Almost everything you read or hear about starting a new garden, mentions getting your soil tested. Testing your soil is very important in finding out your soil composition, nutrient levels, and soil pH. Testing is also key in finding out whether you have high levels of heavy metals, such as lead. High levels of lead can be very bad if you are growing vegetables.

Testing your soil is very simple and inexpensive. There are two different paths you can take with testing your soil: test it yourself with a do-it-yourself soil test kit, or have your soil tested by a lab through a university or your local co-operative extension office. Check your local garden center, they may offer free soil testing. The very best option is having your soil tested through a university lab or co-operative extension office. The test will usually cost $8 - $15, and gives a very thorough report on your soil.

More Tips for Soil Testing

  1. Sandy soil drains too quickly; requires compost or cow manure to hold moisture.
  2. Clay soil compacts tightly and doesn't drain well; mix in sand.
  3. Quality topsoil contains proper proportions of sand, silt and clay.
  4. Buy soil test kit from garden shop or hardware store; select one that tests for nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and pH.
  5. Dig small amount of soil from garden, yard or flowerbed using a garden trowel.
  6. Add measured amounts of soil, water and reactive agent to plastic test chamber; shake well.
  7. Wait 2 minutes for soil to settle and color to develop.
  8. Compare the soil solution color to the color-coded chart printed on the test chamber.
  9. If needed, amend the soil as recommended. For example, if soil is too acidic add lime; if it's too alkaline, add peat moss or sulfur.
  10. Test soil annually, and treat it as needed.
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