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What’s in Your Soil?0


 Garden soils vary greatly in their ability to provide your plants with the nutrients they require. Some soils are sandy, others are dense clay. Some contain more acid content while others have very little. All these factors need to be considered first and foremost when planning a garden.The simple solution is taking a soil test. Each state has a Cooperative Extension System Office run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These offices provide valuable resources and information for the home gardener. You can look up your state office on the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s website and get directions for taking a soil sample.

For a nominal fee (ours is $8.00 plus postage), you will receive a detailed analysis of your soil including things like nutrients, soil texture and organic content classifications, and fertilizer recommendations based on the crops or plants for that soil area.

Here’s a really good example of why you should get your soil tested. I was helping a friend put in a kitchen garden relatively close to their 19th century farmhouse. We dug thin slices of soil from 10 different areas of the planned garden, mixed them thoroughly, put 1 cup of the soil mixture into a baggie and sent it off to the soil nutrient analysis lab.

 The results came back with a soil lead interpretation sheet – the soil had an estimated 1,870 ppm (parts per million) total lead content. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers anything greater than 400 ppm above the EPA level of concern. They cautioned that this soil should not be used for growing vegetables.

Needless to say, the proposed kitchen garden got an uncontaminated new location (cleared by a second soil test) and produced a fine, lead-free yield of vegetables for my friend.

text and photos by Ann D. Travers

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