Before my garden is fully planted I take a soil test. I try to do this every couple of years. It gives me an idea as to what nutrients my garden is lacking and also will tell me how to correct any deficiencies. Since I live in Vermont I can have a soil test done through the University of Vermont.
They will provide sample test kits, which include a mailer, sample bag, and information form. These are available from UVM, from UVM Extension offices and from some local garden centers. You can also download a form and mail the sample in your own clean plastic bag.
They only need about one cup of soil for a garden test.
The directions are very simple. First they need some information such as your name, address, the size of your garden and whether or not it is a home garden or a commercial production. They also want to know what crops you are growing, whether it is mixed vegetables or a specific crop. The basic test costs $14.00.
The reliability of a soil test is only as good as the sample you submit. The ½ cup of soil you are sending in must be a good representative of your garden. You want to take your sample before any lime, fertilizer or manure is added. Use only clean equipment to collect your sample.
The best way to do this is to take a number of samples from your garden and thoroughly mix them in a clean pail. Take about ten samples as a minimum for a garden up to 10,000 square feet in size.
Collect your sample by pushing the blade of a garden shovel into the soil to the desired depth. Cut out a triangular wedge of soil and set it aside. Now slide your blade into the soil again taking a thin slice from the side of the hole. Save this “core” as your sample.
Make sure all the cores are thoroughly mixed together.
Fill a plastic bag with about 1 cup of your mixed sample and place in a mailing envelope.
Once they receive your sample they will mail back a detailed report.
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