Testing soil?

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How do you find out how fertile your soil is or if something needs to be added to it to make plants grow better? Is this something that you need to instinctively know, or are there special testing kits you can buy to test your soil for nutrients?
 
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Rosy, there are PH kits available at big box stores, and at nurseries. That will tell you if you can grow acid loving, or alkali loving plants.
For nutrients, probably the best way to get a true reading and valid advice is to go to your local agricultural college or your county agricultural agent, and get a soil test kit. The directions are very clear, and after you take samples you can submit them to either the college or state agency for free or for little cost. The results will tell you what you need to add in the way of nutrients/fertilizers.
Personally, I have found that adding composted manure and compost pretty well takes care of all the soil needs. What is needed is used, and what isn't needed, isn't used. Phosphorus and nitrogen are the primary fertilizers needed for our blackland prairie soils. Calcium isn't needed, since we are pretty rich in that. I don't know where you are in zone 8b, but wherever you are, you can get help in analyzing your soil and its needs.
 
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Soil test kits will show what nutrients are in your soil and in what amounts but they will not tell you if the nutrients are available to the plants. To find out if the nutrients are available one must send soil samples to a soil testing lab. The best of these can be found at www.texasplantandsoillab.com. A full workup will cost about $100 and will tell you everything there is to know about your soil including NPK, trace minerals and what you need to do to grow a particular plant or plants.
 
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Soil test kits will show what nutrients are in your soil and in what amounts but they will not tell you if the nutrients are available to the plants. To find out if the nutrients are available one must send soil samples to a soil testing lab. The best of these can be found at www.texasplantandsoillab.com. A full workup will cost about $100 and will tell you everything there is to know about your soil including NPK, trace minerals and what you need to do to grow a particular plant or plants.
Seems like a small price to pay in order to get some good results. The testing should pay for itself within a couple of years if I am able to grow most of my own food. Thanks for the help.
 
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It is not appropriate to have the soil tested if you are just into backyard farming. What my husband does is to check on the textture of the soil. But to maintain the fertility, we use the water from washing meat and fish as fertilizers. That water with meat and fish juice is very healthy for the plants and it gives the soil a bit of a boost. But for the best results, the soil is mixed with compost and other potting materials before we plant on it.
 
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Actually getting some testing is worth the cost even for backyard farming. My ex had a mother who wasted thousands of dollars attempting to grow stuff that failed spectacularly rather than test the soil for what's suitable. The topsoil in this region is pretty thin and seems alright on the surface but below it is pure solid nutrient deficit clay, making growing over half the stuff she wanted nearly impossible due to soil composition. After testing, I made a raised garden bed for her because the time it would take to augment the soil well enough in her original bed to do the things she wanted would take a while when she wanted to grow some stuff in the meantime.
 

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