit more about your soil samples and what they can tell you about soil health in those areas. Later, build on these observations by Exploring your own inquiries about soil.

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Jar Test
Full Jar Test
Full Jar Test

Soil texture is one of the most important properties of soil and affects many vital soil functions including water retention, drainage, and nutrient storage. The Jar Test is a simple experiment that gives the relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay in your soil, which together determine the soil’s texture.

This experiment works by separating the soil’s particles according to their sizes, with the largest (sand) settling to the bottom of the jar first.


Household/Lab Items

  • Soil sieve (2mm), a kids sand sifter toy can work here
  • Clear mason jar OR large clear graduated cylinder*
    *parafilm needed to seal top if using graduated cylinder
  • Ruler
  • Spoon


  • 5% sodium hexametaphosphate solution OR dishwashing detergent powder (ex: Cascade)


  • Sifted soil sample to fill ⅓ of the jar
Full Jar Test

Created by

Bria VarnBuhler Bria VarnBuhler avatar

Bria is a chemical biologist and educator with a curiosity for the microscopic and molecular workings of the world
Graduate Student
Weill Cornell Medicine
Math and Science Teacher
Greenwich Academy

Karl Palmquist Karl Palmquist avatar

Karl is a systems biologist interested in complexity, and an environmental advocate
Graduate Fellow
Rockefeller University
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