Even though all other provisions are made for improving the condition of soil, all can be undone if the soil is worked at the wrong time. Most garden soils (not sandy types, however) can be grievously compacted by just one cultivation if the job is done before the excess moisture of spring has drained away. Often it takes an entire season to bring the damaged soil back into a "good tilth" condition. For this reason you must learn to recognize the stage at which excess moisture has passed off so the soil can be dug or plowed without danger of compaction.
THE MUD PIE TEST
A quick, simple way to see the moisture condition of your soil is the mud pie test. Pick up a handful from the surface, selecting a spot that is neither wetter nor drier than the rest. Squeeze this soil between the hands and try to form it into a ball. If the soil is too wet, water may ooze out. Even if this does not happen the soil may still be too wet to work safely if it packs into a solid ball. Another "stop sign" is if the soil breaks into large, hard lumps. If, however, the soil is in condition to work you will not be able to press it into a dense ball. It will be loose and will crumble freely in your hands or when dropped.
Some soils, particularly those that contain too much clay, can become too dry. In such cases, a ball will not form when soil is
pressed between the hands. The length of time it takes a normal soil to pass from the too-wet to the just-right stage is a rough measure of the quality of that soil.
Few homes are chosen primarily because they are on land where the soil is in good tilth. Often the owner does not know what kind of soil he has until months after he has moved in. In nine cases out of ten, it can stand improvement.
Most development (speculative) housing is on property from which all topsoil is stripped before building work begins. The thin layer replaced after each house is completed serves no purpose other than to camouflage the fact that the owner will have nothing to work with but subsoil. What is needed in such situations is soil conditioning. I hesitate to use that term because it has acquired a significance in the past few years which I do not wish to give it. Millions of Americans were made conscious of "soil conditioning" for the first time about 1952 when the chemical Krilium was introduced.