When putting in and caring for a crop, it’s easy to get focused on the plants – the foliage, new flowering, the fruit growth. After all, it’s exciting to see progress. To keep those plants healthy, remember what supports your plants: the soil. Testing your soil can ensure that your plants are healthy and well supported from the very first day right up until harvest. In fact, soil that is kept strong and vital can support crops for years to come.
Testing regularly is one important step to making sure your soil is healthy and stable. Here are some things you can do to test your soil now.
First, evaluate your soil yourself. Simply take a look at your garden or flower beds over the course of a day. Notice how the water absorbs, and whether it drains fast or slow. Is the soil pale, dry? Does it seem to drain too fast, even when you water frequently? Then it may be too sandy. Adding compost and organic matter can build up the soil in these places. Or is the soil thick and slimy? You may not have good drainage, and it actually could use a little more sand. Sometimes these are minor adjustments that can be made quickly.
Second, your soil should be tested by an expert in a lab on a regular basis. Home testing kits are available, but they can vary in style and precision. The NC State Extension and the USDA recommend a professional test every couple of years, and these can be done through your local county Cooperative Extension office. The office will ask you to provide samples from the areas where you plan to grow different plants. When you collect the samples, it is best to use clean, stainless steel tools, so the samples are not corrupted by outside debris when the test is performed in the lab. You will also need to inform the office about what types of plants you intend to grow, so they know what soil pH will get you the best results.
Soil testing is about more than just growing the most the fastest. Knowing your pH from the outset can help you with your planting direction and purpose. If you know your soil is predisposed to a certain pH, this might influence the breed of plant that you select for certain areas of your field or garden. Some varieties, even within a species, are better equipped to cope with different soil acidity. Fertilizing is another issue. Testing your soil can not only inform you when and where you need fertilizer, but it can also prevent you from overfertilizing, which saves money and reduces pollutants. The more we know about our soil, the better care we can take to care for it and the wonderful plants it supports.
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