Online Tools: USDA Soil Survey

Understanding the types of soils that are located on your property can help you plan the best locations for your homestead and retreat improvements. Identifying areas of well drained soils for buildings, nutrient rich soils for plants, and dense soils for ponds are just a few examples of how understanding the soils on your property can help you save time and resources by developing a well thought out plan before you begin your next project.

The USDA has a free online tool packed with valuable soil survey information that can show you the general location of soil types on your property and the characteristics of those specific soils. To access this information go to the USDA Web Soil Survey site (http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/WebSoilSurvey.aspx). Once you are on the main page, follow these steps to obtain useful information about the soils on your property:

  1. You will begin at the “Area of Interest (AOI)” page. Using the navigation options on the left side of the screen, select the “Address” option under the “Quick Navigation” heading. Now in the address field enter your address using the format: street, city, state, zip code. You should now see an aerial image of the property address that was entered. If necessary, you can adjust the map image to center it over your property by selecting the “Pan” tool at the upper left corner of the map image and dragging the map around.
  2. Once the extents of your property can be seen in the map window, you will need to select an “Area of Interest (AOI)” on the map. This AOI will be the location for which soils data will be provided. To create an AOI, select the AOI tool above the map image that has a red rectangle depicted. Now begin at the upper left corner of the area you wish to select, then click and hold, dragging the red outline over your desired area, releasing the mouse button when you reach the lower right corner. The area will now be highlighted with a blue hatched box.
  3. Now select the “Soil Map” tab at the top of the page to see which soil types are mapped within your AOI. Each soil type is identified with a number on the map image. Use the “Map Image Legend” on the left of the screen for a listing of the soil types. Select the soil name in blue for a detailed description of the soil’s characteristics.
  4. Select the “Soil Data Explorer” tab at the top of the screen for detailed descriptions of uses for each soil type. Using the “Suitabilities and Limitations Ratings” legend on the left side of the screen, you can obtain useful information regarding land use and development considerations such as building site development, construction materials, land management and vegetative productivity.

While many additional resources are available on the USDA Soil Survey website, these are some of the most useful aspects for assessing the soils capabilities of your homestead and preparedness property. Taking the small amount of time that is required to assess your properties soil capabilities is well worth the investment.

For assistance in learning how to set up your rural farmstead and for consulting help, contact Brian Domke, our Food Production Resources Guru in the American Redoubt. You can contact him thru his website at STRATEGIC LANDSCAPE DESIGN.