It’s important to do some basic garden soil testing before you plant or even design your garden.
Check out this video to see what I mean.
Actually, I ideally want to learn a lot about the soil, because by far the best time to improve it is when you prepare a new organic garden bed, before you’ve planted anything.
Since I only have this evening, I can’t do nearly as much as I’d like, but I can still learn some important information.
In the Smiling Gardener Academy, you get much more detail about what I usually do, which is a lot of qualitative testing of my own, plus garden soil testing through a lab rather than just a cheap home soil testing kit. To me, that’s very important to producing the healthiest possible vegetable garden.
Today, even though I don’t have much time, I at least do a couple of basics. The main thing to do is get an indication of your soil texture, which is what proportion of your soil is sand, silt and clay. The ribbon test is the fastest for that, as shown in the video.
Now you have an idea how the soil will infiltrate, drain and hold water, if it will provide sufficient air, and you even know a bit about your soil’s inherent fertility. You can also dig a hole to see how easy the digging is, how deep the topsoil is, and if it looks like there’s some organic matter in there.
All of this information helps you decide which plants to buy and how to care for them, how to water, how to use organic fertilizers, and so on. There are many more tests like this, but that’s a start. And I know it’s not the most exciting step, but it’s important and it gets more interesting from here.
Do you have any questions about garden soil testing? Let me know below.
Garden Soil Testing Video Transcript
Some of you guys may know that I grew up working on a small little nine hole pitch and put golf course that my parents owned.
And I really did everything on that course and I did it from when I was pretty young – like before I was a teenager.
And then all throughout my teenage years and through university and I learned a lot about lawn care and gardening.
But, there were some things I didn’t know or I didn’t learn until I started studying organic gardening.
And one of the things was I used to, we would get a disease on the greens called dollar spot which is a pretty common disease on golf course greens anywhere I’ve ever lived.
And, I’d spray a pesticide to get rid of that dollar spot it didn’t work very well because it would come back within usually a week or so, so I’d have to be spraying this things every of couple weeks at least.
So I wished I had known then, I didn’t know then that there was anything wrong with pesticides.
Eventually, I started studying the organic thing and I figured out that there was a lot of reasons why we shouldn’t do that and I figured out how, now I’m at a point where I don’t have pests – hardly any pests, at least none to cause me any kind of concern here in my organic garden because I figured out how to do it.
You could call it organic gardening but it’s more than that. What often passes for organic gardening is kind of just neglect. Just ‘let everything go wild’ and certainly that’s cool – I’m all for letting nature do its thing but for my gardening goals that I talked about in the first video that’s not going to work.
And so, it’s more than that just letting nature run its course. It’s also more than just composting which I love but a lot of people think ‘oh just pile on the compost’ and that going make you organic. It’s a lot more than that.
So the next thing I want to do today is to just go into digging in the soil and in the Smiling Gardner Academy, I obviously get into some pretty major garden soil testing both through a lab and also just on your own learning about your soil.
Today I’m just trying to get this all done in the afternoon here and I just want to tell you about basic soil testing in this one video.
But I want to tell you a couple things you can do. Everybody skips this basic step, but if you do this you just learn a little bit about your soil and it helps with a lot of decisions. Some people just don’t want to get out there and do the work but it’s really exciting to do this step so I hope you’ll do it.
So what I’m going to do here is point the camera down. I’ll I’ve done so far is taken the sod off and my bed is going to be going here so what I want to do here, is I want to learn a bit about my soil through some simple soil tests.
The first thing would be just to take a third of a cup of soil and make sure it’s kind of moist. This is already fairly moist because it has rained in the last couple days, and just start playing with it to see if you can figure out a little bit about your soil texture.
Your soil texture is how much sand, silt and clay you have in your soil, sort of the proportion of those things, and the fact that I can do this quite easily means to be that this is not a sandy soil because if you’ve been on a beach you can’t do that with sand.
There’s obviously some clay and/or some silt in here because both clay and silt can do this. So then you can start doing kind of a ribbon test where you try to roll this thing out and oh!…there’s a poor worm in there!
You roll that out, see how long of a ribbon you can roll and if it kind of stops there – you have more of a silty soil, if it stops at maybe a couple of inches. But if you can roll it out into something that’s a few inches long its getting to be a few inches long its more clay.
That’s what this looks like it is doing. Another thing to look at is if it stains your fingers if you kind of rub it. Clay really stains your fingers. And my fingers are definitely getting stained here. So, I know there’s some clay in here.
Whereas silt is more related to sand, it’s a little grainier so there’s one thing. Let’s start with that. That’s texture. Very useful to figure out just what you have for texture and I know here I have kind of a clay soil.
The next thing I might want to do is just to start digging. I just want to know how easy it is to dig in here is. What do I have going on in here?
Count the earthworms, too. What you might want to do is dig about a cubic foot of soil, count the earthworms in there and see how many you have. See what you’re starting with because you want to usually get more.
You want to have at least 10 earthworms in that square foot. More lie 20 or 30 would be wonderful. I want to see how easy it is to dig in here.
I want to see maybe how deep does my topsoil go? Is there a layer where is turns to be a different color? Because I want to know what I’m starting with (because I want to improve that), what I start with to see if I’m improving it.
I also want to look at the roots in here and see if the roots are healthy. See if they have some fine little root hairs, which means there’s enough oxygen in the soil.
I want to keep digging, this is the kind of stuff people skip because it’s not that fun, I guess for most people. It’s a lot of fun for me! I’ve already seen 10 earth worms so that’s a pretty good sign. It’s fairly easy to dig.
I want to kind of see if there’s organic matter down in here. If it’s a nice, dark soil or is it more like concrete or is it not a nice dark color? So, there are all kinds of things to look at and it’s hard to explain in one video.
I’ll get more into it in the Academy but this is something that you just want to start digging and seeing. For example through texture, now I know that I have a clay soil. It helps me to find what kind of plants to plant.
It helps I know the clay soil is going to hold more water and so I can apply more water really helps with my irrigation scheduling. I can apply more water to this at one time, whereas if it was sandy the sandy soil doesn’t hold much water so I have to apply less, but apply it more often.
Also with this clay I know that it’s going to hold more nutrients so that I can fertilize more.
There’s a bunch of stuff that is helps to figure out. Its helps me to figure out with water, with fertility, with what kind of plants to plant, all that kind of stuff.
So, I really encourage you before you do anything in your vegetable garden is just get digging in there and like I said I’ll talk more about this. But, that is a really good first step for garden soil testing.