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which soil test do you recommend?

 
Ronnie Yu
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Location: Orange County, CA
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I'm planning on getting my backyard soil tested soon. I've decided to go with this lab:

http://www.soilandplantlaboratory.com/pdf/reports/FeeSchedule.pdf

The soil analyses are listed on page two. Which would you recommend? Money isn't a big issue right now, but I'd also rather not waste money running tests that aren't all that important.

Also, they charge extra for recommendations by their analysts (I think like $40). Is that necessary, or could y'all help me out?
 
John Elliott
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A05-1

That will give you and idea of where your NPK balance stands, if you have any salinity problems to worry about, and if you need to amend based on particle size distribution. If you want to pay the extra $15 to get test A17 done, that is up to you, but if you intend to use lots of mulch and compost to improve your soil, that has a way of taking care of any micronutrient problems.

Tests are fine to quantify things; they tell you how much soil amendment to add, which can save time over looking at your sickly plants and then thinking maybe I should dig some of this into the soil. That said, biochar is an amendment that always improves the soil, at least in all the tests done so far. If you soil is typical of Orange county, then it is probably low in organic matter and you should start off by adding at least half a pound of biochar per square foot. If it is bare soil with no vegetation growing on it, make that a pound per square foot and till it or double dig it in. After you get the biochar incorporated, then you can adopt a no-till style of gardening.

P.S. Their analysts are going to give you recommendations that comply with standard agricultural practices. If you want to be organic and do permaculture, better ask here.
 
Adam Klaus
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Kinsey Ag Servies in Missouri is excellent. Neal Kinsey, the main man there, is a follower of the Albreicht Soil Fertility system. He understands organics completely, and can give you organic reccomendations for your soil.
His book, Hands On Agronomy is an excellent text for understanding the numbers that come from your soil report.
Dive in! There's a lot to learn.
 
Ronnie Yu
Posts: 31
Location: Orange County, CA
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Thanks for the suggestion John. I'm not sure where I could obtain 1500-3000 pounds of biochar though!

Adam, I'll check out the Kinsey book. Thanks!
 
John Elliott
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I'm not sure where I could obtain 1500-3000 pounds of biochar though!


Angeles National Forest? Cleveland National Forest? Wait until the end of fire season and then there may be many places to take your pail and shovel. In the meantime, there's this:

 
Bob Anders
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Location: Shenandoah Valley, VA
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Have you checked your local Farm Bureau?
I know some states will do them very cheap or free.
 
Ronnie Yu
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Location: Orange County, CA
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John Elliott wrote:
I'm not sure where I could obtain 1500-3000 pounds of biochar though!


Angeles National Forest? Cleveland National Forest? Wait until the end of fire season and then there may be many places to take your pail and shovel. In the meantime, there's this:



What's the current consensus (if any) on using natural charcoal for biochar? I recall reading something about charcoal being created at very high heat which somehow makes it inferior for biochar use.
 
Ronnie Yu
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Location: Orange County, CA
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Bob Anders wrote:Have you checked your local Farm Bureau?
I know some states will do them very cheap or free.


I've been able to find nothing locally, except private labs. The UC system has some programs but they all seem to be up north.
 
John Elliott
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Ronnie Yu wrote:
John Elliott wrote:
I'm not sure where I could obtain 1500-3000 pounds of biochar though!


Angeles National Forest? Cleveland National Forest? Wait until the end of fire season and then there may be many places to take your pail and shovel. In the meantime, there's this:



What's the current consensus (if any) on using natural charcoal for biochar? I recall reading something about charcoal being created at very high heat which somehow makes it inferior for biochar use.


While not all charcoal is the same, any charcoal in the soil is better than none at all. There is an optimal temperature to the charcoal burn, too low and it still has carbohydrate molecules from the wood that will decompose, too high and it will have a lot of ash and lose some of the open structure of the wood. I take the view that if I come across a pile of charcoal (forest fire, a burned down house, grills at the park), I'll grind it up and apply it to the soil, and there will be enough of the 'good' type in it to be beneficial.

On another note, while most of the agriculture is gone in Orange county, Imperial county is still thriving. I see where UC has an agricultural extension office in Holtville, maybe they can be of some help to you.
 
Ronnie Yu
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Location: Orange County, CA
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John Elliott wrote:
While not all charcoal is the same, any charcoal in the soil is better than none at all. There is an optimal temperature to the charcoal burn, too low and it still has carbohydrate molecules from the wood that will decompose, too high and it will have a lot of ash and lose some of the open structure of the wood. I take the view that if I come across a pile of charcoal (forest fire, a burned down house, grills at the park), I'll grind it up and apply it to the soil, and there will be enough of the 'good' type in it to be beneficial.


Thanks John. What do you make of Cowboy Charcoal? That seems to be the only brand available in the big box stores around here.
 
andrew curr
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Soil tests are for pussies!
That is the opinion of Purple Pear one of our top aussi permies!
 
Ronnie Yu
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Location: Orange County, CA
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andrew curr wrote:Soil tests are for pussies!
That is the opinion of Purple Pear one of our top aussi permies!


It's hard to see how this is supposed to be helpful

It also isn't clear why someone who calls himself "Purple Pear" would be going around calling people "pussies."

Whatever the case, cats don't know a damn thing about soil and it's highly unlikely they're going around running soil tests.
 
David Rogers
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Use a M-3 Test and get The Ideal Soil from www.soilminerals.com.

the aforementioned soil testing labs seems undulely expensive. You need to test for B, S, Fe, Mn, Zn and Cu, possibly for Se, Co, and Mo.

Dave Rogers
 
andrew curr
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Be aware one test isnt enough
Carbon is your friend !!!,not sure bout the bags of it ,dont folks round your parts rake up their leaves /lawn clippings,, thats wat you need!
you wold do yourself a favour to search ,,;purple pear
 
Mateo Chester
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"Thanks John. What do you make of Cowboy Charcoal? That seems to be the only brand available in the big box stores around here."

You're good to go with the cowboy brand. I'm pretty sure True Value sells it.

And on a side note, I have never done a soil test, so I'm curious as to why people feel they need them, and why reading their plants isn't sufficient?

Thanks
 
David Rogers
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Good question,

My blueberry leaves are a light green, I think they need Fe, Mg maybe some N in the ammonium form.

My squash plants have cucumber beetles and squash bugs. Hum, maybe some foliar Epsom salts??

A friend with a CSA has lost his onions to botrytis. I think a lack of K, Cu, S. What do you think?

My field corn last year had some blue mold on the ears, I thought a lack of Cu, K, and S.

I test because even if you get what element is lacking, How much are you going to apply?

Dave Rogers
 
Adam Klaus
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Matt Chester wrote: I have never done a soil test, so I'm curious as to why people feel they need them, and why reading their plants isn't sufficient?

Thanks


Soil tests are another tool in the kit. Nothing sacred, certainly optional. Sure your plants can tell you about large nutrient defiencies. However, if you are trying to understand where your calcium/magnesium balance is, maybe a soil test is the best tool for the job. Nutrient availability is a very subtle and complicated thing. If you are working with a piece of earth short term, compost is great, solves most all problems. Over time though, even compost can overload your soil with certain excesses, which will then lead to other deficiencies. For example, I know pro growers, good ones, that have inadvertantly overloaded the potassium in their greenhouses from excess compost.

A soil test for me isnt to see what is deficient. A soil test is to see what the overall balance of elements looks like in the soil.

It seems that soil tests give negative points for the 'permie cred'. Shouldnt be so. It is a tool, like a backhoe or bokashi, use it when it is needed and your results will be better.
 
Joan Perez
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In the intelligent gardener by steve solomon (really interesting if you want to follow this path) they recommend an M3 (Mehlich 3) test from logan labs or spectrum analytics, around 20US$. And a fizz test at home with vinegar to check if the soil is a calcareous one, which then requires an special test.
 
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