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Soil Testing for Happier Plants and People

A guest post from my friend (and freelance writer) Katie Nopper DePasquale.

It may not sound all that exciting, but soil testing for home gardens is awesome. This is because a soil analysis tells you exactly what to do to achieve optimal plant happiness in your specific soil. You get instructions about how much of a particular nutrient to add to your yard, you add it, and voilà, you’ve created the best environment possible for that plant’s healthy growth. This knowledge is key for people like me, who are interested in having pretty and edible things surround their houses but struck by a whiny, “do-I-have-to” feeling when gardening time comes around.

Nico taking a soil sample.

Because our house is from the ’20s, in addition to lovely gumwood molding we likely have some lead paint lurking on our shingles, and that’s why we initially decided to test the dirt where we planned to plant our vegetable garden. The website for the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Soil and Plant Tissue Testing Lab gave us nice, clear instructions for collecting and submitting samples. A week and $10 later, they returned three pages of scientific analysis and three more of soil improvement suggestions. Apparently our yard is perfect for growing strawberries and raspberries, but our vegetables need a bit of help. They told us to add manure and dried blood to the garden for the nitrogen, and then there’s the bone meal we should add for phosphorus. Sound appetizing yet?

Before I bought a house and started in my limited way to garden, I had never pictured soil testing as something a homeowner would want to do. It’s not as if it removes all the work of gardening, of course! Only hiring a gardener will do that. But knowing what to give your plants from the outset does greatly increase your likelihood of positive results (less dead plants!), and having a test done takes the guesswork out of deciding where to start. That makes it a win in my book. I may not find gardening to be any more relaxing than I used to, but at least I can enjoy going out to my little plot of tomatoes and zucchini and pulling something off the vine to go with dinner.

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