By: Charlie Nardozzi
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a hundred times: every garden should have its soil tested. Testing is the easy part, but interpreting the results can be confusing. To help sort out the confusion, this article discusses the reasons for testing, explains the various numbers on the report, considers the advantages and disadvantages of home test kits, and describes a few alternative tests being used by some organic growers.
Why test the soil?
If your garden is growing well, an argument could be made not to bother testing at all. However, if your plants aren't growing as well as you'd like or you're wondering if you're using the right amount of fertilizer, a soil test is the place to start. But a word of caution: a soil test won't solve all your garden problems or tell you everything about your soil. It will give you a periodic snapshot of your soil's mineral health. Tests are most useful when done regularly (every three to four years), at the same time of year (spring is fine, but fall is best because that's when fertility is lowest), and with the same lab (different labs use different tests, and results can vary). This way, you're comparing apples to apples with each set of results.