A lot of people who garden never test their soil, or if they do they get it wrong. We, in our society, have been trained that science is king and that you should test your soil and believe whatever the scientist types say.
Should you test your soil?
Let me be very clear about this, yes and no. Yes, it would be great to know the composition of your soil, but no, you may not find the correct composition, even if you test the soil. Soil testing, especially for someone gardening organically, is kinda’ tricky. You can send your soil sample to three different labs and get three different results.
How can that be, we are using science aren’t we? Well, science is not as exact as we want to believe, when it hits the road. You can get different soil sample results because different labs use different methods of testing and interpretation.
Some labs, and probably most, are not up on what it really means to farm or garden organically. The results you get are for the application of chemical inputs. Not what we want.
So, should you test your soil?
It would be a good idea. The reason being that you can get an idea of what your soil needs, or is in excess of. When you get your results it is best to use your own judgment and not follow the labs exact recommendation.
You can tell if your garden needs more of one or two nutrients and make that correction with organic minerals and compost. You can get a good sense about the fertility by what it produces.
How to take a soil sample
Taking a sample of your soil is a simple process. You need a shovel and a bucket. But, the trick is the bucket and the shovel need to be clean, so your sample will not be contaminated.
Take three or four samples over your garden. Try to get a good representation of your soil. Winter time is the best time to take soil samples, as there is less vegetation. Try to keep grass, straw or other garden debris out of the sample. Bare soil is the best to sample.
Mix the samples together and let dry naturally. The testing lab will send you the proper bags for sending in your sample and provide directions for taking the sample.
Where to send your sample
There are many labs that test soil samples. The best advice would be to do a search for labs in your state. They would be more familiar with your soil type that one out of state, but I would give more trust to one who specializes in organic recommendations, even if it was out-of-state.
Now is a good time to prepare for spring. Testing your soil now can help you grow a better garden this summer.
Steve Wisley has been gardening organically for over a quarter of a century. He started this blog to guide others in starting and improving their organic garden to produce healthy, nutritious, great tasting food for their family, too. Go sign up to get garden tips for free in the box on the right.