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Determining soil type with your hands

I am reading the book Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture.  In the book he talks about a quick, in the field way, to tell what type of soil you have with just your hands.  Pretty interesting, I thought.  Here is what he wrote…

To perform the test, take some fresh soil (not dried out) and roll it between your palms or finger and thumb.  The stickiness and how easy the earth is to mould varies from soil type to soil type.  You can also figure out how large the grains of soil are in the same way.  The first thing I determine is whether the soil is ‘light’ and made of sand or loamy sand, ‘medium’ and made of sandy loam or ‘heavy’ and made of loam, clay loam or clay.  The ‘weight’ of the soil depends on how well the materials it is composed of bind together.


To begin with, I try to roll the earth between my palms to about the thickness of a pencil.  If this does not work it means that the soil is sandy.  Otherwise I am dealing with at least a ‘medium’ soil of sandy loam.  If I can roll the earth to half the thickness of the previous one, then it is heavy loam or clay.  To tell the difference between the two I can break the roll in two.  Shiny layers indicate clay, whereas matt layers indicate loam.

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