Gardening Guide to Growing Organic Vegetables, Herbs And Fruit

Soil Analysis

Soil Analysis

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The ideal garden soil is rich in organic matter, well drained, slightly acid, and replenished with plant nutrients. How good is your soil? The amount of nutrients and the level of acidity can be determined by soil tests.

These tests are performed by the Extension Service at little or no charge. Or, you can do your own test, using a kit purchased through the mail, or at better garden and hardware stores.
If you use the Extension Service, contact the nearest office and request specific instructions. In general, these are the guidelines many Extension Service offices recommend:
Use a trowel to recover small amounts of soil at a depth of about six inches.
Take several samples from across the garden. Mix these in a bucket to get an accurate indication of average soil conditions.
Avoid soil where peas, beans, or other nitrogen-fixing crops have been grown in previous years.
Dry two or three handfuls of the soil from the bucket at room temperature. Drying with a stove can lead to a false indication of the need for lime. Send a small plastic bag of dry soil to the nearest Extension Service office.

Another tip: Do your soil test in the fall. Extension Service offices are often swamped with requests in the spring, causing delays of up to a month. By having the soil test results on hand early, you will be able to purchase the necessary fertilizers during the winter. And, you’ll be gardening in the first good spring weather, rather than fighting crowds at the local garden supply store.
The acidity or alkalinity of the soil (the pH level) is an important factor. Most plants have a specific pH range within which they thrive and outside of which they perform poorly, if at all. A pH level of 7 represents neutrality, when the soil is neither acid nor alkaline. Levels higher than 7 indicate alkalinity, while numbers below 7 indicate an acid state.

Table 2 indicates the optimum pH range for various popular vegetables.

soil ph levels for different vegetables