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Test soil to prep for spring

POSTED: October 11, 2013 1:00 a.m.

So the garden has stopped producing and you think there is not much to do in the garden this time of year.

Well, you are mostly right, but one thing can be done to get you ahead of the game for next year’s vegetable garden — test your soil.

Gather a sample from your garden spot so you can plan and make changes to your garden’s fertility. The results and recommendations of a soil sample will ensure all the hard work and effort that goes into your garden will not go in vain.

One of the best pieces of information from a soil sample report is the soil pH, which in a way is the “gatekeeper” of the nutrients.

When the pH is low or on the acidic side, nutrients are not available to be used by the plants even if you fertilized them. When the pH is where it needs to be in the 6.0-6.5 range, the nutrients put on the ground in the form of compost or fertilizer are easily absorbed by the plants. I often call lime a poor man’s fertilizer because you tend to see a growth response from plants as the pH goes up and nutrients become more available.

The information you receive from a soil test report is only as good as how the sample was gathered. How you take a sample in a garden spot is fairly straight forward.

To take a sample, you need a clean plastic bucket and a garden trowel or spade. Start at one corner of the garden and take a thin slice of soil about 6 inches deep. Move along the garden in a straight line 15-20 feet down and take another thin slice of soil. Add that to the bucket and mix the soil from the two spots together.

Work along the garden the same way until you reach the other end. Move over 4-6 feet and begin again, taking a sample every 15-20 feet.

Serpentine through the garden until you have covered the entire area. You should have taken about 10-15 samples from the entire garden when all is said and done.

How often you take a sample will change with the size of the garden, but make sure you are thorough and the entire garden is equally represented.

From the bucket, pour off about a pint of soil and bring it to the office. If you end up with more soil in the bucket than what you need to bring, that is fine. It is always better to have more soil than not having enough.

Soil samples brought to the office cost $8 to be processed. Results are usually ready in about 10 days. You will receive your report directly from the office either through your email or regular mail.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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