Should you test your soil?
Do you need to test your soil?
The honest answer is probably not. If you are growing healthy looking plants that are producing flowers and fruit, then your soil probably does not have any major issues that would require testing. However, you could benefit from testing your soil if your plants look sick, don’t seem to be growing properly, or are undersized. Plants that are not growing as expected may be suffering from an imbalance (too little or too much) of certain nutrients (e.g. Nitrogen) or the presence of contaminants in the soil and testing your soil at this point could identify the problem and help you remedy it.
First – Rule out pests and diseases.
Before testing your soil, you want to make sure that garden pests or disease aren’t causing the problem. Resources are available online and in garden shops to help you identify and rid your plants of various garden pests and disease. One valuable local resource is the University of California Master Gardener Association of San Diego County. Please check out their article, “Pest and Disease Management”. You can also contact the Master Gardener Association directly through the Master Gardener Hotline to get answers to your agricultural and home gardening questions.
Second – Rule out contaminants.
Once you have ruled out pests and disease, testing your soil may be the next step. If you suspect that your soil could be contaminated, you should investigate further to identify the potential toxins so you can come up with a plan to remediate your soil. The Soil Science Society of America has an excellent article, “Soil Contaminants”, to help you sleuth out natural and human-introduced pollutants. They also provide links to resources for testing and remediation.
Third – Remedy an imbalance of nutrients in soil.
If you have ruled out pests, disease, and contaminants, then your problem is likely to be an imbalance of nutrients in the soil. One of the best and easiest ways to improve your soil and increase nutrients is to add our organically certified (OMRI) Valley’s Best Compost® to your soil. Many gardeners have reported amazing results when they add it to their garden beds once or twice a year. This manure-based compost is a great source of organic Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium that is slowly released over time to your plants.
Lastly – You may want to test the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio.
For a nominal fee you can also have your soil tested to determine the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio (C:N) which is used as an indicator of healthy soil. An ideal C:N ratio is between 10:1 and 20:1. Farmers often plant cover crops and till them into the soil to improve the C:N ratio for growing healthier plants. Adding Valley’s Best Compost® is a similar practice that is used to do the same thing. It can improve the soil C:N ratio while also introducing beneficial macro and micro-nutrients.
Improving soil using the organic approach is always a winning method!
There are many soil tests available to identify the levels of nutrients in your soil, but in most cases it is unnecessary. Instead, use an organic approach of amending your soil with Valley’s Best Compost® on a regular basis and simply observe the results in your healthy, productive plants! With this approach, you will be improving your soil consistently over time which will lead to improved plant growth and vigor.
To find out more about using compost to improve your soil, refer to my Guidelines for Using our Manure-based Valley’s Best Compost®. Feel free to email me any questions.