Organic Gardening–Soil Testing

Soil testing takes the guesswork out of organic gardening.  Saving money, time and effort; healthy soil produces healthy plants and healthy plants are more resistant to insect damage and disease.  With spring right around the corner, now is the perfect time to start making plans for your garden.  Soil tests are available through local cooperative extension offices or private laboratories.  Fairly comprehensive and informative tests can be performed for $5-$10, and some extension offices even provide the service for free.



5 Steps for a successful soil sample

1. Start with a trowel and a bucket. Be sure neither is rusty or made of galvanized (zinc-coated) metal, which could skew results.

2. Scrape leaf litter from the soil surface. Dig out a wedge of soil about 6 to 8 inches deep, and set this wedge aside.  Then dig out a half-inch piece of soil from the hole and pour it into your bucket.

3. Repeat step 2 at least a several times in different parts of the garden (where you would like to grow edibles or ornamentals) so that the soil sample represents your whole garden when mixed.

4. Use your trowel to mix the soil together thoroughly.

5. Fill the soil sample bag or container with the mixed soil, complete the paperwork and mail it or drop it off at the lab.

Keep in mind that you should have your soil tested as close to home as possible so that the recommendations you receive make sense for your climate and soil. 


The results will provide the specifics as to what organic additives your soil will require. Tests provide specific nutrient levels and chemical characteristics including:


  • Nitrogen (N): Nitrogen promotes plant development and is necessary for encouraging green leaf growth.
  • Phosphorus (P): This nutrient is necessary for the development of healthy cells and encourages root growth, especially in fibrous roots.
  • Potassium (K): Potassium is needed for chlorophyll formation and is necessary for strong cells that promote the formation of flower and fruit. Strong cells are also necessary to resist diseases, pests and the cold. 
  • Calcium (Ca): Calcium is needed to build cell walls and encourage tissue growth. Since calcium occurs naturally in organic soil, in most cases supplements are not required. However, if your soil is extremely acid, you may need to amend the ph level. High amounts of acid deplete the calcium in soil.
  • Magnesium (Mg): This is another naturally occurring nutrient found in organic soil so chances are magnesium levels will not need to be amended.
  • Sulfur (S): Although sulfur is naturally found in organic soil, most organic fertilizers do contain sulfur.


Here's to your first dirt manicure of the season! 


Learn more about Stacy Walters, RKT at


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