Garden Prep Week! Why a Soil Test and What is pH, N, P and K?

Before you can decide on
what to plant, I highly recommend a soil test. You can get these at
any garden store for fairly cheap. I know what you are thinking, “I
did terrible in chemistry. How am I gonna know how to test the soil
and what to look for?” Well, don’t let the name fool you. It is
pretty simple to do and there is no way you can fail this test!
With a soil test kit, you
can expect clear instructions on how to take a sample and read the
results. Why is this so important? Let me give you an example.
When I took my first soil
test of our sandy soil, I found out that it was lacking nitrogen, big
time. I knew that growing certain vegetables like corn and green
leafy types would be a challenge. But, I was deteremined to grow corn
and ended up wasting time, money and space because I did not
fertilize it enough. In other words, the corn didn’t make it!
The first couple of years
are a learning curve. Even with a soil test, you aren’t going to
have the perfect garden with perfect vegetables, but you can start
with the knowledge of knowing what kind of fertilizer/s you might
need, and do what you can to condition the soil.
Here we will discuss the pH
level, nitrogen, phophorous and potassium in my simple terms. Did I
tell you that I like simple? Too much detail just gets me confused! 
Let me explain a few things
about taking a soil test. There are usually four things that it will
test for, the pH level, nitrogen, phophorous and potassium. When you
look at fertilizer bags, you will see the three latter nutrients as
this: NPK, and their ratio will always be in that order such as this:
15-5-5. You then know that the ratio is nitrogen-15, phosphorous-5
and potassium-5.
Simply put without going
into too much detail, the pH level will tell you how acidic or
alkaline your soil is. For vegetables, the average range should be
6.0- 7.5. Now, you might read on certain seed packets where a
certain type of vegetable likes a slightly acidic soil. You will
know, then, that your soil should not be more alkaline to grow this
certain vegetable. If it is 7.5, the upper limit, a more
acidic-loving vegetable might not do as well. Remember, the lower
the pH number, the more acidic it is.
The next component the test
will measure is nitrogen. Without nitrogen, you probably won’t get a
good yield out of your garden. Nitrogen is what makes the plant a
healthy green. If it is lacking, the plant will turn yellow and not
grow well at all. There are some vegetables that do not need that
much, but I’m betting that most of the kinds that you will want to
grow will need their fair share of nitrogen. There is a chart at the
end of this chapter that lays it out for you and tells you what each
type of vegetable needs.
Phosphorous is the P in the
NPK ratio. It is also important for the growth and health of your
plant. Phosphorous helps turn the nitrogen into being usable by the
plant and is important for healthy root growth. It plays an
important role in photosynthesis as well. Without it, plants will
become spindly, stunted and will produce small, poor quality
Potassium is another important mineral in the soil.  Without it, plants can easily become stressed and diseased.  Stunted growth, poor flower development and lower quality fruit and vegatables will result in a lack of potassium.  Plants can look as if they need water, and their leaves might curl on the end if potassium is deficient.

Want to learn more?  Go to my Garden Prep Week page up top!

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