The Dirt on Fraser Valley Soil
“Canadian soil has given us one of nature’s gifts: the gift of abundant, great-quality produce.”
–Randy Sihota, Canadian Farms Produce, Surrey
Fraser Valley soils are some of the richest in Canada, supporting all kinds of farm produce, from vegetables, berries, and cereal grains to nursery products and pasture. Knowing your soil is critical for land planning and deciding which crops you’ll grow.
Soil consists of finely ground rock, clay, and organic materials. The amount of these elements, and the soil’s particle size, affect its growing ability. Most BC and Fraser Valley farm soil falls into the following categories:
- Loam: A fluffy blend of sand, silt, and clay. It holds onto nutrients, but also drains and aerates well – ideal for many crops.
- Sand: Gritty, large particles that drain quickly, retaining less moisture and fewer nutrients than other soil types. Some crops, such as raspberries, corn, and potatoes, thrive in sandy soils.
- Clay: Tiny particles that hold moisture and nutrients well, but drain slowly, with limited air circulation. Beans, beets, and Swiss chard, among other crops, do well in clay soil.
Plants draw a variety of nutrients from the soil, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sulphur, and magnesium, among others. If your soil is low on one or more nutrients, you can add fertilizer. Fraser Valley farmers make use of both chemical and organic fertilizers – the choice will come down to your needs and operation. Refer to BC Agriculture’s Production Guides to see if your soil is a good match for your desired crop, and to learn which fertilizers can supply missing nutrients as part of your soil preparation.
This refers to soil’s acidity. Most crops grow best at a pH between 6.0 and 8.2. Soil acidity can be modified through the addition of lime (calcium carbonate) and other materials.
Dirt Testing Basics
Soil testing can reveal a variety of characteristics, including pH, nutrients, and organic content. You have two main options for soil testing:
- Buy a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) kit: These start at around $20, and, depending on the kit, can measure soil pH, nutrients, and other elements. Results from home kits may not be accurate unless you follow the testing methodology exactly.
- Use a soil scientist: Pricier, but precise. You collect a sample and send it to a lab, which gives you a full composition and nutrient profile, in addition to testing soil pH. The BC Government maintains a regularly updated list of soil-testing resources across Surrey, the Fraser Valley, and Western Canada on its agriculture website.
For more information on testing Fraser Valley soil conditions, visit the Farms West website.