which soil test options to choose

njitgradMay 30, 2014

Two years ago when I received a topsoil delivery for my new raised beds I had Rutgers do a basic soil test for me for $20. The results were pretty good (see photos of results below).

I am considering a followup test this week and I am wondering if I should get additional test options performed this time. I am having the tests done because the composition of my soil has changed due to things I've added in the last two years like vegetative compost, composted manure, worm castings, and vermiculite to name a few. In addition I've had trouble growing cucumbers the past two years.

The basic test (SOIL FERTILITY ANALYSES) includes: P, K, Ca, Mg, Cu, Mn, Zn, Fe, B and pH.

The next test (PROBLEM-SOLVER & SOIL SUITABILITY) includes the basic test PLUS the following: Soluble salt level, organic matter content and textural class. It costs $30 on top of the $20 basic test.

The last test (TOPSOIL EVALUATION) includes all of the above PLUS the following: sand/silt/clay percentages and gravel content. It costs $60 on top of the $20 basic test.

My assumption is that I should at least spring for the PROBLEM SOLVER & SOIL SUITABILITY test. I'm not sure if it's worth the extra $30 to get the sand/silt/clay percentages and gravel content. Or is it????

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I only have a minute, and have a very busy day scheduled ahead of me, so I only briefly scanned your soil test so forgive me if I missed a few details.

Based on a cursory glance, you are at or near toxic levels for several nutrients, so you should first learn to interpret your first test, and the actions that were appropriate the first time. It clearly indicates not to add any manures, worm castings, fertilizers, and also, don't add vermiculite to mineral soil.

The only appropriate action the first time would have been to add organic matter from a rotting vegetative source only. The second test is going to tell you the same thing, as you've upped the ante further. Hell no I wouldn't pay thirty bucks and sixty bucks extra for that test, it's not going to change anything. You probably have an excess in salts, now, too.

The only thing you need to do for several years into the future is exactly what you should have done the first year, the part about rotting vegetative matter only. It's the KISS principle, once again, and this time, even backed up by Rutgers. Rutgers shmutgers, and same to the rest of the university extension services. Best wishes, OP. M

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 11:31AM
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It doesn't matter what the university recommended in regards to synthetic ferilizers, because these are meant for farmers with typically low carbon in their soil, and adding these fertilizers becomes irrelevant and counter-productive in a rich garden soil (rich as in high in organic matter).

The farmer is stripping carbon from his soil every year, you add it. Your production will exceed the farmer and you won't need to use pesticides like the farmer if you follow the KISS principle. Add vegetative rotting matter, and skip all the fancy schmancy. Gotta go. M

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 11:41AM
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Thanks for the feedback. Unfortunately I lack experience in interpreting soil test results and what is considered good and what is not. I wish the recommendations they provided were actually a bit simpler to follow/understand. Since I was not experienced in understanding soil chemistry analyses I posted the results for some feedback but the consensus was that it sounded like I was good to go.

In any case....I am actually going to pay the extra $30 for the soluble salt level test because I want to see how bad it is. In another post you commented on my use of manures to ammend my soil and how that adds toxic levels of salt. I need to see what that number really is because my cukes, yellow squash, herbs, beans, carrots, and beets (all started from seed) germinated in this soil and are doing quite well, at least for the time being.

I will report back my test results when I receive them for additional feedback.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 2:02PM
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johns.coastal.patio(USDA 10b, Sunset 24)

Reviewing the old thread, I don't have much to add. Indeed, just grow out the season, or order tests which interest you.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2014 at 5:45PM
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The information you need from that soil test is the soils pH and the balance of the major nutrients, so with a soil pH of 6.5 it is in the 6.2 to 6.8 range most plants, especially foods, find most to their liking and where most all nutrients are most readily available. The major nutrients are in the high optimum range, not toxic, although Potassium is quite high. The recommendations are what researchers at Rutgers have found working with backyard garden plots as well as numerous backyard gardeners through out New Jersey over many years starting with the Victory Gardens of WWI.
Some of the extra cost items you can do yourself with these simple soil testes,
1) Soil test for organic matter. From that soil sample put enough of the rest to make a 4 inch level in a clear 1 quart jar, with a tight fitting lid. Fill that jar with water and replace the lid, tightly. Shake the jar vigorously and then let it stand for 24 hours. Your soil will settle out according to soil particle size and weight. For example, a good loam will have about 1-3/4 inch (about 45%) of sand on the bottom. about 1 inch (about 25%) of silt next, about 1 inch (25%) of clay above that, and about 1/4 inch (about 5%) of organic matter on the top.

2) Drainage. Dig a hole 1 foot square and 1 foot deep and fill that with water. After that water drains away refill the hole with more water and time how long it takes that to drain away. Anything less than 2 hours and your soil drainsâ too quickly and needs more organic matter to slow that drainage down. Anything over 6 hours and the soil drains too slowly and needs lots of organic matter to speed it up.

3) Tilth. Take a handful of your slightly damp soil and squeeze it tightly. When the pressure is released the soil should hold together in that clump, but when poked with a finger that clump should fall apart.

4) Smell. What does your soil smell like? A pleasant, rich earthy odor? Putrid, offensive, repugnant odor? The more organic matter in your soil the more active the soil bacteria will be and the nicer your soil will smell.

5) Life. How many earthworms per shovel full were there? 5 or more indicates a pretty healthy soil. Fewer than 5, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, indicates a soil that is not healthy.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 6:59AM
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Go to the active vs. passive soil fertility thread. The tests used by most university extentsion services use very strong acids, that are not present in nature, and that destroy the biology in the soil being tested.

The new protocols are using carbon dioxide to create carbonic acid which mimics what is actually going on in the soil during plant growth.

If you read the above Rutgers soil test, it is unclear what a soil that is rich in organic matter actually means. Read it carefully. They actually leave it up for interptetation to add more potassium. VIctory gardens, schmictory gardens.


This post was edited by Mackel-in-DFW on Sat, May 31, 14 at 9:44

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 9:41AM
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art_1(10 CA)

Just to add to, and agree with what's already been said:

All of your macronutrients are 'Above Optimum,' the purple bars are all 'Very High.'

The pH is 6.5 which is right where you want it for most vegetables, 'optimum range of many plants.'

According to the test your soil looks great, good to go, maybe even too high in some things, for example manganese.

For the fertilizer recommendation part, you do not need to add anything since that soil is so full with all of the macros, micros, and the pH is spot on.

Nitrogen, as in the N of NPK, the three numbers on fertilizer packages (macronutrients), is volatile and not so easy to measure with soil tests. It is common that every single soil test will recommend nitrogen fertilizer no matter what the soil test results are.

If your plants are growing well and you are happy with that then you are fine. If you wanted to try to boost growth, you could try light, periodic applications of something with N only, for example 1-0-0, 5-0-0, or something else. If you want, try on only some of the same plants to see if it makes a difference compared to none.

Urea is one example. Urea is in urine (i.e. urine = N fertilizer) and you can buy it synthetic in 50 lb bags pretty cheap. Alfalfa meal, fish hydrolysate, blood meal are other examples although the first two have P and K which you are high on.

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2014 at 2:37PM
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