Conservation Corner

Soil Testing: Why the Fall?

While we are holding on to the last few weeks of this year’s attempt at summer, I think many of us are also looking forward to slowing down with the cooler weather. For gardeners it means less weeding, watering, and hoping those last few plants will ripen before the frost.

There is also the new pressure to get the garden ready for winter. Clearing away dead plants to limit the spread of pests and disease, removing the high tunnel plastic to prevent collapse, covering perennials like asparagus and strawberries with straw, getting space ready for fall garlic planting and this year consider adding soil testing to your list.

Why should you consider soil testing in the first place?

It prevents you from having to spend time or money feeding your garden amendments it does not need, so you can have enough nutrients for success. You can accidently over-fertilize your plants, leading to plants with brown leaves or burns. For example, too much nitrogen around a perennial plant can lead to the over production of leaves limiting its fruit production. A soil test goes beyond plant nutrients and can identify the pH, which if it is too low can limit the nutrients available to your plants. It can also identify a build-up of salts from soil amendments like manure.

If you have installed a high tunnel through Natural Resources Conservation Service, you may have done annual soil tests. The goal of getting one annually is to see patterns over time as you build your garden. It’s not necessary to get one every year once you are done with your NRCS contract, but getting one regularly will still benefit you by showing trends over time.

When to collect a soil sample?

Your growing season needs to be near completion, the ground unfrozen, and prior to planting the next seasons crops. Why? You want your soil at its end state for the year, digging up frozen soil is hard, and you want to amend prior to planting. Why not the spring? While there is nothing wrong with get a test in the spring, you’ll need to wait for the ground to thaw, get your soil sample results back and then get your amendments in the ground. It feels like such a short growing season already…who wants to wait any extra time to plant their garden?

To collect a sample, dig a 6-inch hole and remove a vertical 1-inch by 6-inch slice. Most gardens will require five representative slices combined and dried. If you have multiple gardens, collect a representative sample for each garden. If you want more details about collecting samples or getting a soil test, please reach out to Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Homer office at 907-235-8177 ext 3 or the Homer Soil and Water Conservation District at 907-235-8177 ext 111.

The Conservation Corner is a monthly column submitted by the Natural Resource Conservation Service Homer Office to highlight conservation happening around the community and how community members can apply conservation in their own back yards. Emily MacDonald is a soil conservationist in the Homer Field Office.