How to test the soil in your Vegetable Garden
It is a good idea to test your soil in an existing garden every 2 to 3 years. Don’t wait until you start having problems. By doing regular testing you can stay on top of it. Especially soil ph. Even if you have a good fertilization technique, the ph still can change.
I don’t think I can even express how important this is. I have seen gardens that year after year would hardly produce anything changed into an absolute wonder- producing an overabundance of vegetables in one year just from changing the soil ph.
If you are planting a new area this is a must. It will tell you what the soil needs, the ph, and exactly what type of soil you are dealing with.
Home soil test kits work well. But if you don’t what to do the math and want a professional recommendation have it done through your local agricultural extension agency. Let them know what you are planting, fruit trees, vegetable garden or berry patch, if berries let them know what kind. The report you receive back from them will tell you exactly what your soil needs. It will also make recommendations for commercial and organic fertilizers. It is usually well worth what they charge.
If you are planting a good size garden you will want to take your samples from several locations. Use a garden thrall and dig down about 6 inches. Take a swipe down the side of the hole going the full depth and place the soil in a clean pail. Be sure you get a sample the whole 6-inch depth of the whole. Depending on the size of the garden do this 5 or 6 times in different locations. Place all your soil samples in a clean bucket and mix them together thoroughly with your garden thrall. Don’t use your hands. After you are done transfer the soil to a clean plastic bag. There you have it, done. Follow the directions that came with your soil test kit to test it or send it to your agricultural extension agency for testing.
For the purpose of this article is mainly on how to test the soil, I will just briefly touch on the results you can expect.
The first thing you want to look at in your soil test results is ph. This number runs from zero to 14. Neutral is considered 7. Vegetable gardens require a soil ph of 6 to 6.8. The fertilizers perform best at this level. Anything above 7 would be considered sweet or alkaline. Anything below 7 would be acidic.
To lower soil ph agricultural sulfur is usually recommended. To raise soil ph lime is used. Follow the recommendations from your extension agency or from the instructions that came with your test kit.
Nitrogen-Be careful of this one. Follow the recommendations closely. Too much can burn your seeds and your plants. It can also create a big plant and no vegetables. But it is very necessary. A sign of nitrogen deficiency would be, pale green leaves, leaves turning yellow or just plain slow growth in leaf crops like lettuce and spinach.
Phosphorus- Great for root crops. Also necessary for good root development in all plants. Many times a phosphorus deficiency will show up as purple leaves toward the lower part of the plant.
Potassium- Necessary for healthy plant growth. If your garden just plain isn’t doing well this could be a sign of potassium deficiency.
Well, there you have it- those are the main three along with the soil ph.