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Why Should I Test My Soil?
By Rachel Britten, Golden Rule Mini-Farm Co-Field Coordinator

Crops Growing: Know What's In Your Soil!
Know What's In Your Soil!

Each year, as you plan your garden, what amendments do you add? The answer is likely different for each of you. Maybe you add compost, organic fertilizer or manure, or maybe nothing at all. What you do or don't add every year could be more important than you think.

First, your soil and its mineral and nutrient content are directly related to the nutrition in your garden's produce. Perhaps one of the reasons you've chosen to grow your own food is because you believe in the superior quality of organic, homegrown produce. Numerous studies comparing the nutrient content of organic and conventional produce indicate there is a higher overall nutritional content in organically grown foods; most notably increased vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus1. However, these possible nutritional advantages are dependent on the nutrient density of your soil.

The second reason soil testing is a critical part of healthful garden management is the need to know exactly what needs supplementing. When we harvest and enjoy our fruits and vegetables, we're eating water, carbon, calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, amino acids and more. Minerals and nutrients that are removed from our gardens by way of the food we consume must be replaced in a balanced way every year, or our garden's soil will become depleted.

A soil test will also let you know how much organic matter your soil contains. An adequate amount of soil organic matter supports a healthy population of microbes that will make nutrients available to your plants. In addition, it acts like a sponge, holding water and improving soil structure. Replenishing organic matter is as important as replacing nutrients, if not more so.

The important understanding here is this: minerals and nutrients that are not originally in our soils cannot be created; they must be physically added through minimal, balanced, organic amendments. Soil testing must be an ongoing process, because as we grow produce and eat it, we are effectively exporting nutrients out of our garden and depleting the organic matter. The best way to know what to add is by having a yearly soil test.

1 Virginia Worthington. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. April 2001.

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