by Dan Carney, Water Conservation Manager
How would you describe the soil in your garden: sandy, loamy or gumbo? Whatever the texture, it should be teeming with beneficial organisms ranging in size from squirming earthworms to microscopic fungi. As many as 1 billion bacteria can live in a teaspoon of soil according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s a lot of life!
Healthy soil supports a complex food web, where nutrients are recycled and made available to your plants. Investing in your garden soil is like investing in a healthy diet and exercise—it helps you live a long and happy life.
For example, think about a time when you tasted a homegrown tomato or sweet corn that was bursting with flavor. Besides being delicious, they were packed with nutrients that came right out of the soil.
When you are planning a new Marin-friendly landscape or food garden, consider getting your soil tested. It’s an easy way to find out about the pH, nitrogen balance and overall health of your soil. You can buy a do-it-yourself testing kit for as little as $20, or send your soil sample off to a professional testing laboratory for around $50. Here’s what you need to do:
- Go to the Marin Master Gardeners Gardening Resources webpage, under “Soil & Compost,” and find the testing solution that works best for you.
- Follow the package or laboratory’s instructions on how to collect the soil samples. Typical collection instructions go something like this:
- With a hand trowel and one-quart zip-lock bag in hand, dig down 4-6 inches below the soil surface and scoop up a dozen small samples from different areas of your garden. Fill the bag about half full and mix the samples together.
- If you’re sending the sample to a lab, tightly seal and label the bag and mail it as soon as possible. If you’re testing it yourself, just follow the instructions on the test kit.
One advantage of sending the sample to a lab is you can ask for recommendations on the type and quantity of amendments your soil needs. Keeping your soil in top condition will help your plants grow stronger with less water, produce tastier veggies and fruit, and reduce pest and disease problems. It costs a few dollars more and is well worth it.