I have a vegetable garden that has been in for a number of years. I generally add leaves and grass clippings to it in the fall and empty my compost bin on to it ever three years or so. I also empty the ashes from my wood stove and often add a small bag of bone meal and blood meal once a year. I generally plant tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, and lettuce. The garden didn't do so well last year so I think I should test the soil to make sure I have the right balance of nutrients instead of arbitrarily dumping in a few bags of this and that. I am wondering if someone can recommend a decent soil test kit to use. I live in New England if that matters.
Amherst is more than two hours drive from here and the turn around for testing is at least two weeks. I don't think that is practical. The fee is reasonable, but I will be past my planting time by the time I get the results back. Maybe I could have it done again in the fall. Is there a reasonable commercial test kit available? I am a chemist, so I have done many assays of this kind before (I used to work in an environmental testing lab), but I haven't bought a test kit in years.
Someone said a few weeks ago that Lowes was selling a very basic Burpee test kit for (I think) $6. Amazing that ANYthing from Burpees should be inexpensive.
If last year's NE weather was as wierd as PNW weather, that's enoguh to explain EVERYthing doing poorly. If some things were worse thaan others, consider soil disease.
If you've grown the same plants in the same bed for multiple years, you might have collected some disease organisms in the soil. Maybe grow the veggies in another bed for a few years, or at least the ones that looked worst last year. Don't encourage posssible soil diseases by making their life TOO easy.
Focusing back on the soil, here are several guesses you've probably already considered.
Ashes might leave salts behind, and/or get too basic. Can water drain down and AWAY from the whole bed?
Or, in New England, the opposite is true and you might need lime.
It sounds like you have enough organics.
How's the drainage and soil aeration? Clay plus organics might compact and get too dense and soggy, and want something to open it up, maybe turn some chunky mulch under every few years.
Is it possible that you have too much nitrogen? Or too much potassium from the ashes?
Generally the base soil here is clay (glacial till), but it's about two feet down to that. When I put the garden in I had to dig out all of the soil down to about two feet and sieve it. I think the gravel pit from building the house was located in the area where I put the garden in. As a result, there are two feet of top soil over clay. I use a cultivator on it twice a year and till in the leaves and grass clippings that I add in the fall. The soil looks quite good, it is nice and black and loose. I have taken to hand watering because I have had issues with fungus on the tomatoes and cucumbers. I find that the problems are less if I keep the leaves dry.
My impression is that I want slightly acidic soil for these vegetables (5.5-6.5), so I have left things like pine needles in the mulch. I had to put garden sulfur in the first couple of years because the soil was very basic. I could test the pH myself with a pH meter, but I don't know how to properly extract the soil. Normally, you would mix soil with a solvent that would extract the nutrients and then measure the solvent. I guess I would just use distilled water for the pH, but air contact alone is enough to make water somewhat acidic, so I would guess that soil extraction solvents are are buffered. I was hoping to find a decent kit that would have a SOP for all of this. I just don't like guessing about things that can be measured.
>> I just don't like guessing about things that can be measured.
I agree, but then people at work have teased me about wnating to "make science". And I do love a good gadget.
Maybe buy some distilled water, then use a lot of soil anhd as little water as possible. Keep the jug sealed when not actually pouring from it. Rinse the jar where yuou mix the soil three times before using it. Sealo the jar while soaking the soil.
My guess is that distilled water, even if it absorbs a little CO2, won't have much buffering capacity compared to a cup or two of soil that has plenty of clay and organics. Just my guess.
>> I have taken to hand watering because I have had issues with fungus on the tomatoes and cucumbers. I find that the problems are less if I keep the leaves dry.
"They" tell me that soaker hoses and drip systems are great ... I have two discounted soaker hoses but need to hook up a timer that I trust to the spigot.
I have used the very amateurish and least expensive test kits you buy from the garden centers over many years, I don't bother testing every year, after 50 years gardening you know by smell, feel, moisture and the look of plants and these indicators for me are better than any science BUT, testing your soil will give you hints or directions as to how the soil is for what you are growing in it.
What is a couple of dollars if it shows you the type of soil your growing things in. it will also tell you what your soil is lacking or has too much of, so I would ignore any criticism of soil testing kits that don't cost the earth, they are not sold as for professional use but in fact a lot of professionals constantly use them as they are small enough to carry in your pocket.
IF you do decide to soil test, do it with samples from various areas in your garden and bet you will be surprised as the different readings you get.Which ever way you decide to go, good luck. WeeNel.
Did you find the results from your testing helpful? I have had particular issues getting the cucumber seeds to germinate. Something has also been eating the plants in recent years, I'm not sure what. The Tomatoes seem to do well in any event, and the peppers seem to vary quite a bit.