organic gardening with caroline :: how to test your soil

| crafty blogs | gardening | organic gardening

Hello! Welcome to the first step of our journey towards lush healthy organic gardens for us all! It has been a stunning week here in CT – the weather is in the low 70's, lots of sunshine and the Spring show is in full force. I am thoroughly enjoying my drives around the state and more than once I've pulled over to smell magnolias or just stand underneath a cherry tree as its blossoms fall to the ground. I'm never really aware how tired I am of winter until all the voluptuousness of Spring bursts forth and seduces me back into the soil.



Right now I cannot get enough of being outside, and I've noticed the sun has been kissing my nose a bit too much! So I am going to remind everyone that one of the most important rules of outdoor gardening is protect your skin! Find a good quality high SPF sunblock and reapply, reapply, reapply. Wear a hat and gloves and be sure to protect the back of your neck, the tops of your ears and your feet. Skin cancer is a very real danger and I beg you to please take your protection seriously.


{much better}

OK. So now on to the garden! The most basic principle of organic gardening is building up your soil. What does this mean? It basically means that you want to create a healthy soil system that is rich in beneficial organisms and bacteria, that can hold moisture well and that can allow your plants to absorb all the nutrients they need.


{img by Bonnie Forkner}

The first step in building up your soil is knowing what you are already working with. This means having a soil test done, preferably by your local County Extension Office. You can buy kits for soil testing, but these are not going to be anywhere near as precise and informative as the ones run in a lab. When I run a soil test through the UConn Extension Service I get back a sheet of paper with information about the pH and nutrients in my soil. They also provide recommendations for the amount of fertilizer to apply as well as let me know how to adjust the soil pH, if necessary. The pH of your soil is very important, as this will determine and affect the availability of plant nutrients. A soil test cost me $8 per test, and I consider that the best investment I can make in my garden.

how to sample

How to Sample (taken from the University of Connecticut Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory)

1. Using a spade, trowel or bulb planter (illustrated above), take cores or thin slices of soil from 10 or more random, evenly distributed spots in your sample area, to the appropriate depth indicated above.

2. Put the cores or slices of soil in a clean container, and thoroughly mix them. Transfer at least ONE CUP of the soil mixture to the plastic bag and seal. Place the plastic bag in a mailing envelope or a small box along with this questionnaire. (If samples are excessively wet, dry them at room temperature before putting them in the plastic bag. Do not dry samples on a stove or radiator.)

Here is a great video that shows you how to take a soil test.

Before you begin, contact your local extension office and ask them what they require from you. For example, UConn sells kits for $8 each and they come complete with instructions, a baggie and questionnaire form. Other Extension centers just need a baggie of soil mailed to them along with a note asking what you plan to grow there. I always specify that I require organic fertilizer and amendment suggestions.

Create separate soil tests for different areas of your garden. For my own garden I run at least 5 soil tests in the late winter – one for my vegetable garden, two for my lawn (one part of my lawn is shadier than the other), one for an area that is established trees and shrubs and one for the perennial border. If I notice that an area of the garden is not performing very well I will go ahead and run a separate soil test there as well.

soil test

{img by Caroline Finnegan}

This is the first step – next week we will cover how to interpret your soil tests and how to begin to amend your soil. By the way, I watered my camera while taking photos for this post, so next week I will have photos of my current projects...another don't do this at home moment from Caroline!

I hope your week is lovely and filled with inspiring and fulfilling times enjoying nature. I would love to hear your feedback and am open to dialogue on soil testing, soil health and any other soil related issues you may have.

Caroline Finnegan owns Ladybug Landscaping, a full service organic landscaping company. based in CT. She is a NOFA accredited landcare professional and when not designing gardens can be found rearranging her furniture or out at a flea market finding new goodies. She almost always has dirt under her nails.


  • I thought this was an awesome piece! I love the feel and smell of soil, and we definitely baby ours so we don’t have to baby the plants. It really does work. I also love your hat. So cute!

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