Soil Test Results

Whenever you’re planning to add plants to an area where you’ve previously had rocks, dirt, landscaping, or weeds, it’s important to make sure you know the composition of your soil. This will help you when you’re choosing the fertilizers you use and it will also help you determine which kinds of plants will thrive in your space.

As you may know, we’ve decided to add a lawn and a large garden in the backyard this spring. We’re also planning to do something in the front yard, but that’s priority #2. We were completely unsure of our soil’s composition as we just moved here in October and therefore haven’t seen the growing season. We have very little evidence that anything can actually grow here. There are quite a few tumbleweeds blown up against our fence, and there are cacti out in the empty fields next to and behind our house. There are also a lot of short scrubby looking grasses, but nothing else worth noting. We also know that the climate is a huge factor here- it will get over 100° every day all summer long and we’ll likely get torrential rains each afternoon during June, July, and August. Neither of these things is exactly “good” for growing things.

Anyway, we want to do a lawn so that Hula Girl can run around barefoot and not step on a cactus, and so that we can have picnics outside. We’re also wanting the lawn so we can run through the sprinkler- what’s more awesome than that?! We want the garden because we love fresh veggies and the pickin’s around here are slim. Grocery stores charge an arm and a leg for fresh produce, and what’s available in Walmart is… well… if you don’t know the Walmart produce department, you’re better off. I am searching for a local farmer’s market, but it’s looking like the closest one is 45 minutes away.

So, in anticipation of our lawn and garden, we did our soil testing this weekend. Jonathan and Hula Girl went outside in the backyard and dug up numerous soil samples for me while I went grocery shopping. Then when I got home, I played chemist with a soil test kit from Lowe’s. You can actually find a place to perform the soil tests for you, through a local co-op or gardening organization, usually, but again… slim pickin’s around here (i.e., these types of things don’t seem to exist, even after extensive research and numerous phone calls). Store-bought in-home kit, here we come!

I followed all the directions carefully, and here are our results! Our soil is:

  • low in nitrogen
  • low in phosphorus
  • high in potassium
  • generally balanced in pH levels (7.0-7.5)

We also tested the physical components of the soil and discovered that we have a clay-like soil that doesn’t drain well. When water hits the top, it runs off easily, and the soil packs down into hardness after getting wet once. (Recall the aforementioned torrential downpours each afternoon all growing season…)

What these results mean for us:

  • We need to purchase a fertilizer that has larger amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus than potassium. When you look at a bag of fertilizer, there is a series of numbers listed, like 5-10-5. This is called the N-P-K and it shows the ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus to potassium content in the bag. So we’re going to look for something like 10-5-0.
  • The reason we’re looking for double the nitrogen is that we’ve got such clay-like soil. To amend this issue, we will have to add quite a bit of organic matter (basically, POOP) in order to “fluff it up” a bit. When organic matter decomposes, it eats away at the nitrogen in the soil, so we’ll need to add extra nitrogen. Hence, we’ll need to buy a 10-5-0 fertilizer. Capisce?
  • We do not need to add lime to raise our soil’s acidity, nor do we need to add aluminum sulphate to raise its alkalinity. Score. However, we do need to keep an eye on the pH levels since we are adding organic matter. As it decomposes, organic matter tends to decrease soil pH levels. We may find ourselves needing to add some lime later on this summer. I think we’ll test every couple of weeks or so, just to keep up with it!

We’re planning to go ahead and buy a garden tiller, like this one.  We’ll use it throughout the summer as we mix in different fertilizers and stuff, and keep our garden soil loose. But before we even get started with that, we’ll have to do a large amount of amending our soil (adding compost and fertilizers). Last summer we did it all by shovel. However, this summer, we definitely want to rent or borrow a more powerful and efficient tiller for preparing the ground for the sod and/or seeds. We will have to put organic matter and nutrients 6-8″ deep into the soil in order to give our lawn a healthy base. This will also help our garden plants grow deeper roots and have healthier soil with which to produce delicious veggies all summer long. Mmmmm….

Anyone doing any soil testing or amending? Any hints/tips for us before we “dig in”?

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