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Soil Testing Basics

Testing soil is an essential part of maintaining optimum growing conditions for your vegetable garden. A basic soil test will provide you with pH levels and a nutrient breakdown of your gardens soil. Gardeners can use this information to determine which nutrients are lacking in the soil and how they can be added. Soil testing is especially important when starting a new garden because it is difficult to analyze soil without running the proper tests. For most people, a cheap soil testing kit will be sufficient to do the job. These soil testing kits can be found at your local nursery or hardware store. If you are looking for a very detailed and accurate analysis, you should be able to find a soil testing laboratory in your area. The cost of lab soil testing is significantly more expensive, but will give you the most detailed and reliable information.

When Should you Test Soil?

You should be testing your soil at least once per year when you first setup your garden. After your garden has been established for 3 years or so, soil testing becomes less important. Realistically, you should only need to be testing your soil if you are experiencing subpar vegetable yields or other unexpected problems.

Testing Soil pH

Soil test kits will also read your soil pH. Soil pH is a numerical symbol that indicates whether your soil is acidic or alkaline. The pH scales ranges from 0 to 14; 0 is highly acidic, 14 is highly alkaline. 7 is neutral. The majority of vegetable varieties will grow the best in soil pH ranging between 6 and 7. It is still possible to grow veggies in pH readings outside of this range, but you should make an effort to get the reading to around 6 or 7.

Example of a Quality Soil Test Kit

How to Collect A Soil Sample

1. Get a clean container to hold the soil, such as a bowl or piece of Tupperware.

2. Plan on gathering soil from 4 to 8 different areas of your garden. The number of areas will depend on the overall size of your garden.  

3. Make sure that any grass, live organic material, rocks, or debris is removed from each sample location. Your samples should be taken from approx 6” below the surface.

4. Take approx ½ cup of soil from each location. Place the soil into the bowel and the soil a couple hours to dry out if it is moist.

5. Mix the soil samples together. You should have at least 2 cups of soil for testing. Every test kit is different, so review the kit manual for additional instructions.

Garden Soil Basics