Testing the soil

In all the years that I have been growing roses, there is one thing, a very basic thing, that I have not had done.  I have not had the soil tested.  Oh, at one point, I got a small DIY kit but it was so small that I was never able to get anything out of it that made sense.   And I think I tried a hand-held pH meter at one point but, again, I could never get it to register anything that made sense.   pH (how acid or alkaline) of the soil is critical to the availability of the other minerals/nutrients in the soil.  Different minerals are available to the plants at different pH ranges. If the soil is well outside that range, it doesn’t really matter how much of a particular nutrient you dump on the plant, it can’t absorb it…  So you have to compromise and find the pH sweet spot of best availability for the different nutrients.  For roses, that spot is pH 6.5-7, which is slightly acidic to neutral.   Other plants, like tomatoes and azaleas, like more acidic soil.  And did I mention that the soil in this area tends to be acidic?  Odds are my soil is too acid and will need to get the pH up.  Still, you need to know what the pH is currently to know how much lime to apply to bring it up to the right level.

What I really needed was to have the soil tested at a lab that would give me a comprehensive report about what nutrients the soil needs and recommendations regarding how to get the pH correct.  Believe it or not, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture will do that for free.   Well, it’s really intended for all the commercial farmers out there growing crops like corn or beans or the like and it was free year around until a couple of years ago.  Recently, they added a charge if you submit your samples between Thanksgiving and March…. the rest of the year, they will test your soil for free.  So even though I not a commercial farmer, I can use the service.   My tax dollars at work !

So, several weeks ago, I found the stash of sample boxes and looked up the process.  Well, I really found them last fall, which was when I learned about the peak time fee… so lets say I re-rediscovered them.  It was April so we were back in the “just ship us the samples in these little boxes and we will test them and email/mail you your report in a week or two at no charge”.   I want to say I have have had those sample boxes for over 12 years.  [sigh]  Water over the dam….

One day, a couple of weeks ago, I collected 6 buckets/pans/dishes (non-metallic) and a trowel and went out into the garden.  Six because I have 6 rose beds.  I collected multiple scoops of dirt from each bed and mixed them together, each bed getting its own container.  I found the soil to be quite damp and I had difficulty getting it to break up into smaller clods so I left the bins in the workshop to dry.  This past weekend, I finally got around to checking them and they were dry alright.  Now the clods of dirt were like rocks… ok, some were ACTUALLY rocks.  I ended up using a hammer to break up the clods.

Yesterday, I actually filled out the form, labeled the boxes, filled them to the prescribed line, and boxed those up and mailed them to the NC Dept of Ag Soil Testing Service.  Six samples cost me $10 to ship.  I had heard that you could just drop of the samples at the lab, which is on Blue Ridge Rd in Raleigh (practically on my way to work…) , but you have to “got around back” and I was never able to track down the specifics on what door that really meant…. so I just mailed them.

So, in a week or two, depending on how busy the lab is when my sample set arrives, I should get a detailed report.  And then I can figure out how to translate the “apply x pounds of lime per acre” translates down to my garden size.  But that’s just math… I am good at math….