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Put Your Soil to the Test

Why and how to get a soil test now so you can maximize the time and money you spend gardening next year.

Ready for an early New Year's Resolution? No, you don't need to lose weight or exercise (although gardening will help you with both of those). You're going to finally get your soil tested. I know you've been meaning to do this for years, because you tell me this when we get to talking. The problem, we quickly discover, is that you most likely think of getting your soil tested when you are ready to plant and instead just toss on some fertilizer (organic, I hope) and hope for the best. This is not a bad strategy, but it could be wasteful as you may be adding nutrients to your soil you that it doesn't need. It could also lead to you not getting your "full value" from each seed or plant in your garden, and that's pretty much throwing money away. In today's economy, who can afford to do that?  Finally, well-balanced soil helps plants grow strong, thereby enabling them to fight off pests and diseases so you don't have to spend time and money dealing with all that as well. 

In short, healthy soil grows healthy food pretty easily. If you've found gardening to be a struggle, getting your soil tested and balanced may be less a resolution and more a gift for you. And now, when it's awhile yet before new seeds will be planted, is the perfect time to do it. Here's how:

1. Get a soil test bag from your county's cooperative extension office. In DeKalb County, click here for directions. If you don't have a soil test bag, you can put soil in a securely-closed plastic bag and send it to your county extension office for testing.

2. Use a garden trowel (a little hand shovel) to dig up several soil samples from your garden for testing. Dig a few inches deep and lift up a "plug of soil" (at least the size of a large apple core). Add a number of these plugs to your bag so that it equals about a cup fo soil. If all your beds are similar, you can mix soil from various beds together. If you want specific advice for each bed, submit separate samples in separate bags (note that you'll need to pay for each separate test). 

3. Send in your sample with payment (or drop it off in person). Request that recommendations be given for organic growing methods, or else convert them using an online converter (or advice from a seasoned organic farmer or gardener). Await results, which could take a couple of weeks.

4. Your results will show your soil's pH level plus the levels of the three major macronutrients--nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), plus a number of micronutrients and trace minerals. The results will also include recommendations to balance your soil perfectly for growing vegetables. Heed this advice and you will prepare your garden for improved performance next spring.

If you want to skip all that, simply purchase the Farmer D Organics planting mix and my organic fertilizer, which is custom-blended to be a perfectly balanced compliment to my soil. Swing by my store on Briarcliff Road by La Vista Road, visit online, or follow on Facebook to see all our holidays specials. They may be just the inspiration you need to finally get your soil tested and start growing!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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