My husband and I are currently shopping for land and prices are really good right now. We are planning for the future and hope to be completely self sufficient even before we hit retirement. The biggest challenge for us right now is the shopping part. I am of course concerned with soil. Is there specific soil tests that anybody out there would recommend that we get done? I live in the PNW (Seattle area).
Two basic test, one for drainage and the soil needs.
Most building codes require a drainage test before installing a septic system. Dig a hole 12 inches square and 12 inches deep IIRC. Fill hole with water and allow to drain. Fill again and time how long it takes to drain.
There are comercial kits available, but i reconmend going to your local Extension agent and ask for a soil test kit. They will tell you how to take samples and the processing fees. You will take a clean digging tool and take samples from several places. Mix these together and put some in the kit.
Not so much as a test, but look at what is growing there, planted and natural. Are they healthy looking? Some plants can tell you if an area is moist or dry, shallow soil or deep.
There are too many new and different mistakes out there waiting to be made to be wasteing your time repeating the same old mistakes.
posted 7 years ago
Thanks R. Peacock. This is VERY helpful and points me in the right direction.
My USDA rep hooked me up with a contour soil map and the key to read the soil types. No charge, but that was a couple of years ago. I'm reasonably certain that it is the same thing offered (for free, I notice) at the website Enventres cited. The info I have doesn't mention pH; checking out the website now to see how it co-responds to the info I already have. The aerial photo used for my acreage must be at least 15 years old!
Location: Northern Zone, Costa Rica - 200 to 300 meters Tropical Humid Rainforest
posted 7 years ago
One of the best things you can do is bring an old geezer with you who understands land. Not saying I am one, but I have bought lots of properties here in Costa Rica for growing trees by merely digging hole (to see how deep the soil goes) and then looking at the weeds in the fields. Some weeds like poor soils, acid soils, others will only be present if the soil is fertile and neutral.
Soil tests can lie to you (you can't test all the property after all), but plants never do.
Sustainable Plantations and Agroforestry in Costa Rica
Speaking from experience in that area (lived in the Seattle are 17 years), most of the soil you will encounter will be fine for growing. Drainage is another story, but that has been covered quite well. I would add this. No soil is 'perfect'. You will need to tweak any soil which is a big part of permaculture, but not a difficult task. This is done with composting and natural fertilization, all part of being self sufficient. I would not be worried about any rural areas in King, Snohomish, or Pierce counties.
More important as a 'watch out' is wetlands and sensitive habit in the area. One might be surprised just how restrictive regulations have become in the NW for any property any where near (or upstream) of a sensitive habitat. Don't count on your agent to be aware or 'forth coming' (even though it is regulation) on a piece of property. Consult your local extension agent when you get close to selection to make sure you are not walking into a situation where you buy land that is not usable for your purpose. I think that is much more an issue than soil quality. The NW is a fertile area and the limiting factor is more available light than soil nutrient.
Another suggestion is to do a 'solar survey' before you buy. In the growing season, where does the sun rise and set? How many hours a day is your garden plot going to receive without interference or blockage from adjacent properties. The NW has a lot of tall trees that cast large shadows. If one can not clear an area that gets 8 hours of full sun, you will have limited success on raising your own food.
What part of the Sound has your interest? How large a parcel are you seeking? I wish you the best on your endeavor! I love that area of the world and hope to make it back someday on a permanent basis. Right now, family concerns bring me back and keep me in Texas; but someday...
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