Be sure to combine soil from a few places in your garden before sending.
I've written a lot here about the importance of using soil testing labs in order to determine which organic fertilizers to use.
Otherwise, you're stabbing in the dark. But I haven't actually told you which testing lab I use.
While it may be tempting to drive a sample over to your local soil lab, it's probably not the best option. Right now, most soil testing labs aren’t doing a great job.
They’re still stuck in the same chemical mindset of soil management that the conventional agriculture colleges are teaching.
We just don’t speak the same language:
- I don't believe for a second the nonsense that plants only take up nutrients in ionic form. I don't want to concern myself primarily with N-P-K.
- I don't believe the strong acids they use as extractants are indicative of what's actually going on in my soil.
- I don't want to make soil decisions based on pH.
- I'm obviously not interested in using chemical fertilizers, nor organic fertilizer recommendations based on the chemical paradigm.
- I don't think the soil is a lifeless, inert medium.
I could go on, but enough ranting, right? Let's get to the good stuff.
How To Choose A Soil Testing Lab
I've been strongly influenced by the testing methods developed by Dr. William A. Albrecht and Dr. Carey Reams.
Consequently, I only use soil labs that are using at least one (if not both) of these methods, or that have at least learned and acknowledged the methods, even if they decide to modify them for good reasons.
If the folks running a soil lab have never heard of these methods, I'm assuming they aren't doing their research - that they're coming from a chemical agriculture paradigm and haven't learned anything other than they were taught.
So I want labs that do at least base saturation testing, possibly Lamotte testing, and further, labs that make biological or organic recommendations first.
"Biological" in this context means that they may suggest certain synthetic fertilizers in order to balance the system and create a healthy, sustainable soil environment, but not the harmful kinds of fertilizers being commonly used today such as potassium chloride and triplesuperphosphate.
My Favorite Soil Testing Labs
Below are my two favorite labs. These labs are doing the kind of tests that I believe are most useful. Current prices are $50-$75, plus you have to ship 2 cups of soil there, but it's worth it.
You can use another soil lab, just make sure they do Albrecht base saturation testing and preferably Reams/Lamotte testing.
- Crop Services International - These guys have been very helpful to me. They do the exact kind of testing I'm looking for. Dr. Philip Wheeler and Ron Ward run the soil testing services, and they wrote an amazing book on soil management called The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook.
- International Ag Labs - These guys are also at the forefront of helping farmers and gardeners produce high-brix food. I enjoyed Dan Skow's book Mainline Farming for Century Twenty-One. I've tested through them, as well, and Jon has been good to answer some of my questions.
Any questions about soil testing labs? Let me know below.