Soil Testing & Soil Samples - How to Make Your Garden Grow
Soil Testing & Soil Samples - Go Green the Right Way!
Just how is Soil Testing going to lead me down the path of great garden glory and righteousness? Well, let's answer that with a question: How do you know what vitamins and nutrients to feed your garden soil unless you know what's already IN your garden soil?
Lots of people add to the water pollution every year (and do great damage to the life of their garden soil) by adding chemicals (fertilizers) that the soil doesn't need (which then get washed away into rainwater), and that kill the beneficial life in the soil. [Unnecessary chemical fertilizers sort of do for the soil what unnecessary food chemicals do for your body.] Actually, if more people got soil tests, they would be able to use less chemicals, and add what is really needed to make their garden grow - which is, more often than not, organic matter. [If this term is new to you, be on the look out for it again later!]
Few people realize that their local university co-op extension probably has a small-fee soil test lab service, along with a (usually free) Master Gardener consultation program to discuss the soil test results. Learn what's in your soil today before you plant that next seed, bulb or flower!
Links to State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Services in Your Area - A
- AL - Alabama Cooperative Extension System - Soil Testing
Here's the Soil Testing for all of Alabama - broken down by Counties. A cooperation between the Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.
- AZ - University of Arizona Master Gardener Report on Soil Testing
Univ of AZ does not offer Soil Testing services. However, this is a good discussion of soil testing in Arizona & refers you to the Univ of Arizona Cooperative Extension offices for Arizona soil testing lab recommendations.
- AR - University of Arkansas Soil Testing Lab
Soil Testing by the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. "The mission of the Marianna Soil Test Laboratory is to provide accurate and timely soil analyses and unbiased nutrient management guidelines that are based on the best availab
Soil Test Poll
Have you had your soil tested yet?
Links to State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Services in Your Area - C
- CA - University of California Garden Web Guide to Soil Testing Info & Labs
University of California Cooperative Extension and Master Gardener Garden Web has a PDF Guide with Soil Testing information and names/numbers of soil testing labs.
- CO - Colorado State University Soil Testing Lab
Colorado State University Soil Testing Lab's website: "The Soil-Water-Plant Laboratory analyzes soil, water, plant, sludge, manure and miscellaneous types of samples from farmers, homeowners, consultants, government agencies and CSU personnel, and pr
- CT - University of Connecticut Soil Testing Lab
University of Connecticut Soil Nutrient Analysis Lab will test your soil.
Soil Testing Kits for Kds
Whether you're a home-schooler, or a gardener who wants your kids to get their hands dirty and learn about gardening, or a composter who wants your kids to learn how compost affects the soil, this soil testing kit is educational.
Links to State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Services in Your Area - D, F, G, H
- GA - University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Services
Soil Testing at University of Georgia Cooperative Extension
- HI - University of Hawaii at Manoa - Soil Analysis Service
Soil Testing and Soil Analysis at the Cooperative Extension of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Services, at the Oahu Urban Garden Center. Drop off is at the Pearl City Urban Garden Center.
Want Better Soil?
ADD Compost, THEN, Add More Compost. Find out how:
Compost - How, Why & What to Compost
Want to learn more about
Go To GardenWeb.com Soil & Compost Forum
Links to the State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing in Your Area - I
- ID - University of Idaho Soil Testing @ its Analytical Sciences Lab
Soil testing for crops and home gardeners. Check out each page of the Lab's home page, for all of the information. No super home gardener-user friendly. But, feel free to contact a Master Gardener or Extension District Office for more info, and how t
- IL - Illinois Soil Testing - Recommendations by Univ of IL Co-op Extension
University of Illinois Extension offers lots of services and classes, but not soil testing. Instead, the Univ of IL Ext provides a list of various soil testing companies, indicating the services that each offers. Get a company that offers both (H) fo
- IN - Indiana - Purdue University Extension - Recommendations for Soil Testing Labs
Purdue University's Extension doesn't do low-cost soil testing. However, they do give a list of recommended soil testing labs. But, that Purdue University page appears down. So, this is a link to helpful information about taking and reading soil samp
- IA - Iowa State University Extension Soil & Plant Analysis Lab
This is Iowa State University's form for the submission of your sample. It includes info about the fee & address. There's more info at ISU Extension Lawn, Garden & Horticulture.
The point of soil tests is to see what your soil has going for it, and what its missing. That sounds simple enough. Does it have enough Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K)? Does it have N-P-K in the ratios that you want for growing what you want to grow? Does it have enough Calcium, Magnesium, and other Micronutrients?
More importantly though, does it have the other aspects of great soil that makes great plants? What about the soil's Tilth, Humus, and Organic Matter? Don't know what that is, or how to get it? Keep reading!
Links to the State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing in Your Area - K, L
- KS - Kansas State University Agronomy Soil Testing Lab
Soil Testing Lab at Kansas State University College of Agriculture. Super friendly site, and easy to use.
- KY - University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Soil Testing Lab
Soil Testing Lab at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Be sure to get the organic matter test component of the soil test, which means that you should get it done at Lexington.
Organic Matter & Humus & Tilth
Organic Matter is the "plant and animal material that is in the process of decomposing." After that material has fully decomposed, it is called "humus."
BE SURE that your soil test tests for Organic Matter. An absolutely lovely soil would have a 25% Organic Matter. That is the soil that gardeners dream of. It makes the Tilth of the soil (i.e. the soil's structure) ideal. A soil with a good tilth will allow air and water to pass through the soil at an ideal rate, a rate that allows the plant ample time to absorb water and nutrients, but without drowning or suffocating it.
How do you get it? In my opinion, from everything I've read online and in books, and from my experience, you get that sort of awesome soil from continually adding lots of organic matter and humus over time.
[This wicked cool picture is courtesy of cursedthing on Flickr.com and was part of a science experiment. To see more pictures of the science experiment (which tested whether earthworms preferred cool soil to warm soil), see the photo stream attached to this photo.]
Links to the State University Co-Op Extension Soil Testing Services in Your Area - M, N
- ME - University of Maine Soil Testing Lab
This is the University of Maine's Soil Testing Program's home page. There's lots of great soil testing info here. However, each county's cooperative extension office's home page, has additional details about hours, forms, etc.
- MI - Michigan State University Soil Testing
Michigan State University's Soil Web and Soil Testing pages are very cute & user friendly, and informative. Have Fun!
- MN - University of Minnesota Soil Testing Lab
Soil Testing at University of Minnesota's Department of Soil, Water & Climate. Very user friendly.
- MS - University of Mississippi Soil Testing Lab
Soil Testing from MSU Cares - University of Mississippi Extension Service. Very nice, user friendly, informative site.
- MO - University of Missouri Extension Soil Testing Lab
Soil Testing & Plant Diagnostic Services of the University of Missouri Extension does soil testing for home owners, gardeners, farmers and other professionals. Very nice, easy to use website.
- MT - Montana State University - soil testing labs info
Montana State University Extension no longer provides soil testing services. However, this website at MSU refers the viewer to a few other soil testing labs, and offers other info.
- NE - Nebraska Soil Testing - Midwest Labs, Omaha, NE
According to its website, University of Nebraska seems to do a fabulous job with soil testing & information for crops. But, its Extension doesn't seem to have soil testing for home gardens. So, a visitor recommended Midwest Labs.
- NV - University of Nevada Cooperative Extension - soil testing information
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension doesn't do soil testing. However, this is a good link to their Extension's brochure about soil testing, with lots of information, and a listing of nearby soil testing labs.
- NJ Rutgers Univ Co-Op Ext Soil Test Program
With all the links to find the Co-Op Extension Office in your County of NJ. Very minimal fees for soil tests.
- NM - New Mexico State University Soil Testing Services
Soil Testing at New Mexico State University's Soil, Water and Agricultural Testing Lab
- NC Dept Agriculture - Soil Testing Services
Soil Testing at North Carolina Department of Agriculture
- NY Cornell Univ Co-Op Ext
Rather than a centralized page about soil testing, each County's page lists its services that it provides, which usually includes soil testing for a nominal fee.
- ND - North Dakota State University Soil Testing Services
Soil Testing at North Dakota State University's Soil Testing Lab
Adding Organic Matter - to your soil
Do you remember what Organic Matter is? It's stuff that's in the process of breaking down (or, decomposing). When it is done decomposing, it's called ... humus (no, not the stuff made of chick peas!).
To get great soil, keep adding Organic Matter to your soil. "Okay great," I can hear you saying (as I did many years ago), "but that doesn't help me identify this so-called 'Organic Matter' that I'm supposed to add to the soil!" Years ago, when I started my gardening quest and became fascinated with the art and science of soil (a.k.a. loved getting my fingers dirty!), I became somewhat obsessed with finding the answer to the obvious ensuing question of: "What is the Organic Matter that I'm supposed to be adding?!"
Here are some of my Organic Matter and Soil Building suggestions and insights.
- Organic Matter:
wood chip, bark, (pine) needle mulch
- Organic Matter: COMPOST [Note: Why does COMPOST get bold? Because he's the best!] You can get COMPOST by (1) making it yourself (see Compost - 200+ Compost Ingredients), (2) buying it, and/or (3) getting it for free from your town!
- Organic Matter:
Shredded Leaf mulchNext to COMPOST, Shredded Leaves are my favorite! (maybe because it involves power tools!) [Note: try to mix-in Dried Blood/Blood Meal in with the Shredded Leaves because this will help the shredded leaves break down quicker, and "theoretically" won't "steal" Nitrogen from the soil to break down the leaves]
- Organic Matter:
dead fruits/veggies, dead garden waste(best in small pieces) (definitely without seeds, unless you want unplanned plants like canteloupes and cucumbers popping up all over your garden) [Note: I don't use this often because it can attract rodents as it doesn't break down as quickly in the active garden as it does in the compost pile, and it can get unwieldy and inconvenient to constantly be pushing back mulch and/or compost to "bury" the dead fruits/veggies.]
- Feed the Worms:
used coffee grounds(from your own house or coffee shops, e.g. Starbucks)
- Feed the Worms:
cornmeal/flour(yes, the kind sold in the baking aisle at your food store works just perfectly - get the bag of cornmeal, not the corn bread mix)
- Help the Organic Matter:
Dried Blood/Blood Meal(get this at any nursery/garden center/store)
Bone Meal(get this at any nursery/garden center/store)
Peat Moss & Vermiculite[Note: I don't use Peat Moss. Something about the idea of using this limited supply of this ancient relic just to improve my little veggie garden patch doesn't float my boat. But, some people wouldn't do a garden without it. Vermiculite is a natural mineral that retains moisture for the plants to use, while at the same time moderating the moisture level so that the plants don't drown. Think of it as little itty bitty sponges.]
Organic Matter such as compost, pine bark mulch and shredded leaves are the best!Here's how I do it (ideally): (1) After removing rocks & roots (after all, I live in the Northeast part of USA - it's all rocks & roots up here), mix compost and some vitamins (blood meal, bone meal) into the top 6" of the soil, (2) Then plant, mixing some vermiculite into the area around the roots/seeds, (3) Then add a good 1" layer of compost, (4) Then sprinkle corn meal/flour, and/or used coffee grounds, (5) Then add shredded leaves mixed with dried blood/blood meal, about 1", (6) Then add pine bark or other wood-chip type (not cedar) mulch, about 1".
Pine Bark is my favorite mulchfor my garden because it is very quick to decompose. The ants help with this. Thus, I wouldn't recommend using Pine Bark near your house foundation for fear of carpenter ants being attracted to it. But, in the veggie garden, I let the ants go to town, and usually they're just the little "sugar ant" sort of guys.
- Notes: THE WORMS are your 24/7/265 garden workers. They work harder than you do, and the success of your garden is dependent in large part, on them (that is, IF you don't want to be completely dependent on synthetic additives). THE WORMS do 2 main things: (1) build air and water "tunnels" (which is crucial to great roots development), and (2) ingest & decompose the Organic Matter (thus making worm poop, or more properly termed, worm "castings"). Worm Castings look like little teeny tiny uniform sized-balls of dirt on top of your garden.
- Notes: THE WORMS love to eat corn meal/flour, used coffee grounds, and shredded leaves (or, so they told me over breakfast the other day). Thus, bring them up to the top of the compost with the corn meal and used coffee grounds, and they'll munch on some of those leaves while they're at it, and voila, organic matter abounds!
During the gardening seasonadd more compost. Now, I don't add compost on top of the pine bark mulch because I believe that the soil will use too much Nitrogen trying to break down the pine bark, and thus, the plants won't have as much Nitrogen available to them for the plants' use. Sooooo, I pull back the remaining pine bark mulch (and the shredded leaves if any are left), then I add another 1" layer of compost, maybe some more bone meal and dried blood (aka vitamins) mixed in, then I add a little more corn meal and coffee grounds, and push back the shredded leaves and pine bark mulch.
Mulchcan be simply compost, or simply shredded leaves. You don't need bark mulch. However, I like using pine bark mulch because I feel that it keeps the right water retention and temperature maintenance for my garden. And, I like to use the compost and shredded leaves for Organic Matter.
My Favorite Compost Book
Regularly adding compost to your soil results in a higher Organic Matter (OM) % in your soil - which results in more Humus - which results in better air, water & nutrient mobility & availability to plants. So, you want it - and lots of it. Learn what it's about, why it's important, and how to make it in "Let It Rot!"
I really like the range of topics that this book covers, without making you feel that your'e getting a PhD in composting. This book keeps it fun, and allows you to keep composting as simple, fun or complicated a possible.
Evidently Jessica Furguson agrees with me in her review: "This is a great, clear cut, interesting and fun-to-read book! Stu Campbell is able to take what, to newcomers, can be a daunting task and not only present us with the basics to feel comfortable but he also translates some of the scientific "mumbo-jumbo" of how and why compost works into layman's terms."
Links to State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Services in Your Area - O
- OH - Ohio State University - soil testing info
The Morgan County Extension of Ohio State University's Cooperative Extension system recommends that people send their soil samples to Penn State's soil testing lab. Ohio State University no longer offers soil testing services. Ohio State University
- OK - Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Services
Soil Testing Services for homeowners, gardeners, and professionals, provided by the Soil, Water and Forage Analytical Laboratory of the Oklahoma State University, offered by its Cooperative Extension. Very user-friendly and informative site.
- OR - Oregon State University Cooperative Extension - soil testing info
While Oregon State University doesn't offer soil testing itself, it does provide a list of nearby labs (see link above). Also, Oregon State University Cooperative Extension has lots of good information for gardeners, including an article on soil impr
The $64 Tomato - How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden
Only a true home gardener could have written this book. It's listed under non-fiction, because it is this Connecticut gardener's true life account of his adventures. But, it reads like fiction. It is hysterical. And, all of us gardeners, can completely identify with his epic plights - ground hogs, cabbage moths, deer, etc.
After rehabing an old Connecticut disaster of a house into a beautiful home, William Alexander launches into the creation of his ideal garden. His visions of sheer bliss are met head-on with the challenges that all gardeners face, but William seems to encounter them on a much grander scale, thus creating his "existential crisis," which we follow from chapter to chapter with roaring laughter. I never had so much fun laughing with (or, possibly, at) another gardener. Nor have I ever felt that another gardener "feels my pain" on such a true and laughable level.
This book is on my "must re-read each year" list!
Whether it's winter, and you're waiting for spring planting, or it's summer, and you're lounging in the shade, The $64 Tomato will provide you with entertaining and humorous reading!
I LOVED this book! It was so funny, I read aloud whole paragraphs to my husband. I never knew there was such a thing as gardener humor until I read this book. What a hoot!
Links to the State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing in Your Area - P, R
- PA - Penn State Cooperative Extension Soil Testing
Penn State Cooperative Extension Agricultural Analytical Services Lab - Soil Testing Program.
Getting the Coffee Grounds into Your Garden
Whether it's by way of the outdoor compost pile, the worm composting bin, or buried directly into the soil, you need a place to collect your kitchen scraps, and a neat way to carry it. Make sure that those used coffee grounds go to good use!
These are my suggestions. I have and LOVE the stainless steel one. I also love it because it's super easy to clean it, when you want to do that. There's absolutely no odor. It's very inconspicuous in my kitchen - just behind the sink & dish drainer. The white ceramic would probably work better for a white kitchen.
Links to State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing Services in Your Area - S
- SC - Clemson University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing (South Carolina)
Clemson University's soil testing lab and information.
- SD - South Dakota State University Soil Testing Lab
South Dakota State University's Soil Testing Lab website is clear, easy to navigate, and very user friendly. Enjoy!
My Top 5 Soil Testing & Improvement Pages
There are some great resources out there about taking soil samples, and the benefits of soil testing, and how to interpret soil testing. Also, I think that the more you read about soil testing, the more you will get interested in how soil works, and thus, the art and science of soil. Very interesting reading!!!
- GardenWeb - Soil and Compost Forum
This is absolutely my favorite Soil and Compost place on the Web!!! Thanks to other contributors here, you can get the equivalent of a college degree in the art and science of soil here.
- Ohio State University "Improving Soil" Fact Sheet
This is a nice, good, basic overview of what's going on with your garden soil.
- How to Improve Your Garden Soil
This website has TONS of information for you to learn more in-depth info about how soil works, and the benefits of working with it in a constructive way.
- Oklahoma State University "Improving Garden Soil Fertility"
This is a fabulous report about improving your garden soil, with lots of information all in one place. Great job OSU!
- Ameding Your Garden Soil - Making Good Soil Out of Bad
This is a very good set of About.com sites on improving your garden soil with natural amendments. You can find more tips and ideas here.
Links to the State University Co-Op Extension Soil Testing in Your Area - T
- TN - University of Tennessee Soil Testing Services
Soil Testing at University of Tennessee Soil, Plant and Test Center, located at Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville.
- TX - Texas A&M Cooperative Extension - Soil Testing Program
Soil Testing at Texas A & M Cooperative Extension
Do YOU Compost?
Do You Make Your Own Compost?
Links to the State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing in Your Area - U, V
- VT - University of Vermont Soil Testing Lab
Soil Testing Services by the University of Vermont. Info about how to submit samples, and pricing. Testing for both crops and home gardens. Additional information available.
- VA - Virginia Tech & Virginia State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing
Soil Testing by Virginia Cooperative Extension, a partnership of Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. See the various PDFs about soil testing - samples, procedures, etc.
Links to the State University Cooperative Extension Soil Testing in Your Area - W
- WV - West Virginia University Soil Testing Lab
Soil Testing by West Virginia University. Be sure to check out the "Informaiton Links" which has lots of additional information.
- WI - University of Wisconsin Soil Testing Labs
University of Wisconsin's Soil Testing Lab website is clear, simple, user-friendly, and easy to navigate, even if it doesn't have much in the way of lists of articles, etc.
- WY - University of Wyoming Soil Testing
Soil Testing Laboratory at the University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
My Favorite Gardening Book
Now, Square Foot Gardener purists will tell you that the key component to Mel's Square Foot Gardening is his special "soil" mix. But, I disagree. I used Mel's Square Foot Gardening approach in my "beautiful" garden soil (see how I got it to be beautiful in the list above) (in our community garden).
The Tote Buddy - Go Green Inside Your Home
The Tote Buddy is the premier way to Tote your Reusable Grocery Bags!
Got reusable grocery bags?
Always forget them in your trunk?
Always get them in a tangle at the bottom of the cart under the veggies?
Always leave them hanging around somewhere between the kitchen and the car?
Get the cool, organized and smart way to use your reusable grocery bags with The Tote Buddy (and it even comes with your choice of 1 or 3 reusable grocery bags - your choice).
And, it's pretty too, isnt' it?
(Of course, if you're not into floral, there's always the sleek black option. :)
In the Wintertime
& Potato Peelings
are a Great Addition
to your Compost Pile.
(My apologies for "borrowing" such an awesome phrase from such a revered national symbol, the Statue of Liberty, but you gotta admit, it sounds cool! For a more honorable commentary on America, visit God Bless America.)