The Test Anxiety is Over

Recently, Winter has acting more like its February self.  However, before Winter remembered how to act, I went out into the yard and walked around the garden beds.  The sun was out and warm, I could not stay inside.  I planned to get my soil tested later in the Spring, but decided to take advantage of the soil being thawed this time of year.

I had contacted my local Cooperative Extension office for a soil sample collection box and instructions.  Out in the garden I took samples from four to six inches down in the ground.

The sample taken from 4" to 6" deep. Then mixed together

The collection instructions say the total sample is about two cups, and it should be a mixture of eight to nine samples.

The stakes in the middle of the garden indicate where I took samples

The soil was not frozen but was still wet, so I was careful when walking in the middle of the garden.  I also needed to allow the soil to dry before I mailed it to the testing agency.

My soil sample almost dry. Can you see the difference in color?

I boxed up the soil sample, filled out all the appropriate forms, and walked everything over to the post office. Within the next week I received the results of my test, and I was really surprised.

The results of my soil test.

If you are familiar with soil elements or fertilizer you may notice that nitrogen (N) is missing.  Soil tests do not measure nitrogen, because in the soil nitrogen in a gas, and the levels change quickly.

I was really surprised to read the strength of the soil nutrients.  The test also reported the organic matter was 6%, which is very good.

pH was reported as 6.9, which is high or alkaline, typically for vegatables.  There are several ways to lower pH.  Adding sulfur is the most common and quickest way.  Adding compost and/or composted manure will also lower the pH.  Mixing in some peat moss will also lower the pH.  Why is pH important?  If the pH  at either extreme plants have difficulty accessing the nutrients in the soil, so to help my plants maximize the great nutrients in my soil I should work on lowering the pH a bit.

So why is soil testing worth the cost, time, and effort?  If you had asked me, to guess the results of my test, I would have said the soil was acidic, low in organic matter, and needed a lot of compost. If I had acted on those assumptions my soil pH and nutrients would have increased and my plants would likely have not done well, and to help them I would have added more nutrients and compost.

Soil tests provide a baseline so you know what you need and do not need.  I encourage you to contact your local Cooperative Extension office and learn about how you can get your soil tested.

Have you had your soil tested?  What were your expectations?  Did your results surprise you?  What are you biggest soil amendment needs?

Enjoy this season, learn from last season, and look forward to next season.


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12 responses to “The Test Anxiety is Over

  1. Excellent! I’m planning on doing this and comparing the results with kits available retail. Congrats on the fine soil!

    • David, I am really looking forward to reading your comparison results. I am also curious how much your Extension test costs, and if they are different from mine. Are you using one as a control? I’ll glad the credit for the soil quality, but I’m really just lucky.

  2. How great that you now know exactly what you’re dealing with! Looks like overall you got a pretty good report, too. You must be doing something right! Congrats!

    • It is very helpful to know what I have, and not working off assumptions, wrong assumptions. I am really fortunate to have good soil. This will be the second year in these beds so they have not be used and abused. I am glad to be able to take better care of my soil this year.

  3. I’ve never done this, but really enjoyed seeing your results. And I could completely relate to your Catch-22 scenario! Good point.

    • Holley, I would recommend it. It did not take a long time and the cost was less than $15. It did take a little longer to dry the soil because it has been so wet, but not a big deal for me. I think you should try it.

  4. I agree, soil testing is very useful. Here our soil was so poor, for vegetable gardening we went to using raised beds, as we could more efficiently control soil composition. Most of our soils are very sandy, and devoid of organic matter (below the top few inches of forest debris). Our high rainfall amounts some years also make it difficult to control the level of nutrients in the soils, especially in areas like the orchard. I should be soil testing yearly, but sadly I’m not always that organized. For me it tends to be more reactionary when I notice something amiss with the plants, but it’s something I know I should be doing more often.

    • You have a gorgeous farm and I would never have guessed your soil challenges. Usually here, in the Northeast, we have to much clay. Other people in my area live in the “hills” have very shallow soil. I am very blessed, and the soil quality has nothing to do with me. I just have to maintain it. This is my first soil test, and I probably won’t do it for another two or three years. From you soil make up I can see why you would need to do it every year, and I can see why you don’t.

  5. Your soil test results were similar to mine when I did mine in 2010. How will you be amending this season based on these results?

    • I am not sure what I will do for the vegetables. I think I may just leave everything alone this year and add manure (I use sheep) and compost next fall. I don’t want to make the soil too rich for the veggies.

      I have a few blueberry bushes and will need to add some sulfur to lower the ph. What did you do?

      • I added some sulfur, an since then I have been mulching with pine needles and other acidic materials whenever I can get them. I need to test the pH this spring and see what’s up –or down!

      • That is basically my plan too. I bought a pH kit from my local Cooperative Extension office so I can take a quick pH level anytime. They are really handy.

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