MINNEAPOLIS - As Director of the University of Minnesota Soil Testing Lab, Brian Barber can help improve your gardening ability. He is one of several people who test soil to figure out what's in it, and what can help make it better.
"We want to help people grow the best crops possible and yet mitigate the potentially damaging effects from fertilizers and pesticides," says Barber.
Gardeners and homeowners mail their soil to the lab where it is then dried out and then tested for pH, phosphorus and potassium as well as texture.
"The samples are basically ingested into the system and are instantly vaporized and destroyed and the wavelengths that are given off are measured. We can tell then the concentration or quantity of those elements," he explains.
Once the results come in, Barber will tell you what elements your soil is lacking, and recommend what you should add based on the size of your planting area.
It could be adding compost, or lime, or fertilizer for example. The tests can help you form a solid foundation for growing everything from grass to apple trees to vegetables and flowers.
"Soil is one of the first places people skimp when their doing a garden redesign or when their adding to a garden. They don't take the time to understand the type of soil and to amend it properly and it kind of compounds the problems if you go forward, says Master Gardener, Julie Weisenhorn.
She recommends testing garden soil every three to five years. The basic test costs $15.
For more information including directions on how to send your soil in and how to collect samples, as well as prices for the basic and other tests offered, visit the University's Soil Testing Laboratory website.
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