Days like yesterday (sunny, 70's) make me feel like we're turning the corner. So even though it's only mid-February, I'm thinking about planting my garden. The new herb bed has me antsy - I can't wait to get started!
We constructed the bed on top of what had been part flower bed, part lawn. We put down a layers of garden soil, shredded leaves, and shredded newspaper. Good soil = good plants, or at least a better chance, so I want to see what might be missing.
The Soil, Plant, and Pest Center at the University of Tennessee provides a quick and easy way for gardeners to test their soil. The local Extension Office here in Shelby County is in Building B at the Agricenter and they have all the forms you need. They also have little boxes to put your soil samples in, but I've found it's just as easy to put the soil in a Ziploc bag for mailing.
First I dug up a little soil from about 10 locations in my bed. Since my bed is no-till, I dug to a depth of 2-3 inches; if you till your area, you'll need to dig down about 6 inches. I spread these little samples out on some newspaper and let the soil get completely dry. Dry soil weighs a lot less than damp soil and that minimizes mailing costs.
Next I completed the form that tells the testing center about planting area. If you don't want to make a trip to the Agricenter, you can fill out this form online. Note that you will not be emailing the form. There is a button at the top to print it. Also note that, unless you have the correct version of Adobe, you won't be able to save the form to your computer. But you can always print two copies. You'll also need to enter "Crop Codes" from this list. I put in the codes for Vegetables, Annuals, and Perennials since there wasn't a specific one for herbs.
Identify your soil sample in some way. I put SA423 on mine. Then put that identifier on the form next to the information about your planting area. I sent a sample from only one area, but you can see that you can send in multiple samples if you want.
The price list for the testing is here. Put your check and the completed form in one envelope. Put the soil sample into a separate envelope, preferably a padded one. I didn't use all of the soil I dug up. I mixed it all together and sent in about a cup.
Now I'm waiting for the results! The last time I did this, I got the results in less than a week. This is a good time of year to send in your request because the Center is not so busy. Later in the spring they get a slew of requests and the results take longer.
Today a group of us are going to Murfreesboro for the annual Tennessee Master Gardeners Winter School. We have two days of classes, on Thursday and Friday. Thursday is devoted to learning how to teach; Friday is full of ways to improve our leadership skills. The theme this year is Vegetables Galore and Growing Leaders. It's also a great time with gardeners from all over the state!
Stay tuned for soil test results and a Winter School report!