How to Test Your Garden Soil

    How to Test Your Garden Soil

    Yes, it’s almost gardening time and with all this warm weather, we are all getting very impatient!  But before you test your garden soil, remember to look at a reliable website for the last frost date for your area before you plant!  I personally like the Old Farmer’s Almanac Site, but there are several others:

    http://www.almanac.com/content/frost-chart-united-states

    Soil testing:

    Your state’s Ag extension document will tell you how to collect the proper soil samples from your soil, as well as what tests they will do for a standard fee.  For more detailed information see the following site for UT Agriculture Extension Service for soil testing:

    https://ag.tennessee.edu/spp/Pages/soiltesting.aspx

    There are two ways to test the soil in TN: by acreage or per 100 feet of garden space for a garden an acre or less. We recommend that you test by 100 feet, unless you have many acres and multiple large crops.   In Tennessee, the UT Ag Extension tells us to take ten samples six inches deep around your garden. Place in a five gallon bucket, mix it really well, then take a subsample after its mixed up, take it to your lab, and they will test it for you.

    Standard soil tests provide information on the levels of phosphorus and potassium/potash in your soil. The report will typically include recommendations for improving soil fertility, and you can ask to have the recommendations focus on organic solutions.

    The UT Ag Extension soil-testing document says: “The Basic soil test includes soil pH, buffer value, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and magnesium all for the price of $7.00 per sample. The Basic Plus soil test is all the above with zinc, manganese, iron, copper, sodium and boron for $15.00. Pre-side dress nitrate (PSNT), Sulfate Sulfur (NH4OAc), organic matter and soluble salts is also offered.  Soil test nutrients (Basic and Basic Plus) are extracted using Mehlich 1 and are designed for mineral, inorganic soils thus not suitable for bark or peat-based mixes.

    If your growing material is highly organic, a container media analysis is recommended.  The Container Media Test is mainly useful to greenhouse growers in determining fertility of soil-less mixtures. Turnaround is typically 1 to 2 business days (for routine Basic or Plus) and results are routinely mailed but can be e-mailed or faxed.   Test results are used to formulate research-based, cost effective lime and fertilizer recommendations specific to the type of crop or plant and yield desired. To assist growers with their soil fertility needs, Extension county agents are available statewide to help with any management decisions related to soil test recommendations.”

    Side note:  On the top right hand side of your soil test report is the person in charge of the Department of Testing and their contact information.  They are VERY HELPFUL and will explain the report to you.  When you receive your first report, it may seem a little like a foreign language…so don’t hesitate to call.  

    When to Test Your Soil

    For perennial crops – orchards, pasture, Christmas trees, alfalfa, grass seed, and so on, you should test your soil before planting (preferably at least several months before), so that you have time to lime the soil and have it mix with the existing soil before planting your crop.   Limestone reacts slowly with the soil, so it’s important when adding lime to your oil to leave enough lead-time before planting.   For annual crops, such as vegetables, test your soil every spring before planting for the season.

    Happy Gardening!!!

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