How To Have The Best Garden Soil For Vegetables

Sharing is caring!

Learning how to have the best garden soil for growing vegetables and other crops is one of the most important factors in having a successful garden.

Soil is the very foundation of a healthy garden.  It is made up of beneficial soil microbes, fungi and many other living soil organisms that interact with each other and with the plants to help them grow.  Studying soil is a science all in itself that could take a lifetime to understand.  Thankfully we don’t have to understand everything about soil to have healthy plants, but it is a good idea to understand some basic principles on testing and maintaining the best soil.

Garden Soil Test Supplies

Why is it important to have nutrient-rich soil?

  1. To provide the best growing environment for the crop
  2. To have vegetables and fruits grown with the highest nutrient levels
  3. To help prevent disease and pest pressure in plants.  The healthier your plants, the less pest pressure you will deal with.

Can I test my garden soil for vegetables at home?

In depth soil testing is not something you can do at home.  It is way more involved than a simple soil test that is just testing the soil PH levels (to see whether it’s acidic or alkaline soil).  In fact, the ph of your soil is not as important to plant health as having a balanced soil.  But you can easily take the soil samples at home with just a few simple tools, and then send it off to a lab for testing. 

Where should I get my soil tested?

The best way to get an accurate soil test is to send the sample off to a lab and then have a soil scientist read the test and give you recommendations on what soil amendments to apply to your soil.  This process is not expensive or difficult, and is well worth your time.  I recommend working with Kinsey Agricultural Services because of their approach to the long term health of the soil.  

One of the mistakes that big agriculture has made in handling soil health is that they just add some basic soil nutrients like nitrogen or phosphorus to the soil that will help the plant growth for that growing season, but they don’t work to get all the microbial and fungal life in the soil balanced so the soil will eventually not need as much input and will grow good crops for many years to come.  It is a slower process to take good care of the soil, but the return on investment for our future will be priceless.

What type of soil needs to be tested?

It really doesn’t matter what kind of soil you have. If you have sandy soil, clay soil, rocky soil or any other soil type, they will all benefit from testing.  You simply cannot learn about the microscopic health of the soil without a lab test.

What is a good soil test?

A good soil test will measure the levels of nitrogen, sulfur, phosporus, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and trace minerals such as boron, iron, zinc, manganese and copper.  These are all nutrients that need to be at optimum levels in order to grow a successful vegetable garden.  Over time, the soil on our planet has become depleted through heavy use and poor growing practices, which has resulted in food that is depleted in minerals essential to our health.  It used to be that people didn’t have to take vitamins as a supplement to their health, but because our food is so depleted of essential nutrients, it is now advisable to do so.  When you eat fruits and vegetables that are grown in rich healthy soil, they not only taste better, but they will improve your overall health because your body will be getting the nutrients it needs.

completed soil test

Balance is the Key

More is not always better.  It might be tempting to skip soil testing and just add more compost, lots of organic matter or fertilizer, but if your soil is too high in one nutrient and too low in another, it still won’t be balanced and won’t grow healthy plants.  For example, if your soil is too high in nitrogen, your plants will be big and beautiful, but won’t produce any fruit.

How often should I test my garden soil?

You should test your soil a minimum of every three years and apply the same amendments to the area each year in between tests.  It takes a long time to change poor soil and make into the perfect garden soil, but the good news is that it’s worth it.

Should I test my container garden soil for vegetables?  

If you are growing in small pots, then you probably don’t need to do a soil test especially if you are using high quality organic potting mix.  But if you are growing in raised garden beds, then doing a test like this will be very beneficial to growing healthy garden vegetables.

What Tools Do You Need To Take A Garden Soil Test?

  1. Clean shovel
  2. Clean 5 gallon bucket
  3. Unused gallon ziplock bag
shovel, bucket, bags for soil test

How to take a garden soil test?

Label the ziplock bag with the area you will be testing.  For example “soil test – garden” or “soil test – orchard”.  However you will be referring to this area is how you will want to label it.

Using a clean shovel, push it straight down into the top soil at a depth of 6-7”  for tilled ground and remove a sliver of soil and put into clean 5 gallon bucket.  If you are testing native soil, you only need to dig to a depth of 4″.  Repeat this process 4 to 6 times in various places throughout your growing area.  

Stir the contents of the bucket very well using the shovel.  Try not to handle the soil with your hands because you could contaminate the soil with the salt or minerals on your skin.  After it is thoroughly mixed, use the shovel to place at least 2 cups of soil into the gallon ziplock. Seal the bag.

Email [email protected] and let them know you’d like to get your soil tested.  They will send you a worksheet via email to fill out, along with instructions.  Once they receive the results of the sample from the lab, they will email you your test results.  You will also want to have the special tests for molybdenum and cobalt done, if this is the first time you are having your soil tested.  These special tests will not need to be repeated every three years.

Once you receive the soil test results it will have recommendations listed on what to add to your soil.

mixing soil in 5 gallon bucket

Where should I get the amendments for my soil?

This depends on the size of your growing area and your location.  I am able to purchase most of the amendments through a local agriculture coop.  You can also order amendments online depending on if you’re planning on keeping everything organic or not. I have ordered several times from Seven Springs Farm Supply in Virginia and they are really great to work with. As long as my amendments are considered natural, then I’m happy. I don’t rigidly adhere to organic soil amendment strategies because sometimes they don’t make sense.  There are some safe amendments you can add to your garden that aren’t considered “organic”.  The soil scientist who reads your soil test will be able to tell you what amendments to put on your soil for best results.

When should I apply the soil amendments to my garden?

Anytime during the dormant season is a good time to add the right soil amendments to your garden.  I usually apply mine in the early spring before planting time.

​What kind of mulch should I use on my garden?

If you use grass clippings or hay to help prevent weed growth in your garden, be sure it has not been sprayed with any kind of pesticides or it will leach into your soil.  I like to use high quality garden fabric to help with weed pressure and moisture retention.  If you purchase a high quality fabric, it can be used for many years and is a good investment.

Making soil testing a priority before you grow is a good choice.  Since I have started testing the soil in my garden, my yields have gone up immensely and the health of my soil is improving.  Be sure to watch our video tutorial on how to take a soil test, and let us know in the comments below if you have any questions about building your ideal garden soil.

Full Video Tutorial

Pin For Later

best garden soil for vegetables

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *