I am giddy with excitement over this year’s garden! It’s been our best garden yet! The secret was soil testing.
It’s all about that soil, man.
This is our third spring garden since moving onto our tiny homestead, and just maybe we’re starting to turn our brown thumbs green 😉
The key, as always, is in the soil. And by doing some simple soil testing before planting, we had a lot more certainty about the quality of our garden soil.
So today I thought I would break down how to do some very basic soil testing for your garden.
Let’s talk about why we’re doing soil testing at all. Just like people, plants need food and the proper environment to grow and thrive. At the very basic level you want to make sure your garden soil has three main elements and proper pH to ensure you’re plants have what they need to thrive and produce fruits and vegetables for you – which is the entire point of the garden, am I right?? I mean, as much as I adore seeing the seedlings and greenery in my garden, it’s the veggies I’m after!
The three main elements we want to make sure are in our garden are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. These are the essential building blocks of your garden.
“[N]itrogen promotes plant growth. It is associated with leafy, vegetative growth. It’s part of every protein in the plant, so it’s required for virtually every process — from growing new leaves to defending against pests. [….]
Phosphorus is involved in the metabolic processes responsible for transferring energy from one point to another in the plant. It’s also critical in root development and flowering. [….]
Potassium helps regulate plant metabolism and affects water pressure regulation inside and outside of plant cells. It is important for good root development. For these reasons, potassium is critical to plant stress tolerance.” – Better Homes and Gardens
Now, you can get into much more complex soil testing, testing for other macro and micro nutrients, minerals, and vitamins, but you generally need to send samples to a lab for that. (Contact your local ag extention office if you’re interested in getting those tests done, it’s usually very inexpensive.) But, for these basic four tests, we can test at home, in just a few minutes!
So let’s get to soil testing!
First go get yourself a soil testing kit. You can usually find these in garden centers or you can order them online, like this one.
Then go get into your garden, and start getting some soil samples. If your garden is large, you’ll want to take samples from different sections of your garden, about 6ft by 6 ft zones should be good. In the middle of the zone your sampling, dig about a 6 inch deep hole and take a small trowel full and put it in a plastic baggie. Make sure to label where it came from!
Once you have your samples, dump them out onto some paper (label the paper!) and spread the soil sample out evenly, breaking up and clumps. Let it dry overnight.
Then, follow the specific instructions on your test kit, as each kit may vary, but essentially you’ll add your soil into some water, and then add a capsule to that water. Shake up your test tube, and wait for the water to change color.
Your kit will come with a chart to help you determine the level of each nutrient based on the color saturation of your test tube.
So, here are our final results for our Spring 2016 garden soil.
Pretty stellar, right?! I was over the moon when I saw these results. This is exactly what we want for a vegetable garden. Now depending on what you’re trying to grow, you might be after different pH (blueberries and herbs like more acidic soils), or different levels of Nitrogen, Potassium, or Phosphorus. I used this nutrient guide to see what our specific plants needed to be amazing!
Soil testing is a pretty simple task, and it’s important to do so before each garden season, that way you can make any necessary amendments before you plant, giving your garden a boost from the get-go!
So, happy soil testing! And happy gardening!
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