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How to Grow Healthier Vegetables with a Soil Test

By February 17, 2015 March 23rd, 2016 Garden Planning, Soil & Amendments, Uncategorized

There is one simple trick to massively improving your backyard garden. It is easy, costs about $30, and can help you achieve the following three things :

  1. Increased production or yield.
  2. Increased nutrient density of your vegetables.
  3. Stronger plants that are more resistant to pests and disease.

The trick: Testing Your Garden Soil and Amending Based on the Results

Soil testing is by far the most important thing to create a healthy garden. A soil test looks at the chemistry of the soil, which is invisible to the human eye. And the structure and biology of the soil (things you often can see) are directly connected to what is happening chemically in the soil.

There are dozens of soil testing labs. Most Colorado gardeners use the CSU Soil Lab. CSU is a great option, because their testing methods are developed for Colorado soils. However, the CSU lab uses a “sufficiency level” approach to testing, which was developed for large-scale farms. Their tests basically assess whether you have sufficient or toxic levels of individual nutrients. This approach works well when amending large farms, but in small scale vegetable gardens the relative amount of nutrients in the soil to each other is more important than whether or not you have “enough” phosphorous or potassium or anything else. Excessive nutrients that are out of proportion are often times just as detrimental – or more detrimental – than not having enough of an individual nutrient in small gardens. So, we typically use labs that take a “BCSR approach” to testing, which focuses on the proportionate quantity of nutrients to one another. This tells us what’s truly needed to achieve nutrient dense, healthy, pest and disease resistant plants.  For this reason, we suggest using Midwest Labs or Logan Labs. Just be sure that Midwest Labs does the correct tests for Colorado soils (ask for Olsen Bicarbonate). Or, use the Logan Labs form already filled out (choose the AEA Base Test Plus).

Here’s How To Get A Soil Test

  1. Use a clean trowel to collect soil from various locations in your garden. The more locations the better. Take soil from the top 6″ of the garden, avoiding any leaves or mulch on the top.
  2. Mix all the samples together in a clean 5 gallon bucket, or on a clean tarp.
  3. After mixing, take 1-2 cups of soil and put it in a ziplock bag and label the sample.
  4. Send in the soil sample to Midwest Labs. Just include your name, contact information, and the name of your sample. The lab will call you later for payment, which will be $26.50.

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  • DL says:

    Wow! Thank you for this guidance!

  • Deborah Antener says:

    Thank you so much! Do you do home visits? I have 3 separate raised garden boxes. Should I do a soil sample from each box. The furthest one gets more sun then the other 2, the middle one is a mostly sun but get some shade from a pine tree the the last one gets early sun but’s pretty shady In the afternoon. It’s also directly under the pine tree.

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