Healthy Beginnings

Successful Growing in Nevada Soils Part 1: It’s All About This (Easy) Soil Test

Soil in Nevada can be tough (and dry, and nutrition-less, and unforgiving). But, by understanding soil biology you can indeed grow luscious, healthy plants, landscapes and vegetation right here in the high desert of Northern Nevada.

Before you can have a bountiful harvest or a beautiful lawn or foods rich in minerals and nutrients, you have to supply the right balance of minerals and nutrients in your soil. The soil biology has to have a buffet of nutrients and minerals to work its science to turn soil food into plant food, kind of like how the human digestive system provides nutrients and food to the body.

The first step toward understanding what food (and how much of that food) Nevada soils crave is to complete a comprehensive soil analysis, which will tell you where your soil is experiencing some deficiencies. Even more importantly, a soil analysis will help you understand what your soil already has too much of so you can stop adding to the problem.

What You Need to Know About Soil Tests

You wouldn’t seek cancer treatment without first getting a blood test. So, why would you spend fistfuls of money on soil amendments and fertilizers without knowing what your soil and plants really need? Completing a soil analysis is your way of listening to your soil and plants in order to create smart soil amending programs for lush, healthy growing.

You need a soil analysis; this you now know. But, which one is right? The best labs (i.e. the ones that understand the language of plants) use weak acid tests that break down the nutrients in your soil – nutrients that are actually “available” to plants. You will hear or read the words “available nutrients” a lot as you start ramping up your soil know-how. For appropriate weak acid tests, look for labs that offer tests such as the LaMotte test or the Morgan Extract test.

If a lab uses a hard acid test, they are breaking down all of the minerals and nutrients with powerful acids strong enough to melt rocks. Can a plant eat a rock? Nope. The data compiled from a hard acid test doesn’t give you an accurate reading of the amount of nutrients and minerals available to plants in your soil. Using a hard acid test can falsely indicate that your soil has enough food for growing healthy plants.

See, plants can only eat minerals, nutrients and other plant foods that exist in the correct, consumable state – not in rock. Your soil analysis needs to show how much consumable food exists in your soil; weak acid tests will give you an accurate reading of this. Plus, weak acid tests can be purchased for home use. Just search for one online and you can be your own soil scientist. You can also take soil samples and send them into a certified lab to get results delivered back to you (we prefer International Ag Labs at www.aglabs.com).

Winter is an ideal time to get a soil analysis because it gives you time to receive the results and come up with a game plan for healthy, lush growing this upcoming spring. Once you complete a soil analysis, the next part is determining how you will interpret the data and take the necessary action steps effectively. The nutrient excesses and deficiencies in your soil need to be balanced correctly using an all-in-one package that combines beneficial amounts of minerals, nutrients and humus/compost. Full Circle Soils & Compost works directly with International Ag Labs and provides interpretations and full recommendations based on a soil analysis review. Full Circle can even visit your land to professionally take the soil test and send the soil sample directly to the lab.

For help with soil samples, analysis, consultation or general growing questions, write info@fullcirclecompost.com.

Look for our article in Healthy Beginnings next month, where we will dig deeper into the most important part about healthy Nevada soils – minerals. Read our previous article, How to Keep Your Soil Healthy, and Why It Matters, at www.hbmag.com/keep-soil-healthy-matters/

By Farmer Craig Witt, Full Circle Owner, Soil Enthusiast

Extra reading on this topic: Mainline Farming for Century 21 by Dan Skow.