OK, I admit it. I’ve never had my soil tested before. My reasoning was simple: I add compost to my soil every year in the spring and shredded leaves every fall. That’s enough, right? Wrong.
Last year was not a good year for my garden. It wasn’t very productive at all and I did everything right. In all honesty, I never bothered to get my soil tested because I didn’t want to spend the money or take the time to mail out the soil (there are no soil labs in Maryland) and wait for results.
Well, I was visiting the Co-op store in my neighborhood looking for a soil test kit. I decided that I was going to try and test the soil myself. One of the staff members informed me that I could have my soil tested there for five dollars and get the results in a few minutes. I was sold.
I rushed home, gathered my soil and went right back to the co-op. I gave them the soil and within a few minutes, the secret to why my garden wasn’t doing well was revealed: the nutrients in my soil were low. The pH of my soil was fine, in fact it was right where it needed to be (6.5…neutral…which is the best for a veggie garden). However my soil nutrient levels were very, very low.
I asked how this could be since I add compost to my soil every year. I learned the answer quickly. Compost feeds the beneficial microbes in the soil and keeps your soil healthy, but it doesn’t necessarily give your plants the food they need. If you garden in a small space like I do, nutrients are very important to good plant growth.
I was told what to buy to remedy the nutrient deficiency. For me, it’s as simple as an organic fertilizer that I will turn into the top two inches of soil, and some lobster compost to add to each planting hole for my tomatoes (tomatoes need lots of calcium and lobster compost is finely ground lobster shells which are a great source of calcium).
I also need to feed the plants several times throughout the growing season: when first transplanted into the garden; when flowers set on the plants; and when the first fruits appear. Organic fertilizers don’t last long, so if there are heavy rains, you may even need to feed the plants a little more often than this.
If you are going to have your soil checked here’s what you need to do:
- Push any mulch on your garden bed to the side
- Dig down about two inches deep and collect a soil sample (do this in several areas of your garden and combine them together into a Ziploc bag)
- Send it to a soil lab (or if you feel like taking a little drive you can come to the co-op in Glen Burnie!) and find out what your soil needs.
- Add recommended nutrients to your soil
You will need a baseball-sized amount of soil in order to get accurate results.
Soil testing is not just for vegetable gardens! You can have your lawn’s soil tested as well. So if you’ve got a problem spot that won’t grow grass, a soil test is well worth the investment (even if you have to send it away to a lab). Just be sure to specify whether the soil test is for a garden or lawn because the nutrient recommendations can vary for each.
Check with your local garden center or favorite nursery center to see if they offer soil analysis. I promise it will be worth the investment.
If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time garden gals and guys….
Happy garden thoughts!