Today I have a very simple home soil testing process for you.
You may be more interested in learning about topics such as:
- How to get rid of insect and disease pests, and
- How to grow the best-tasting tomatoes ever, and
- Which fertilizers to apply to improve your soil
And I’m looking forward to teaching you these topics.
But the thing is, we absolutely need to go over this home soil testing stuff first.
In fact, it may not seem like it yet, but I’m actually already starting to teach you the above because if you can do this step that so many gardeners never bother to do, which is learn about your soil and get some good soil test results, aphids and juicy tomatoes and soil imbalances will be so much easier to address.
In fact, within a few years, you’re going to be able to consistently grow big, nutrient-dense, pest-free yields of your favorite tomatoes, or strawberries, or garlic and basil for pesto, or whatever you want to grow.
I say a few years because it does often take a while to improve soil so as to get exceptionally healthy plants.
But not to worry, that doesn’t mean you won’t see excellent results this year, too.
Getting high-quality vegetable harvests (or big bursts of flowers if that’s your thing) year after year can take some time, but growing food so tasty that it gives you goosebumps can most definitely happen in year one or two and will get better almost every year after that.
And it starts for me with this simple home soil testing.
We’ve looked at what soil is made of and how it’s formed, and now it’s time to look at your soil.
Eventually, you might want to get into some more specific soil testing through one of the soil testing labs I recommend, and I’ll get into more detail in an upcoming lesson.
But even though I may bring out a little home soil test kit once in a while just for kicks, I still start with some simpler tests I can do myself.
I enjoy this process so much that I do it every year or two in order to track my progress. I even keep a diary so I can remember where I started.
It’s very easy. It takes me less than half an hour. The hardest part is walking out to the garden or lawn and digging a hole that’s about 1 cubic foot – 12 inches deep, long and wide.
Place that soil on a tarp or garbage bag, and then it’s time to play and observe and take notes:
- Is the soil easy to dig or is it like concrete?
- Is it a nice dark brown indicating good organic matter or a less-than-optimal beige, gray or blue indicating low organic matter and lack of air?
- Does it smell like rotten eggs indicating perhaps poor drainage, or a nice, earthy forest floor indicating a healthy soil food web?
- Does the ribbon test mentioned in the first lesson point to an especially sandy or clay soil that needs amending?
- Or does the soil you pulled out fall apart like beach sand, or does it stick together in huge clumps meaning it is probably heavy clay, again, either of which may need amending?
- If you dug in an area with roots, like a lawn, do they go nice and deep or do they stop short, indicating compaction or a hardpan layer in the soil that needs to be broken up?
- Are there different kinds of insects, and (in most regions) at least 10 earthworms, indicating the soil is a healthy place for them to live, or if not, indicating the soil needs help?
If you’ve skimmed these bullets quickly and are now going to go back to reading your email instead of digging a hole in your garden, I understand.
It is often much more fun to read about doing something than to get out of your chair and do it – I do that all the time.
Plus, it may be winter where you are.
So all I will say is just keep it in the back of your mind that the next time you are working in your organic garden, it might be a good idea to dig a hole and take a few notes on it.
Doing this home soil testing won’t solve the whole soil puzzle, but answering these questions does give you all kinds of information you can use.
Like if your soil needs a lot of compost or could use some tilling or double digging, how to water and which fertilizers to apply, which plants to incorporate, and so on.
Then you can move onto improving that soil and making a garden bed, and eventually into doing some more fancy pants soil testing at home, both of which we’ll get into in the coming lessons.
What’s your biggest question about how to improve your own soil? Ask me below and I’ll get back to you…