...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This Is a Public Service Announcement...

What is Garden Helper doing with a shovel this time of year? (Besides helping re-plant our mailbox which frost heaving lifted right out of the ground?) And...

Why is he visiting this obscure little building hidden behind the fairgrounds and across from our town's post office?

Soil testing! It's that time of year, late enough that the soil has thawed enough to dig up a representative quart jar to take for analysis, but early enough that any soil amendments can be made before planting season begins.

We only took one jar, but if our garden were bigger we could have taken multiple samples from various parts of the total area. Just what is a soil test, you ask? Here's the definition according to a brochure provided by our county's soil and water conservation department.
A soil test is a process by which elements (phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, boron, sulfur, manganese, copper, iron and zinc) are chemically removed from the soil and measured for their 'plant available' content within the sample. The quantity...in the sample determines the amount of fertilizer or other soil amendment that is recommended. A soil test also measures soil pH, organic matter and cation exchange capacity. These analyses indicate whether lime is needed and, if so, how much to apply.
In our county, a basic test costs $30. A complete test adds testing for conductivity, boron, copper, iron, manganese, sulfur and zinc and costs another $10. If the department takes the sample onsite for you, an extra $70 service fee applies. (Should I tell Garden Helper about that sample collection service fee? Hmmm.) The process was quite simple. We filled out an application that told what our purpose was for this particular batch of soil. We reported it was for a vegetable garden, but we could have asked for analysis for everything from a fruit tree orchard to a golf course putting green. Then, we handed over the jar of dirt, the application form and the check. Garden Helper was nonplussed. "That's it?" He asked. I think he had visions of pulling on latex gloves and poring over a microscope himself.

Nope, Garden Helper, they do all the work and report the findings in a simple email. Our work begins when we see what their chemists find.
Besides soil testing, this county government service offers well-water testing, landscaping plans for conservation practices, and erosion control plans. Not every county charges the same fees for these services. You may even find you country still offers soil testing for free, but that's a rare find these days. What's more our particular dept. offer products for sale--like rain barrels, tumbling composters and bird nest boxes--which help support their office.

As their brochure concludes:
Unfortunately, as budgets tighten, the SWCD has to look for ways to bring in more funding so we can continue the high level of service Hamilton County residents have come to expect. By purchasing items or paying for services offered by SWCD, you are helping us continue to fulfill our mission, protecting Hamilton County's environment and natural resources for future generations.

I think a rain barrel, or at least a bird nest box might be in order. This is one government department I'd like to see thrive!
Happy testing!

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