Looking to grow stellar, incredible veggies and fruits? Well, then you’re going to need some high-quality, healthy soil. But how do you know if the soil in your yard is truly healthy? Actually, by using the ten-step Willamette Valley Soil Quality Guide, you can determine the overall health of your soil. Bear in mind that the test isn’t foolproof, and in order to get the best results, consider the overall results from the entire test—not just from one or two individual steps. Also, perform the test during the spring (the active growth period for most plants), and make sure to check various spots throughout your garden for the best possible all-around results. Here are the basic steps:
1) When the soil isn’t too dry or wet, dig a hole about a half-foot deep. Then take a section (roughly the size of a soup can), and break apart the dirt with your fingers. Is your soil powdery? Or does it clump together? Basically, if your soil forms into hard crumbs (otherwise known as aggregates) that only break apart with great effort, then this is a sign that water and oxygen aren’t able to move freely. That could mean that your plants aren’t getting the resources they need to grow.
2) Plant a wire in the soil, and mark the point where it bends. If the soil is too compact, and the wire bends immediately, then this is a sign that plants’ roots won’t be able to grow effectively, and worms won’t be able to break up the soil too.
3) Did you have a tough time digging that hole earlier? If so, then your soil may lack in workability, which may highlight other quality issues.
4) Dig a hole about six inches deep, and keep an eye on it for four minutes. Count all the organisms—from worms to beetles—which you might see. If you see less than 10 animals, then your soil may not be healthy.
5) Dig another six-inch hole, and count the number of earthworms you find. If you find less than three, then this highlights that the worms aren’t finding enough organic matter to dine on, which means your soil quality may be low.
6) Did you notice any plant parts when digging? If you’re seeing darkly colored soil with a mixture of older plant parts, then this highlights positive decomposition, which is great for soil health.
7) How do your plants look? Are they rich in color? Are they all growing at somewhat equal rates? If so, then your soil may be fairly healthy.
8) Take a look at a plant’s roots. Are the roots mushy and brown? Then you may have a drainage issue or a buildup of water. Or are the roots stunted? Then that means that there may be a pest or disease issue troubling your yard.
9) Take a can, and remove the bottom. Then push it into the soil until three inches are exposed. Then fill the can up with water. Mark the water height, and time how long it takes for the soil to absorb the water. If it takes longer than a ½ inch or an inch per hour for the soil to soak up the water, then your soil may be too compact.
10) How long does it take for your plants to get thirsty? Water your plants, then time how long it takes for the plants to start showing signs of thirst (this should take a few days at least). If the plants need to be watered more than usual, then there may be an issue with your soil.
As we mentioned, make sure to analyze results from the entirety of the test—don’t just take results from one or two steps. Once you determine your soil’s quality, you can take the necessary steps required to grow healthy, attractive plants.