Outdoor Practical Life: PNW Vegetable Garden – Soil Composition Test & Sediment Jars

Child holding Soil Sediment jars for Garden in homeschool outdoor practical life
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.  Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land.  There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”


Welcome to the farm!  We recently relocated, with the help of some very strong and equally kindhearted friends, to Oregon’s Willamette Valley Foothills, the home of Oregon’s prized vineyards, tree farms, hazelnut farms, etc.  This is a great opportunity for us to embark on a new adventure, grow some veggies, observe all the wildlife in our new environment, maybe raise some chickens, have fun in the kitchen, and enjoy our new homesteading life.  

Outdoor Practical Life

Since now is a good time for us to get our vegetable garden going, we thought we’d take you along for some outdoor Practical Life fun.  Some of the Montessori-friendly activities our little ones are participating in for our vegetable garden include:  

Gardening Lessons and Activities

  • Soil Composition Testing/Sediment Jars 
  • Homemade Soil pH Testing
  • Soil Temperature Testing 
  • Designing/Digging/Tilling Garden Bed/Soil
  • Sowing/Planting Seeds
  • Starting a Compost Pile
  • Harvesting the Rain
  • Feeding the Garden
  • Keeping a Garden Journal

Gardening Resources

  • Oregon State University’s Master Gardener Series:  Vegetable Gardening – a really awesome self-paced online course offered through OSU.  There’s normally a fee associated with enrollment but they’ve recently decided to waive that fee and I believe course enrollment has spiked at around 18,000 since that time.  This is such a generous offering and a great resource to help us along our journey.  Thank you so much, OSU!
  • Wings, Worms, and Wonder – an excellent comprehensive resource for implementing a child-led gardening program with kids.  This book is full of lessons and extensions that will add to your little one’s enjoyment.  It also offers a thorough list of resources in the back for doing a deep dive into a variety of topics.
  • Farm Anatomy:  The Curious Parts & Pieces of Country Life – a beautiful reference book for our children that combines nature and art in its exploration of all things farm-related; it will serve as inspiration for some of our garden journaling.
For this particular post, we’re sharing a simple, fun, and dirty activity:  our Soil Composition Testing & Sediment Jars.  Understanding what our soil is made up of is not only a great science experiment for our kids, but it helps us identify what, if any, amendments are needed to build up the desired loam. 

Materials & Tools

  • Mason Jar with Lid – one for each child
  • Trowel
  • Gardening Fork
  • Soil to Sample
  • Water


We explored the property for a bit before deciding on a spot for our vegetable garden.  We chose a nice area, not too far from the house or our future compost pile, that will allow us to keep an eye on our garden.  
I will say, it should be pretty cool to see what happens at night, especially.  We have already been introduced to some healthy looking squirrels, lizards, some turkeys, and a ton of blacktail deer on our property.  At night, we like to sit in the living room and watch the deer run and play by moonlight.  It’s going to take some legit fencing to protect our veggies.  Luckily, we’ve already found some leftover fencing in the barn that we plan to use.
Child holding Soil Sediment jars for Garden in homeschool outdoor practical life
Once we found the perfect spot for our vegetable garden, up on a south facing slope, we helped remove the top layer of turf and let our kids dig in.  They filled their jars about halfway with dark reddish-brown soil and capped them.  
outdoor gardening soil sediment jars on a window ledge for outdoor practical life work
They then filled them 3/4 full of water, shook them up till their hearts’ content, and set them on a well-lit windowsill for 2 days.
soil sediment jars on a table
Jars at 24 hours
soil sediment jars sitting on a table
Jars at 48 hours


Once everything is settled, organic matter floats at the top, followed by clay suspended in the water, then silt, and then the heaviest material, sand, at the bottom.


Our jars didn’t change much in appearance from 24 to 48 hours.  We had some organic matter floating at the top, followed by clay, and then mostly silt.  There was no layer of sand in ours.  Overall, this is a soil composition consistent with silty clay loam.
Truth be told, I already knew that from having researched Oregon’s history and the area we live in, but it’s great to confirm that information and for the kids to have some fun in the process.  It is a great outdoor practical life activity for preparing to start a garden.
We actually live on Jory soil, which is our official state soil and it’s the result of weathered material from igneous bedrock, transported from higher slopes.  Depending on the slope, it’s considered prime farmland soils by the USDA and has few limitations.  We’re very fortunate to have such fertile soil to work with, so we’re excited to get started.  
Jory soil can be slightly to moderately acidic, the former being the ideal, so our kids are doing some pH testing as well, using some simple pantry ingredients, to see where our soil falls in that respect.  The results of these two tests help us identify what amendments and how much to add to our soil before we plant.
What kinds of outdoor practical life activities are your little ones engaging in?  Have you already started your garden?

More Outdoor Practical Life in the Garden


Starting a Montessori gardening program or looking to incorporate kid-friendly learning activities into your current gardening routine?  Don't miss the opportunity to show your little ones how to determine the soil composition at your garden site.  Find out what amendments you need to add to your soil AND enjoy a gardening lesson. #montessori #homeschool #gardening #montessorigardening #montessorigardeninglessons

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