Soil testing supplies useful information

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As I look out my window and see the snow covering the ground, it is hard to believe that spring is just 60 days away. Even with the snow on the ground, now is a perfect time to think about spring planning.

Spring planning can include all sorts of projects and goals, such as planting a garden, building a house or learning how to make a rain barrel. One thing to consider including is having your soil tested. There are several tests available depending on the land’s intended usage.

Reason

Why is it important to have soil test done? Soil tests can help landowners with property planning. They are particularly beneficial when someone purchasing new property is unfamiliar with the soil types in the area.

Soil tests can help determine suitability for building sites and septic systems. The presence of wetland soils can be established with a soil test. For cropland and gardens, soil tests assist with determining application rates of manure and fertilizer.

Potential problems with land use can be avoided when the property owner knows the type of soil.

Tests

What type of soil test should you have done? The intended land use will determine what a soil test should include. Testing for nutrients such as phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen in the soil advise the land owner what needs to be added to maximize crop productivity.

Soil acidity, shown by the soil pH, is also included in most soil tests. The pH of the soil is one factor that will help establish the presence of wetland soils.

Soil testing takes the guesswork out of fertilization and manure application. It eliminates the wasted cost of applying unnecessary nutrients and stops over- usage of fertilizer and manure, which helps protect the environment.

Heavy metals

A soil test could also indicate amounts of heavy metals present in a soil sample. Testing for heavy metals will tell the landowner if the ground has previously been contaminated by either known or unknown applications of materials containing heavy metals.

A soil test could also tell the property owner the amount of organic matter and the cation exchange capacity. A CEC value is important to determine the amount of cations the soil will absorb.

In addition, a perk soil test can be done to establish how fast a particular soil will drain. Absorption rates and drainage are important factors to consider when developing sites for buildings and septic systems. A little bit of planning and the proper soil tests can make the difference between a house with a dry basement or one with a leaky basement and a cracked foundation.

Soil tests can also aid in the prevention of septic system failures or systems that are costly to install.

Testing sites

Where can you get a soil test done? There are many laboratories available that can test soil samples. A list of laboratories can be obtained at www.dnr.state.oh.us/soiland water/soils/soilsampling/tabid/9074/default.aspx.

Also, landowners can contact their local soil and water conservation district office for assistance on taking samples for a soil test and where to send them. The local SWCD office staff can help landowners interpret soil test results.

(Pam Smutney is the district program administrator for Harrison Soil & Water Conservation District. Smutney was raised in Belmont County and received a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from the Ohio State University. Smutney has been working with Harrison Soil & Water Conservation District since November 2010. Contact Smutney at 740-942-8837 or e-mail psmutney@frontier.com.)

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