A Soil Analysis Of The New England Area
This is the first installment of an informational series on soil analysis – identifying the types of soil around the world. Since I reside here, in the U.S.A. – this is where we will begin – expanding outward, globally, in all directions.
An overall look at the soil in the New England area – also known as the “North Colonies” – is that there is a very thin layer of topsoil – mostly rocky. The glaciers of the ice age literally pushed most the rich soil out of New England towards the Mid-Atlantic – the “Middle Colonies” – and the South – or, “Southern Colonies.” Left behind was a very thin layer of topsoil containing tons of small, medium, and large rocks that early settlers had a devil of a time clearing away to make room for agriculture.
Consequently, the horizons are not as well defined in New England – since most of the topsoil accumulated after the ice age ended – about 10,000 years ago.
Even though each state has different distinct soil types – based on location – they also identify with their most common soil. And, more often than not, the most common soil in the state was given a unique name. Plus, just like “state birds” and “state flowers”, that soil became their “state soil.”
In the New England area, the states are: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Click on the state to see its specific soil analysis – or, browse to your heart’s content.
Windsor is the state soil of Connecticut. Named after Windsor, CT, in Hartford County, this soil series is very deep in most areas – especially, in the northern part of the Connecticut River Valley. The downside is that the topsoil – “A” horizon – which can be up to a foot thick – has a loamy texture of very fine sand. And, those very small particles of sand allow water to drain through rapidly – carrying minerals and nutrients down into the subsoil away from plant roots.
The topsoil doesn’t retain water long enough to satiate the plants’ water needs. So, especially in dry periods, additional watering is necessary through sprinklers or irrigation techniques – like soaker hoses – to supply adequate water for the veggies. Water sensors or probes are an excellent way to monitor the water retention.
With the minerals and nutrients washed out of the topsoil, a higher than normal amount of fertilizer amendments may be needed to give plants the food they need to produce healthy produce. Periodic soil tests – at least 1 in the early spring – and, possibly, 1 in mid-summer – will help gauge the ever changing level of soil nutrients.
The state soil for Massachusetts is named after the city of Paxton, in Worcester County, MA. Though Paxton soil is present throughout the New England area, its concentration is high in this state – especially through central Massachusetts.
Paxton is a coarse, loamy soil with mineral deposits that come from a variety of rocks – schist, gneiss, and granite mostly. The average topsoil depth is around 6 inches – a little shallower in some areas and a little deeper in others – but, it has good, steady drainage. This makes Paxton the most productive soil for agriculture and backyard gardens in New England.
When breaking new ground, the topsoil is loaded with small pebbles and rocks. It’s a chore in itself to continually pick up and remove rocks from the garden area while tilling. This back breaking task seems like it will never end. Just when you think you’ve got them all – the next tilling cycle produces another mother lode of rock chunks!
The pH levels fluctuate between strongly acidic to moderately acidic – so, there may be a need to use some lime to add a bit of alkaline and raise the pH level. A soil test will supply the answer to this issue.
Maine’s state soil, Chesuncook, ranges from the western border with New Hampshire –north to the Canadian border – then east to the state line. The soil gets its name from Chesuncook Lake in northern Maine.
This is an extremely productive silt loam soil – which began forming at the end of the ice age over 10,000 years ago age in Maine forests. Though there are other soils in Maine, Chesuncook is the most common – covering about 150,000 acres across 6 counties.
The organic layer – “O” horizon – and the topsoil layer – “A” horizon – are each 2 to 3 inches deep. The subsoil layer – “B” horizon – will reach about 14 inches thick.
New Hampshire (NH)
Marlow soil was established in Marlow – Cheshire County, NH. This is a well drained loamy soil found from the rocky rolling fields in the south to the forest lands of the White Mountains. Being the most common soil in this state, Marlow spans 300,000 acres across 8 counties.
Highly fertile, Marlow soil is up there at the top of great garden soils. Farms and gardens are predominant in most of the level areas of the state.
The dark grey topsoil combines with the grey organic matter layer to form just about the richest dirt available. Very little fertilizer, if any, is needed. Just add water and seeds – sit back and watch the garden grow. Don’t forget to remove the occasional weed or two – here and there.
Rhode Island (RI)
Narragansett Silt Loam is the Rhode Island state soil – first established in Kent and Washington counties about 85 years ago. The soil gets its name from the town of Narragansett. The town gets its name from the Narragansett Tribe – the indigenous Indians living in the region when the early settlers arrived. The name is the English version of the Indian word, Nanhigganeuck – which means, “people of the small point” – whatever that is…
The silty, loamy soil covers about 12,000 acres – running from central Rhode Island towards the coast in the south.
Because of the high amount of silt in the soil, it is highly susceptible to erosion. Thus, in the gardening off-season, it’s a good idea to use cover crops to hold the soil in place. The added advantage to this technique is the addition of more organic material to replenish soil nutrients.
Much of Narragansett soil has a habitually low pH – meaning it is more acidic than your veggies would like it to be. Adding lime should raise the pH to the desired levels. A soil test from the county agricultural extension office can give you all the details on how much – when – and where to add lime and, maybe a bit of fertilizer.
Vermont’s state soil, Tunbridge, is named after – you guessed it – a town in Vermont – in Orange County! Tunbridge, VT, is a bustling rural community with a whopping population that is just short of 1,200 folks spread out over 45 square miles.
This well drained, loamy, acidic soil is found in every county in Vermont – except one – covering over 400,000 acres. The bedrock – “R” horizon – running between 20 and 40 inches deep – is composed of schist, gneiss, granite, and phyllite. There’s a lot of sand in this soil – as high as 70 percent in some areas.
The organic layer of dark brown, partially decomposed material combines with a gray, fine sandy, loamy topsoil to create a successful growth medium for Vermont’s backyard gardens.
Due to the highly acidic nature of Tunbridge soil, periodic applications of lime will be necessary to raise the pH levels and make your veggies happy.
And, due to the high percentage of sand, water drains quickly – so, some sort of irrigation is necessary – such as soaker hoses – especially during periods of drought.
That’s It For New England Soil Analysis
This soil breakdown should give you a much better idea of the various types of soil throughout the New England states. Feel free to fact-check me or add a few comments to enhance our knowledge of the soils in this area! Or, if you so choose, you can email me.