The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Soil testing for nutrient ratios

Taking a soil sample

When we tested our soil last winter, my analysis was pretty simple.  I just wanted to make sure there weren't problematic heavy metals in the soil and that all of the useful nutrients were available in sufficient amounts.  Everything looked okay, so I didn't make any special changes after viewing my results.

Garden soilNow that I'm reading Steve Solomon's excellent book The Intelligent Gardener, though, I'm ready to move to a second tier of soil analysis.  I started considering the ratios of soil nutrients last winter, but hadn't read enough on the topic to know exactly what I was looking for and how important slight variations from optimal percentages were.  Solomon's book has sold me on the idea that these ratios are important (more on that when I write a lunchtime series about The Intelligent Gardener), and that adding amendments like gypsum to get those ratios back on track can produce huge changes in soil characteristics.

The only trouble is that the information in Solomon's book only works if you use data from a Mehlich 3 soil analysis.  Any kind of soil test will give you useful results, but you can't necessarily compare results between different types of tests, and UMass Amherst, who tested my soil last year, uses a modified Morgan extractant.

Which is all a long way of explaining why I'm biting the bullet and testing again, this time using Logan Labs, which is explicitly recommended by Solomon.  If you want to follow along, I recommend you learn about the basics of soil testing in Weekend Homesteader: January, then get your soil samples in the mail now.  I'll be analyzing my results here in early January (or whenever I finish digesting Solomon's book), and will be glad to help you do the same.

The Avian Aqua Miser is a POOP-free solution to a common homesteading problem.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Hi Anna,

I use Logan Labs agrodyne III test with my clients. I very much recommend it!

Also, be sure to get and read Mike Astra's The Ideal Soil Handbook.

I will be getting the book you talk about.

Happy Holidays.


Comment by john Fri Dec 21 10:21:25 2012
John --- This book is based strongly on Astera's method, but tweaked by Solomon to suit what he thinks are slightly better methods. I haven't actually read Astera (or Albrecht and all the others who led to these ideas), so was glad to get it all summed up in one easy-to-read book by Solomon.
Comment by anna Fri Dec 21 10:34:40 2012

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