Soil testing for your garden

What to test your soil for

Soil testing is vital to the health of your garden. It is best done the season before you start planting and before the ground freezes. This way, you can apply nutrients and lime during the fall, and have it ready for planting in the spring. Planning ahead may also land you some autumn time discounts and deals.

Some things to look for when testing your soil:

  • Soil structure should consist of different sized crumbs that will hold their shape under slight pressure. If it’s difficult to break apart, it means your soil is too hard and not porous enough for water to flow freely.
  • Check for compaction. When you stick a wire through your soil at different spots, where it starts bending indicates how compact your soil is. If your wire can easily pass through a foot of soil, then you have good compaction. If too soon, then your soil is too compact. Roots and earthworms will not be able to move freely through it.
  • Look for soil organisms. Dig about 6 inches deep and observe for about 4 minutes. Count the number of species of organisms crawling about, including beetles, spiders, centipedes, etc. A healthy amount is 10 or more. These active crawlers are an indication of quality soil. They help break down residue to provide nutrients for your plants.
  • Count for earthworms. 3 is good, 5 is better. Dig out 6 inches of soil to do this test. They are a good indicator of organic matter in your garden. An exception of this is for those of you who live in arid climates.
  • Root development and plant vigor are a clear sign that your soil is effective.


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