Saturday, November 5, 2011

Soil Sampling

Before I bid on a piece of land to buy or rent, I really want soil test data. Soil testing is not exact but it is the best tool we have to start raising crops and gardens. Very few people I know do this though before they bid and you would be shocked by the amount of farmers and gardeners who never soil test.

Keep sampling easy. You can do it with a good spade or shovel. The basic concept is to take a representative sample or slice of soil in several spots in the garden and I like about one sample per acre in a field as a starting point. Slice down to plow depth or 6-8 inches deep and put that slice in a clean bucket. You can pry the soil over easier with a spade to get your thin slice.

An easier and more accepted way is to buy or borrow a soil probe. Probes come in many styles but they take a one inch or so round core as deep as you push the probe into the ground. The probe I am using now you can buy from Gempler's or other supply stores for about $100. It is stainless steel, takes 12 inch deep samples and has a foot peg to help you get those last few inches of tighter soil.

If I sampled 40 acres I have 25-40 probes of soil in the bucket. I air dry them if they are damp like they are here today and then crumble each core into loose soil. Thoroughly mix the soil which is generally darker near the top and lighter colored near the bottom. Fill the soil sample bag to the fill line and carefully mark the bag to match the paperwork you send in.

Most labs give the kits away to get your business. Mine comes in boxes of 100 sample bags and recording sheets from Midwest Labs in Omaha, Nebraska. You can call or order online or take it to your lab if it is nearby like Spectrum Analytic here in Washington Court House, Ohio.

I use Midwest as it uses the same chemical extraction method my former lab did, the ammonium acetate extraction. Most labs use Mehlich III extraction now but I prefer the older method. It costs $12 instead of $6 but the information is a little more exact. Either one is fine. The main thing is do it because it helps you budget and raise better crops!

This week might be the last week we have to get this done in decent weather so get it done, now. If you use Midwest, just write down my account number 11085, HyMark Consulting LLC and I will get a copy of the report. You can call or email me and we can discuss the results.

If a farm needs $200 per acre in lime and fertilizer over those that need $100 worth per acre, it makes a big difference in you budget and your expected yield. "Don't guess, soil test!"


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