Never testing your garden soil is like making a cake without knowing what someone else has already added to the bowl. You might know what you want – a light, fluffy dessert. But all the white, powdery stuff in the bowl looks the same so you can only guess at what’s missing. If anything.
Fall is a great time to test your soil (you avoid the spring backlog) and North Carolina makes it easy, with free soil testing. You pay only for postage. First, pick up soil boxes at The Lord’s Acre or at The Cooperative Extension Office on Coxe Avenue. You can also pick up the accompanying form or you can now do that part online.
The process is easy but there are a few things to note:
- Use stainless steel or plastic utensils to gather samples and put those into a clean, plastic or stainless steel bowl. Using other metals can skew the test results.
- You want to take 8-10 samples from all over the area you’re testing, and dig samples from about 6-8 inches below the soil level.
- Mix those 8-10 samples in the bowl to create an aggregate that will represent the entire garden or the area you are testing.
- If you have a large garden or sections that are very different, you can test those separately.
- Fill out the soil sample box(es) before filling with soil. It’s just easier.
- Use one soil sample box for each garden or garden section you’re testing.
- When you’re asked to code your garden or an area of your garden, just make up any 4-digit combination that will help you remember where that sample came from. For example, at The Lord’s Acre, we use ‘BEDS’ for the bed section of the garden and ‘FLD1’ for the first field section.
- Begin filling the provided soil sample box(es) BUT fill only up to the red line.
- Do NOT put the soil sample in a plastic bag. Put it directly into the box(es).
- Folding the flaps of these boxes is a bit tricky. Have patience. It CAN be done. They had to create these boxes in such a way that they wouldn’t leak soil as they went through the mail so they are tight fitting.
- After a few weeks, begin checking online for your results. Results are no longer sent back through the mail.
- Your interpretations will come back in a form that recommends conventional fertilizers but you can easily convert that to more natural sources. Fifth Season (Banks Avenue, Asheville – right near the extension service) has a free catalog that explains which natural fertilizers and soil amendments can be used for whatever your soil is deficient in. Many of these fertilizers and amendments break down much more slowly than conventional ones so fall is also a good time to mix them into the top few inches of your garden soil. If you need more guidance, Google: NCSU “A gardener’s guide to soil testing.”
Buncombe County Center
94 Coxe Avenue
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 255-5202 fax
Office Hours: 8-5