Sunday, April 7, 2013

Testing Garden Soil is an Important Step to Gardening

Photo by: Bryn Pinzgauer

The most important aspect to any garden is the soil. Without a good, nutrient rich soil, your plants won’t grow well.  Let’s say that you have your location chosen, and you’ve got it staked out, and the weeds pulled. Now what?  I’ll bet your first thought is: Till the soil or start planting.  Right? Wrong.  For a successful vegetable, fruit, or flower garden, you need to have your soil tested. A simple soil test will tell you what your soil lacks or has too much of.    

Once you know where your garden is going to be, it’s time to take soil samples. A healthy soil is vital to plant growth and development. Strong, healthy plants are less susceptible to disease and insect problems.
You can send or take the soil sample to your local county extension agent or you can buy soil testing kit at most garden stores.  Sometimes the local county extension agent will charge a small fee for the tests. It takes several weeks for the test results to come in, so do the soil testing late early in the spring or late in the fall.  This will give you time to correct your soil before planting time. The soil needs to be dry when you take the samples. Before taking any samples, clean your spade or shovel.

Sample Taking

Taking a sample is easy.  In the planting area, dig a hole that is 6 to 8-inches deep. Position your spade ½ to 1-inch away from the wall of your hole and slice through the soil going straight down. It's kind of like slicing a chunk of cheese. Place the soil sample into a clean bucket.

Go to another location in your garden and take another soil sample.  You will need to do this at least six times so you will have six different samples of soil in your bucket. Thoroughly mix all the soil samples together.

Spread the soil on sheets of newspaper so the excess moisture will evaporate. When the soil is dry, remove two cups of the soil, and place it in a clean plastic bag. This is what you will send off to the State testing laboratory or take back to the county extension agent. When the results come back, you will know what nutrient it has too much of or what your soil lacks. Now you can add the missing nutrients with organic fertilizer.

pH Balance Testing 

If you want to know the pH level of your soil, you can do this with a few household supplies. Once again, make sure that your spade is clean and that you have a clean bucket and three small bowls.
You’ll want to take two to three samples of soil from your garden area.  Just like you did to take the previous soil samples, do this one the same way, only digging down to a depth of 3 to 4 inches.  Put the soil into a bucket or bowl and mix it to combine.

Spoon two tablespoons of soil from the bucket, into two of the bowls or glass jars. Pour in a little bit of water just to moisten the soil.  You don’t want to make mud.

In the empty bowl, measure in 1-tablespoonful baking soda with 2 tablespoons water. Combine the two ingredients and then pour this mixture into one of the bowls of dirt.  Watch to see if anything happens. If the baking soda bubbles or fizzes, then that means your soil is acidic. To reduce the amount of acidity in your soil, amend the soil with wood ash or lime.

But what if nothing happens? Then you need to test the second soil sample.   Add 1-tablespoonful vinegar to the untested soil. If the soil bubbles or fizzes, that means it is alkaline. To reduce the alkaline level in the soil, amend it with sulfur or pine needles.

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