Tribal and Traditional Soil Classifications in Permaculture

Permaculture Designers Manual



Section 8.3 – 

Tribal and Traditional Soil Classifications in Permaculture



Tribal and traditional people classify their soils on a great variety of characteristics based on:

  • Color (indicates humus content).
  • Taste (agrees with our pH measures).
  • Moisture capacity and water retention.
  • Sand content. 
  • Central texture.
  • Firmness.
  • Structure (dry soils).
  • Wet-season structure.
  • Vegetative indicators (“health” of a specific crop).
  • Drainage.
  • Slope.
  • Elevation.
  • Animal indicators (e.g. termites: the shape and size of their mounds) .
  • Plant indicators (for acidity, drainage, fertility).
  • Catena   (types   of   soils  based   on   slope relationships) .
  • “Hot” and “cold” soils -relative fertility (not  temperature); can also indicate water retention.
  • Usage, e.g. pigments, pottery, salt extraction from reeds.
  • Work  needed   for  crop  (an  energy  input classification) .
  • Suitability for specific crop (e. g. yam soil, taro soil). Soils can be ranked for up to twelve crop types,
  • giving a complex classification.
  • Organic content (apart from color).

Thus, sophisticated assessments of soils are available from most agricultural societies.

However modem classifications are more complex in terms of nomenclature and physical categories, and use standard color charts (Munsell and others), standard comparisons, standard sieves and so on.

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