Sunday, April 8, 2012

Testing Testing 123--First Soil Test!

After three years of gardening, I finally got around to doing a soil test. I had put it off because I found the instructions a little confusing, as they recommend sampling various areas throughout the garden, and that did not seem applicable to my situation. I garden in raised beds and purchased topsoil to combine with my native clay soil, and because my plants have all done fairly well (except sweet peppers), I was just in no hurry. But when I noticed how sad my blueberries were looking, I knew it was time. Those flowers at the left may look pretty, but this picture does not tell the story. My bushes should be larger and more productive. Some of them even appear sickly.
After picking up the sample box and form at my library (check your cooperative extension service for information), I began with the blueberries, which are planted among perennials in a bed along my back fence. A home test had indicated the soil was not acidic--a big no-no for blueberries. I wanted to confirm that and see if there were other nutrient deficiencies.

First, I brushed aside the mulch.
Then, I dug a slice of soil from around all six blueberry bushes. 
Next, I mixed the soil together in a pot.
Finally, I packed it into a box, filled out a form indicating what I wish to grow in this soil (blueberries), and shipped it to the indicated lab, in my case Virginia Tech.

I then did the same for my asparagus/strawberry bed and a combo from three of my vegetable beds, which were built at the same time using similar soil. The results came back quickly--within two weeks, and good news! Though the acidity problem was confirmed, there were no other specific recommendations. The topsoil I have been purchasing from garden centers (combined with nearly equal amounts of compost plus the existing soil) is good stuff. The lab suggested nitrogen, but they do not test for that, it is just a general recommendation for vegetable gardening. I provide plenty of nitrogen when I side-dress my plantings with compost. Plus, I use fish emulsion to fertilize. So, I'm all set. All nutrients were rated as sufficient, high, or very high, except a medium for potassium. The lab did not recommend addressing that, so I'll sit tight, but kelp is a source of potassium that I will research further. My only task will be to head to the garden center for sulfur to lower the pH of my blueberry soil this weekend. Hopefully more than a handful of berries is in my future.

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