Every once in a while we wonder how good our soil actually is. Be it that you get a decent yield or that you seem to be growing lesser than they do in the Sahara desert!  But before you jump into the conclusion that you need a soil test, read twice!

A soil test reveals nutrient and contaminant content, composition, acidity and pH level. It can also determine fertility, expected growth potential of the soil, reveal nutrient deficiencies and so on. Sounds great! You should be getting your soil tested immediately right? How you could do with all these numbers you may think.

Well here’s the thing. There’s only so much you could do with those numbers. Just say for example, you find out that you have a deficiency in one of the major nutrients nitrogen. Now nitrogen content in your soil can easily be enhanced by adding fresh compost or ground coffee. When your crop comes out you could still be surprised that it hasn’t really become much better. Yes, Mother Nature is a hard nut to crack and she is sort of unpredictable. So even though a soil test gives an insight of the quality and characteristics of your soil, it’s unreasonable to expect to an awesome yield after rectifying key shortcomings.

Don’t be downtrodden now! You can save that soil test money and evaluate (to some extent) the soil yourself. Vincent Lazaneo, an urban horticulture adviser believes the first question to ask yourself before you get a soil test is “Why you want a soil test?”! He says that if plants or weeds are growing in the area then you may not need a test. It would be cheaper to just add a little fertilizer and compost to enhance your plant performance. If the soil is too sandy you could add an organic amendment to help it hold up water. If it’s the clay-type soil, adding compost would help loosen the soil up thereby helping roots get nutrients easily.

If you do eventually decide to get a soil test done, send it to a lab and insist on getting an interpretation of the results. A number, by itself, doesn’t really tell you much. It can vary, depending on what substance the lab used  to extract the various nutrients from the soil, warns Lazaneo.

Also, the first two things a test should indicate is the soil’s pH- how acidic or alkaline it is- and it’s salinity. pH affects the availability of nutrients to plants and most plants grow best in slightly acidic conditions (each plant is different so check before making all your soil acidic). If your pH is too high, you can correct it by adding soil sulfur or peat moss. Salinity test as the name indicates tells you how salty the soil is. Plants like us humans do not like salty water. Enough water though can wash away the salt.

To test or not to test IS the question!

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