Soil Testing, Part I: Taking samples

As we were writing “Get to know your soil: Testing for nutrition, pH, and soil safety,” we figured it would be helpful if you could see exactly what the sampling & testing process looks like, so you know how to take full advantage of the soil test results. 

Though there are other soil testing organizations out there, we went with the local option down the road at UVM’s Agricultural and Environmental Testing Lab. Their basic nutrients test is $14, which includes results for basic nutrient content, pH, and organic matter, as well as fertilizer recommendations for one crop (you can choose additional crop recommendations for $2 each).

Step 1: Dig in a few spots

We picked two locations, for two separate tests (that’s $14 each, so $28 for both). We recommend digging in a few different spots around the area, mixing the soil together, and taking a sample from that. This makes sure you get a better average sampling of the soil. 

Raised bed

The first soil location was in an established raised bed on a ridge across from our office. We expect it to still be pretty rich in nutrients, though we grew corn, tomatoes, and other crops in it last season, so they may recommend recharging it with more organic matter before replanting, for best results. 

New bed

The second location was in a grassy spot behind our greenhouse, which has never been cultivated. We’re testing this spot as an example of a brand new garden bed. We’re not sure what to expect from this spot, but it looked very sandy as we dug into it!

Step 2: Mix an “average” sample

For each location you’re testing, dig a few cupfuls of soil from 3-4 spots that are spread out over the whole area you’ll be planting. Next, mix the soil together so it’s well blended.

From this, measure about a cup or two worth of soil into a zippered plastic bag, then zip it closed and label it with the name of the location. (Make sure you write a location name that’s clear to you, especially if you have samples from multiple locations; make sure it matches the “Field or sample name” on the form.)

Repeat for each location you’re testing. 

Step 3: Fill out the form

The form should be pretty self-explanatory, but feel free to give us a call if you get stuck! We’re happy to help. 

Step 4: Mail everything to UVM

Make sure your soil sample bags are clearly labeled, and that the labels match the “Field or sample name” on the form. Include a check for the total, and pop it in the mail. 

Step 5: Wait for the results! 

It takes about two weeks. We’re still waiting for ours (we mailed them on March 29th), but when we get them in, we’ll update this post to let you know!