What Is Top Soil?
Topsoil refers to the upper, outermost layer of soil. It is typically around 4 to 12 inches in depth and home to a vibrant underground ecosystem that is vital to growing our food and letting plants flourish in the wild or in your own garden.
The three primary types of topsoil include:
- Clay – Made up of fine-grained soil ranging in color from bright red to dark gray. It is often heavier and stickier than the other two types of topsoil.
- Loam – A combination of even amounts of sand, clay, and slit (dust-like mineral particles).
- Sand – Made up of round, tiny particles like one would find on a sandy beach. It does not absorb water as well as the other varieties of topsoil, so it is not used for gardening or food farming.
What Is Top Soil Made Of?
Topsoil is comprised of decayed organi matter, minerals , microorganisms like bacteria, fungi along with thriving communities of worms, beetles and other insects. Some minerals and gases commonly found inside topsoil include phosphorus, calcium, potassium, magnesium, nitrogen and carbon.
The exact makeup, scent, shade, and consistency of topsoil will vary depending on its climate and geographic location.
For example, red clay topsoil is quite different from loam topsoil's appearance and functionality. Loam is great topsoil to use in gardening, whereas clay or sand topsoils are preferred for construction projects.
Although, you will know any type of topsoil is healthy when it has a pH level between 6.0 and 8.4.
How Much Does Topsoil Cost To Buy?
Most 40-pound bags of topsoil cost anywhere between $2 to $8, depending on your state or where you are sourcing the soil. Prices may vary at locally sourced farms and commercial retailers like Lowes or Home Depot, the former often charging less for much higher quality topsoil.
When buying in bulk, topsoil is typically sold by the ton, with prices ranging from $4 to $15 per ton.
Top Soil vs. Dirt: What Is The Difference?
While many people use the terms “dirt” and “soil” interchangeably, they are vastly different. Dirt is dry with little to no moisture retention and incapable of sustaining animal or plant life. Rain will run off dirt causing soil erosion and over exposure to the dry sun.
On the other hand, topsoil is full of life and responsible for growing 95% of the food we regularly consume. Unlike dirt, soil boasts a lively ecosystem filled with microorganisms and intricate plant root systems. The Importance of soil for growing food or a thriving lawn and flower beds cannot be underestimated.
Top Soil In The Garden
Topsoil is just as essential in the garden as it is on the farm. We will delve further into its effects on your personal or commercial gardens below.
Importance of Healthy Top Soil In Your Garden
As we have already mentioned, topsoil plays an essential role in growing our nation’s food supply. This is especially important in our gardens, where our fruits, vegetables, and grass fed to livestock are grown. So, if you want your garden to thrive, be sure to use plenty of loam and organic matter.
An easy way to measure if your topsoil is healthy is when the pH balance is anywhere between 6.0 and 8.4.
When the soil has a pH value greater than 8.4, it will be too alkaline to promote proper grass or plant growth.
You can buy garden ph test kits online and take all the guess work out of soil ph.
You can keep your topsoil healthy by incorporating regenerative methods like permaculture principles, no-dig gardening and composting your organic food waste. This practice means that you apply compost directly on the soil’s surface and hand-pick weeds rather than breaking up the ground with gardening hoes or shovels. MOre than ever before, Soil Conservation at home and on the farm is of vital importance.
Trust us, if you let the earth do its thing, you will be rewarded with an abundance of fresh produce.
Which Top Soil Is Suitable For Grass?
The best type of topsoil to use when planting grass is loam topsoil. It is comprised of equal amounts of sand, silt, and clay. Many gardeners prefer this soil over other topsoils because it contains more decayed organic matter, allowing for a healthier underground ecosystem and for roots to thrive and take strong hold.
Other varieties, such as clay or sand, are not as ideal for gardening because they may have issues with draining or retaining water adequately enough to support plant growth. However, clay is a great alternative option with a proper drainage system since it absorbs moisture well. When layered underneath loam or standard garden soils, it also makes a good foundation for grass.
Since loam features elements of these other main topsoils, you essentially get all the benefits of each when using this topsoil.
Can Top Soil Be Used in A Vegetable Garden?
Topsoil makes a stellar addition to vegetable gardens, providing essential nutrients that promote plant growth. It is also an excellent filler for raised garden beds. However, you will want to source topsoil that contains high levels of organic compost necessary for enriching the garden soil.
Where To Buy Top Soil In Bulk For The Garden?
Buying topsoil in bulk is an excellent option for frequent gardeners. It is often sold by the ton (approximately 2,000 pounds). It is probably best to avoid purchasing oversized boxes at retailers like Walmart since the quality is not always regulated. Instead, try to source topsoil from local regenerative organic farms or plant nurseries, especially those offering topsoil deliveries right to your door.
Top Soil Damage: Monocropping and Chemical Overuse on Farms & Gardens.
Farmers across the globe are losing topsoil at an alarming rate. According to Maria-Helena Semedo from the Food and Agriculture Organization, we only have approximately 60 years of topsoil harvests left. Organizations like FAO and the USDA are working tirelessly to prevent this from happening and urge civilians to stray away from farming or gardening techniques that negatively impact our soil.
Many factors contribute to our earth’s topsoil damage, including harsh winds and poor water retention or drainage. While water may help sustain topsoil, too much of it can lead to erosion.
Overreliance on artificial fertilizers and pesticides on farms and in residential gardens also depletes our topsoil of vital nutrients like nitrogen and microorganisms that keep the soil’s ecosystem in check. In addition, these artificial fertilizers also prevent soil from sequestering carbon at optimal levels.
Moncropping has been proven to decimate habitats for small animals down to polinators like bees.
Severe damage to the water table is another proven effect of industrial moncropping techniques and heavy chemical use in home gardens.
We have seen these negative impacts displayed in the “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi River after years of topsoil and harmful chemicals washed away to the mouth of the river on the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, this area can no longer adequately sustain life. After collecting the fertilizer and sewage pollution of at least 31 nearby states, the water lacks enough oxygen as the river’s algae ingest tampered water.
How To Repair Our Top Soils : Garden and Farm
In your garden, you can avoid all chemicals, introduce some hedging and bedding plants on exposed areas of soil, use much in your flower beds to lock in moisture, compost your veggie peelings and try a no dig gardening approch to your flower beds or vegtable patch.
You can repair and properly maintain topsoil through regenerative agriculture methods like avoiding the use of chemical inputs, holistic grazing, covering crops, no-till farming, and incorporating manure and compost in the soil.
These are all fine examples of farming processes you will encounter in regenerative organic farming, the golden standard of food farming that prioritizes the health of topsoil and animal welfare.
For Home or on the Farm, a nutshell, we leave the soil covered at all times with some form of plant life rooted into the soil to anchor that all iportant forst 12 to 15 inches of top soil while at the same time adding naturally occuring fertilizers to the soil.
We strongly urge our readers to do their part if they realize their own farm or garden’s topsoil has started to decline.
By repairing our topsoil slowly, we can only hope to increase the estimated number of harvests and draw down as much atmospheric carbon as possible into the soil where it belongs.
Top Soil On The Farm
Below, we will discuss how topsoil plays a vital role in farming and its impact on the food we consume.
Why Top Soil Is So Important In Farming
Healthy topsoil is crucial for growing our food supply. The majority of our land-based foods are a product of topsoil, including fruits, legumes, meats, and vegetables. As a result, we must prioritize keeping topsoil nourished and enriched since we all rely on it whether we have a carnivorous or plant-based diet.
Without healthy topsoil, we have no substrate for pastures to grow which is vital for livestock farming
Topsoil is considered healthy when its pH value is between 6.0 and 8.4. A higher pH balance indicates the soil is too alkaline or acidic to support thriving grass or plant life. Topsoil creates a unique subterranean ecosystem and utilizes organic matter to draw down carbon in the ground, a process more commonly known as carbon sequestering.
Looking to learn more on the subject of Soil Conservation and Regenerative Agriculture? Check out our article on our Top 5 Books on Regenerative Agriculture which is a shortlist of easy to read titles we highly recommend to anyone looking to lean more on this critically important topic.
- 3 main types of topsoil are Clay, Loam and Sandy topsoil.
- Clay and Loam are best for growing with Loam best for growing grass in the garden or on the farm.
- Healthy Soil has a PH range of 6 to 8.4
- Topsoil can be purchased at Walmart, Home Depot or Lowes but we suggest making the effort to buy from a local farm or nursery.
- There are more micoorganisims on a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth!
- Dirt is dull, lifeless and dry. Top Soil has a fresh scent, holds moisture and full of life.
- Repairing and conserving our topsoil at home in the garden our out in the farmlands is mosre iportant than ever due to erosion and overuse of chemicals.
- Soil is vital for our food security.