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Updated: May 17, 2021

Soil is the foundation to every garden, every forest, every living thing on this planet. You can read all the gardening books, and study your property for that perfect location, but without good soil you will have nothing. I know that sounds extreme, but it is the cold hard truth. Soil holds all the nutrients your plants need. The type of soil will tell what kind of plants you can grow, how much you will need to water, what kind of weeds you will be battling, your pest situation, and I could go on for another few pages. Soil is the most important part of your garden and how you treat it is the next most important part.

What I mean is that if you have great soil and add a bunch of unneeded fertilizer you will be hurting it and not helping the soil. Extra nitrogen will actually lock up vital nutrients from your plants. And on the other hand if you have a unhealthy soil and plant anyway, you will be wasting valuable time and money. In both cases you may tell yourself I don’t have a green thumb and this gardening thing is just not for me. But please remember all of this trouble can be solved with a simple soil test.

What is a Soil Test? A soil test is when you as the gardener take samples from your current garden or future garden spot and send them in to be tested for the common nutrients that all plants need. The test will even tell your soil PH. Most vegetables will only grow between 6.0 to 7.0 PH. I highly recommend that the first step in any garden plan is to get a soil test.

Steps for A Soil Test

1. You should be able to ask Mr. Google Pants(Google) for a soil testing provider near you. When I did my search I found two.

2. Call or go to the providers website and find out how they would like you to gather your samples. Every facility is different.

3. Gather your soil samples as instructed. I recommend gathering more than one sample and label where you got that sample from.

4. Follow your providers instructions for sending in your samples. My provider let me just drop them off and they would call me when the results came back.

Once you get your results!

Go Over them!

Here are my results!

Here is what they recommend!

Here is what I plan to do with them!

All the beds need some amount of Gypsum. Gypsum is the stuff found in Sheet Rock. Scientifically though Gypsum is a soft sulfate mineral composed of calcium sulfate dihydrate, with the chemical formula CaSO4·2H2O. It is widely mined and is used as a fertilizer and as the main constituent in many forms of plaster, blackboard/sidewalk chalk, and drywall. (Wikipedia) It is used to break up clay soil, allowing for better drainage and air circulation. I have know for years I needed to do something about my thick, clumpy clay soil. I have been adding compost which has helped a lot. My husband made the suggestion of getting a soil sample from our horse pasture so that we would have a base and could see if all the amendments we have been adding over the years has done anything. I also took a sample of a raised bed that is mostly compost and soil I purchased two years ago. Gypsum can also be used to reduce salt level in the soil. I do have Very High salt levels. Page 2 of my test results says I need to add gypsum at an average of 1700 lbs per acre. I found this formula to figure out how much I need per square foot. (1 lb per acre = 0.0104 grams per square foot) With this calculation, I will need 17.68 grams per square foot. So for one of my 2.5ft by 20 ft beds, I will need 884 grams or 1.94 lbs (1 gram is equal to .0022 of a pound) It is not much but I think it will help a lot. We just did some sheet rock work this winter in our basement, I am going to break up some of the left over pieces. Gypsum can also help to bring your Ph in to balance if you look at my numbers they are not ideal. Here is an article I found on the Farmer’s Almanac website. Ph Article

My results also show that I am low on nitrogen. I plan on using blood meal to bring up these numbers. I will need .78 of a gram per square foot, which is 39 grams per 2.5ft by 20 ft bed. So not very much. I think I will just follow the guidelines on the out side of the bag, which are 2lb per 100 Square feet. I also plan to add as much compost as my barn can produce. Learn more about my secret to the perfect compost, here!

I am also going to use a nitrogen fixing cover crops in the off season and under sow it in my beds that have beds that last all season, like broccoli and cauliflower. I explain cover crops and how to use them in my Online Course.

Now if you are late in getting your soil test done or don’t want to wait for the professional test. The professional test is the best option but there are some home test you can get at your local growing centers or big box stores. This test are only a quick fix as they only test the big three; nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Now all of these are important but for your plants to absorb the nutrients properly , your garden is going to need micro-nutrients. You can only find those levels with a professional test. Here is a link to the most common quick soil tester.

Now soil testing is not just for garden beds but container gardens too. When it comes to container gardening and soil, you can do two things; invest in new soil every year or amend the soil you already have. The best way to now what to add beyond compost is with a soil test. No matter how fertile your soil is your plants are going to remove nutrients. So you will need to replace what is taken out and since you can’t ask the plant what he ate, your next best practice is to ask the soil with a soil test.

Enjoy getting your hands dirty.

Pray, Just Plant!

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