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Take the Drudgery Out of Soil Testing

By   /  March 27, 2013  /  Comments Off on Take the Drudgery Out of Soil Testing

With everything else you have to do, soil testing may not be high on your list. Here’s a way to get it done and have a little fun too.

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happy-dirty-kidRemember when you were a kid and it was the best thing in the world to spend an afternoon playing in the dirt?  We made dams, dug tunnels, made little roads for our trucks, filled them with dirt and made piles.  And then we grew up, and dirt became soil, and we turned it into a job.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Soil testing can be fun.  Here’s how.

1.  Get ahold of your state or local Extension office to find out where you can submit soil for testing and where to get the forms.  Many are downloadable.  Worried about the cost?  Soil testing is cheaper than investing in the wrong soil treatment.

2.  Pick a nice day, and a pasture that doesn’t seem to be performing as well as you’d like.  You’ve been thinking about ways to improve its fertility, but you know in the back of your mind that you ought to find out what’s under all that vegetation before you throw money on it.  You’re going to be taking a little walk in this field, so keep it between 1 and 5 acres.

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3.  Gather your supplies.  You’ll need a soil probe, a small pipe, or a small shovel, and a plastic bucket to collect all the samples.  Carry all that in one hand and a cooler with your favorite beverage in the other.  Take some friends, your spouse or your kids.

4.  Stroll across your pasture, zig zagging here and there.  When you were a kid, you probably would have imagined that you were a race car driver, swerving to avoid other cars and pedestrians.  You’re older now, so imagine what makes you happiest.  Stop here and there to gather soil samples. You want to collect the top 4 to 6 inches of soil.  Dump it in your bucket after you’ve removed all the above ground plant material and/or thatch.  If you’re a prankster, take time to shove this down the shirt of the folks with you.

5.  Hang out, enjoy the weather.  Pause for some refreshment from your cooler.

6.  After you’ve collected 15 to 20 samples, mix it up in the bucket.  (We suggested plastic because sometimes metal can interact with the sample, but this isn’t a huge concern.)

mud-bloco_da_lama_2011_f_0306.  Fill a zip-style sandwich bag with a softball-sized scoop from your 15-20 sample mix.  Now you’re thinking, “Really?!  I collected all those samples for this little bit?!”  Well, you got a representative sample, just like the folks who run polls, so the soil tester will be able to give you better results.  What should you do with the rest?  If you were a kid you’d make mud pies and fling them at your friends. You choose what’s best.

7.  Have another beverage while you fill out the soil testing lab’s form.  Tell them that you are using this as pasture so that they can give you the right recommendations.  Don’t forget to write down the name or number of the field you sampled so that you can match your results to the right place.

9.  Write your check, post the sample(s) and form(s) and wait for your results.

10. When you get your results, if you have questions, call your local Extension Agent or the number listed on your test results.

Happy Sampling!

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About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

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