The world has woken up again. Phoebes are building their nests and owl chicks are fledging. The garlic is poking through the mulch and the soil is dry enough to work. As we begin to make our way back into the garden, it is time to consider the list of spring ‘To Dos’ that we are confronted with. For me, the one that has often slipped through the cracks is attaining a professional soil test. It is pretty easy to roll from one season into the next and assume that the growing conditions should remain the same. The problem is, over time the soil changes, and it is important to collect some baseline data now and again to be sure you are on the right track both with your amendments and also your rotation.
Soil tests offer up some valuable information that often explains patterns you may already be seeing within your garden. Have you ever planted beets in one location and watched them flourish and then planted them in a new location where they languish and refuse to size up? Beets are very sensitive to soil chemistry. Often a small Boron deficiency can be the difference between a successful crop and a near failure. Although through observation, you can pose plausible guesses as to the problem (after reading a myriad of articles on the subject) it is much wiser to throw down a little bit of money and have a professional soil analysis done. This is especially true if you intend to garden in the same place for an extended period of time.
There are several forms of soil test available. Some are more intensive and offer up a broader zone of information on trace mineral content including Boron, Zinc and Arsenic. Some are more specific to the most common deficiencies such as Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Percentage Organic Matter and Soluble Salt content. The soil test will tell you the amounts (often in parts per million) present in your garden soil. It will also clearly lay out if more of a specific nutrient should be added for optimal plant growth and will give a recommendation on how much remediation is needed to reach optimization. The broader of the tests is more expensive but should be done at least once to understand the basic soil chemistry of your gardening soil.
Contact the WSU Chelan/Douglas Master Gardener Diagnosis Clinic for recommendations on where to have your soil test performed. There are several options.