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What is Topsoil

Here at A.G. VanGundy Landscape, Inc. we hear questions nearly everyday about topsoil. The most common questions are:
Is it pulverized?
Is it or does it have clay in it?
What about “clumps”?

Well, today I’m going to try and clear up some things about topsoil.
At A.G. Landscape Materials, Inc. we sell pulverized topsoil that has predominately been stacked in a farm field or development. This topsoil is the excess that is not needed for the development. Weather it is our topsoil or another company’s; it is always sold from the excess. The soil is usually taken from a huge pile that was made when large earth moving scrapers skimmed the top 6” – 1’ of soil off and deposited it out of the way. Engineers calculate how much is in the pile and how much is needed to cover the areas for the development and the excess is sold off. Some is sold as pulverized topsoil, soil that is lifted into a hopper, then lead into a shredder and separator where particles/stone larger than 1” go to the side and the rest goes down a long conveyer to either a waiting dump truck or to again be stacked for later loading into trucks. For our purposes, it is loaded onto a semi-truck, shipped to our location in Roselle and deposited into our topsoil bin for distribution. That is the easy part.

The quality of topsoil depends first on the location the soil is removed from and then how deep the scrapers go into the surface. There is always a layer between the “subclay” and the top layer. This is usually entered into and some usually goes into the original pile. This year will be challenging to first find the best soil and a site that is not too far away as construction and the creation of large developments has really slowed down due to the economy. We are fortunate to be associated with suppliers that bring the best soil possible. That’s a key phrase – “The best soil possible”, because as I mentioned above, the scrapers sometimes enter a heavier soil.

Most of the state of Illinois has mineral based soil. Peat is not topsoil. It is broken down vegetation and moss, giving the soil a compost-like texture. It is considered to be an additive to topsoil not the base of it.

The consistency of the particles can have many variables. Moisture can have a lot to do with marbling that occurs when the soil travels down the conveyers. Clumping can happen when the that soil is moist is placed on a truck, dumped here and then re-handled by the tractor, placed again on a truck and then deposited on your driveway. This is what generally causes clumping. Any gardener will tell you that handling moist/wet soil will cause clumping and should be refrained from excessive handling. However, this may be impossible. We tarp our soil, but that does not guarantee the soil will remain perfectly pulverized, but it does keep clumping to a minimum.

Have you ever had topsoil brought in only to find out that after a rain or two and baking in the sun that it becomes hard? This is not an uncommon occurrence. It does not mean that the soil is clay. Since the first settlers came to this area our soils have been a challenge. Fertile but hard, that is why special plows were developed to break up the soil to farm it. Today is no different. Pulverized topsoil is great for lawns, gardens, and planting beds. For vegetable gardens it is great to mix in compost to keep the soil looser and make it more fertile. Pulverized topsoil is also easier to handle as compared to raw or rough topsoil which could have 1’ – 2’ clumps that even the best shovelers have a hard time breaking.

All in all the topsoil from A.G. Landscape, Materials, Inc. is a great product for all of your landscaping needs.

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4 Responses to “What is Topsoil”

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