Soil Testing – What Can It Tell You?
Most of us don’t speak the language of soil, so we rely upon our plants to interpret. But sometimes even the plants are unclear; “I’m not feeling well” is all we can read from them.
Having your soil tested is the sure way to know what’s happening underground, and it’s an easy process available locally.
There are two levels of testing, just pH or a full soil analysis. Soil pH is a measure of acidity and alkalinity in soils and can have a significant effect on plant health. A neutral pH of between 5.5 and 7 is the level at which nutrients in the soil are available for many of our landscape plants to absorb them. Our high rainfall tends to keep soil on the acidic end (lower pH) of the spectrum.
Most vegetable crops however, like soil to be more alkaline; beets for example are very sensitive to pH and won’t form bulbs if the pH is too low.
Adding lime to the soil is the best way to raise the pH but it helps to first know whether you NEED to do this, depending on what you are growing. Generally, lawns and veggie beds need lime every year, with the veggies preferably done in the fall, at a rate of 1 pound of dolomitic lime per square yard.
A further analysis is also available, with a more detailed level of nutrient values. For most of us, just the Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium measurement is all we need. (This is the NPK you see on fertilizer packages.)
Collecting the soil samples is easy. The important thing is to gather it from the depth at which the plant roots will be reaching for nutrition, about 6-8″ down. In any given garden area, take several samples at this depth then mix them together in a bucket. Take about 2 cups of the mixed soil and put it in a clean plastic zip lock bag, one bag per area. The photo shows my samples taken from 4 beds. I was shocked to see how acidic my soil was, and it certainly explained those bulbless beets!
Where to take the samples?
Two choices are available locally:
- MB LABS in the Sidney industrial area offers different levels of testing, either just pH which is 4 bags (areas) for $20, or NPK analysis with fertilizer recommendations for either organic ($48) or chemically ($37) fertilized soil. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or drop in at 2062 Henry Ave. W, Sidney.
- Integrity Sales offers complete soil analysis for $60, including advice on what to do regarding fertilizer amendments and soil improvement. Located at 2180 Keating X Road, just take your soil samples in and the results will be available in 2-3 weeks.
We highly recommend both of these resources; they are reliable, accurate and your plants will thank you for testing your soil!