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What’s in your soil?

Soil is the soul of the garden.

Good soil contains nutrients, organic matter, and beneficial microbes. It stores water and oxygen to be delivered directly to the roots of our precious edibles and ornamentals, and it protects those roots from big temperature changes that could freeze or burn them.

Conversely, a “bad” soil is any soil that doesn’t do all of those things. Soil in which the same crop has been grown year after year (monoculture) is depleted of important nutrients. Soils that have a heavy clay content don’t soak up much water, and the density doesn’t allow space for the oxygen plants needs. Soils with too much sand won’t hold on to water for later use.

So many things that can be wrong with garden soil, but each can be remedied if the gardener only knows what is wrong. A simple soil test is the first step.

Soil Testing KitAs I begin the process of building a permaculture garden, I want to know as much as the land can teach me along the way. Before adding any amendments or fertilizers, I ordered a soil testing kit from the UGA Extension. The kit was easy to use and the process was spelled out clearly for first-timers.

To collect the soil sample, it is recommended to work in a zigzag pattern across the area, collecting soil from several spots. Once the soil is collected and free of rocks, roots, and other debris, it should be poured onto a flat surface to dry. I  poured mine onto a few sheets of newspaper.

Drying the Soil Sample for Soil Testing

Once the sample is dry, it is poured into the provided soil sample bag. A form is provided with the kit that should be filled out with basic identifying information, along with information on the type of plants that will be grown in the soil.  On my form, I selected Herbs and Home Vegetable Garden as the majority of my garden will contain edibles. There are code choices for everything from lawn grasses to ornamentals, and of course, my beloved edibles.

Soil Sample Bag

The sample and completed form need only be tucked into the prepaid mailer and sent back to the Extension. According to the pamphlet I received, the results from the sample I sent off today should be back within 7 to 10 days. When I receive my results, I will share them here and talk more about basic soil building and soil maintenance, along with more information about what I am doing to improve the soil on our suburban lot turned permaculture garden space.

Have you ever had a soil test done? If so, what were the results like and what did you do about them?

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