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Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Sweet Spot


The sweet spot in soil can make all the difference in any one growing season. Time for a friendly Thursday reminder to mark somewhere in your calendar – ‘Soil Test’. Oh, but you may be saying – “Didn’t you remind us a few weeks ago and why bother you might ask.” Well, the number one reason you should test your soil is for its acidity. And although we can make guesstimates about what may be lacking or too abundant, your pH sweet spot should range from 6 to 7 with 7 being the ideal place to be.

So here are a few soil testing tips to consider as we venture into this spring’s planting season.

1) Plan on testing your soil once every two to three years. If it is a troublesome area, you should test it more frequently.
2) Always be consistent with the time of year you send in your sample. (Hence, marking it on the calendar is a helpful way to achieve that consistency with your soil fertility.)

3) Fall is the optimum time to test your soil. Why you ask? You have the winter to work and amend the soil. It’s also the best time to apply lime because it takes a few months for it to break down in the soil. It gives you a head start on the upcoming growing season. But stay consistent to achieve the best read on your soil.

4) Use the right tool to take soil samples – a soil probe is best. You can use a shovel but you need an even slice of that profile.

5) Do not skim the top. You should probe the soil to get a 6” deep vertical slice of top soil; maximum 8”. Any sample sent to the lab that is too high or too deep skews the final test results.

6) You must mix your sample extremely well to ensure a homogenous mix. The lab will only use a smidgen of what you send them for testing. Therefore, if you didn’t mix it well, you will not get true and accurate results of the soil. 

7) Even if you are testing a small area, you should send the best representative sample. This means a minimum of 12 samples should be taken and mixed together. Again, you want to ensure it is homogenous within a small area. And if within that area, you have a troublesome spot, send a separate sample or keep it out of your sample test. 

8) Make sure your soil sample is dry in your bag. Prior to testing, the lab needs to dehydrate the soil. Therefore, the drier your soil sample that you send to the lab, the faster you’ll receive your testing results. 

So here I am, already beyond my limit of a few soil testing tips. Time to wrap it up with a quote from Daniel Coyle, as written in his book, ‘The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math and Just About Everything Else.’

“The sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp. Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it's about seeking a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.” And that includes our soil, the garden and the ultimate design of your outdoor space.

Images by Ann Bilowz ©

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© 2009 Ann St. Jean-Bilowz/Bilowz Associates Inc. (including all photographs, unless otherwise noted in Annie's Gardening Corner are the property of Bilowz Associates Inc. and shall not be reproduced in any manner nor are they to be assigned to any third party without the expressed written permission and consent of Bilowz Associates Inc.)