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Kitchen Gardening

How to Start a Vegetable Garden: Testing Your Soil

Steve Aitken, Danielle Sherry, Gary Junken, and Kate Geruntho Frank

So you’re wondering how to start a vegetable or kitchen garden? Not to worry. Our seven-video series, “How to Start a Vegetable Garden,” will help you get your first veggie venture off to a good start. We’ll cover the basics: choosing a location, preparing the soil, building raised beds, starting your seedlings, and planting your garden. This video is about soil testing.

2. Testing Your Soil

One of the most important steps you can take in starting a vegetable garden is to make sure you have good soil. But you can’t tell what condition your soil is in just by looking at it. That’s where soil testing comes in.

The most important things a soil test will tell you are your soil’s pH, its texture, and its nutrient levels. The key to getting this information is to getting an accurate sample.

First, start in one corner of the garden and dig a hole. A shovel produces a cone-shaped hole, removing more soil at the surface of your hole. Since you want your sample to offer an accurate cross-section of your soil, take a slice with a spade to a depth of about six inches. Continue to take slices from 6 to 12 areas around your garden so that each area is represented. Avoid any areas that would obviously skew your results, like areas next to a building.

After you’ve taken all your slices, crumble up the soil and remove any rocks, bits of root and grass, and moss that you find. Spread it out to dry for about a day. Put it back into your container and mix it back up. Put a small sample in a sealable bag and mail it to your local extension service. What you’ll get back will be information on your pH, your soil texture, the level of organic matter in your soil, and any other specific things you request. You’ll also get fertilizer recommendations, amd you’ll learn what your next steps are toward creating healthy soil for your garden.

See more videos in this series:

1. Selecting a Site

2. Testing Your Soil
3. Removing Sod and Vegetation

4. Building Raised Beds

5. Starting Seeds Indoors

6. Direct Sowing Vegetable Seeds

7. Planting Out

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