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By admin on 3/6/2014 7:57 AM


In this third installment in the Everyday Soil Science series, we move our discussion from soil as a “living” ecosystem “fed” with life-giving organic matter to the abiotic “mineral fraction” comprised of sand, silt, and clay particles.

In the soil world, being small rules. The diameter of sand particles ranges from 2mm to 0.05mm, silt particles from 0.05mm to 0.002mm, and clay less than two microns (about the size of a bacterium). As the particles get smaller, they get more difficult to see, and in fact, clay particles are invisible to the naked eye. Unable to actually see the proportion of sand, silt, and clay in a soil, soil scientists have cleverly utilized the difference in how each particle “feels” to determine the relative proportion in a given sample of soil.

To understand how each particle feels, let’s think about clothing. Imagine a burlap jacket or wool sweater against your skin. How would that feel? How about rayon, silk, or satin? And Velcro? We can associate the feel of the clothing examples with the feel of sand, silt, and clay. Sand is rough or “gritty” like burlap. Silt is soft and “smooth” like silk, and clay is “sticky” like Velcro.

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