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Soil Test Interpretation and Organic Recommendations

Are you just getting started with organic farming or gardening, are you opening a new field for production, or do you have a problem field for which you want information on how best to manage it? Have you received a soil test report for which you would like help interpreting it from an organic or sustainable viewpoint?  Do you need recommendations for organic amendments and natural soil-improvement practices?

How to take a soil test

Be sure to get a good soil sample. Take cores from the surface to a depth of 6 inches (if you don't have a soil core sampler, cut a vertical slice into the soil with a spade or shovel, then take a uniform slice along the vertical cut from the surface to 6 inches). Take 12-20 cores from points scattered evenly through the field or garden you are sampling. Take separate samples for any portions of the field or farm that have distinctly different soil types or very different management histories. Mix the cores thorou>ghly in a clean plastic bucket or stoneware crock, place a pint of soil in a sample bag provided by the testing lab, or in a zipper-seal plastic bag. Remember not to handle your soil sample with your bare hands, use rubber gloves.

Where to send your soil test

VT Soil Testing Lab

The Virginia Tech Soil Testing Laboratory is affiliated with the department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences and analyzes soil samples submitted by the public and university researchers. Tests are performed to evaluate the soil's nutrient potential and to determine the most beneficial application rates of fertilizer and lime for optimum plant growth. Accurate soil analysis with subsequent recommendations provide a tool for making economical and ecological land use decisions. Maximum economic yields are realized through careful management of nutrient availability. Over-fertilization is costly and may be damaging to the environment.

Be sure to state whether your farm is USDA certified organic. We highly recommend getting a soil test done every few years. A routine soil test package includes analysis for soil pH, P, K, Ca, Mg, Zn, Mn, Cu, Fe, and B, along with fertilizer and lime recommendations for the specified crop. Soluble salts and organic matter tests are also available. Local Cooperative Extension offices in counties and cities throughout the state are provided with soil sample boxes, and information sheets. Soil samples are analyzed and computer recommendations generated usually within three working days of receipt. The completed soil test reports, along with one or more soil test notes containing additional information on fertilization and liming, are mailed directly to the client. A copy of the report is sent to the local Cooperative Extension office electronically and by mail.

The routine soil test is all one normally needs for a fertility evaluation. Soil samples are analyzed and computer recommendations generated usually within 3 working days of receipt. Laboratory reports are mailed directly back to you and are also available from your local Extension office, which can provide additional assistance if needed. Since soil is a complex ecosystem, you can turn to your Extension agent to answer other questions and provide additional Extension publications. Your agent also serves as a central, local guide and contact to other Extension labs, clinics, and Extension specialists.

What are the costs

Virginia Tech Soil TESTS COSTS::
CHARGES per sample----------------------------------------------------------------(In-State)-------(Out-of-State)
Routine Test Package------------------------------------------------------------------$10.00*-------------$16.00
Soluble Salts - determines if soil salts are too high-------------------------------$2.00---------------$3.00
Organic Matter - determines % organic matter in soil----------------------------$4.00---------------$6.00
FAX results:----------------------------------------------------------------------------------$1.00---------------$2.00
* No charge for in-state commercial farm samples (soil pH,P,K,Ca,Mg,Zn,Mn,Cu,Fe,B,
and estimated CEC, plus a fertilizer and lime recommendation)

FORMS: One of the forms below must accompany each soil sample that is sent to the lab.

Information Sheet for Commercial Crop Production, #452-124
Information Sheet for Home Lawns, Gardens, Fruit, and Ornamentals #452-125
Information Sheet for Commercial Greenhouse and Nursery Production #452-126
Information Sheet for Surface-Mined Areas #452-127
Information Sheet for Golf Courses & Industrial Lawns #452-128

You can take a soil sample any time of the year, although it's best not to do so when the soil is extremely wet. The fall months are probably ideal. The number of samples needed from a particular area depends on the uniformity of the soil and its past treatment. Refer to the appropriate information below for instructions on how to obtain a representative sample. Sampling Instructions

Sampling and Mailing
Soil sample boxes and information sheets are available at your local Cooperative Extension office.(Processing may be delayed for soil samples not received in official sample boxes).

Sampling and mailing instructions are found on the sample boxes and forms which should be sent directly to the lab with your soil sample and payment.

Mailing address

Virginia Tech Soil Testing Lab
145 Smyth Hall (0465)
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Lab Reports
Laboratory reports are mailed directly back to the address(es) provided on the sample information sheet.  Reports are also available from your local Virginia Cooperative Extension office, which can provide additional assistance if needed.  Electronic reporting is currently under development.