Planning the Mini-Farm, Step Two

Test Your Soil
A lot of folks recommend getting a soil test done before you start your garden, and then testing again regularly every 2-3 years after. Your local cooperative extension agency is an obvious choice for this task, and that is what I did our first autumn here. I was a bit disappointed in the process though, and I think in the future I’ll just do my own testing.

I asked for a full test (one that would tell me pH, soil type, and micronutrient content in addition to N-P-K) but only got back my Nitrogen, Potassium, and Phosphorus levels with some rather generic flyers on how to correct the poor levels I had. The flyers could have been advertisements for synthetic fertilizers.  

They did include my soil type, but it was so incredibly wrong I wondered if maybe the mixed up my tests – they stated I have loamy soil, when any toddler can play in my yard and tell me I have a bunch of hard-packed clay. It just didn’t feel worth the money I spent on it.

I’ve seen the test kits available at Lowe’s and other garden stores, and they provide a greater array of results for a better price than my cooperative extension office. I also now know how to check my soil type using just a shovel, a mason jar, and some water. I’ll write up a post for that process if you are interested. I also have a cheap but effective soil meter to measure moisture and pH.

Two great tools for the garden! The soil meter (green) measures soil moisture, pH, and "darkness." The other tool is a meat thermometer - cheaper than an soil thermometer and equally effective. Don't leave them in the ground -- I just posed them like this for the picture.

To make the “test your soil” story short – I’d recommend asking local folks who have made use of their extension office for this service before buying it yourself. Every office is a bit different. Otherwise, it seems more cost effective and educational to do it yourself. Honestly, I’m looking forward to Taylor being a little older so he can do the soil testing with me each year – what a great chance to learn together!