Value of ag extension (A&M) soil test?

pintoksDecember 9, 2013

Hello all,

I am thinking of having a soil test conducted by the A&M Extension service for new raised bed (vegetable) soil I installed last January, the performance of which was underwhelming. Does anyone have experience with the service? In particular I am curious to know which of the test offerings you would recommend and if the results they provide are helpful in giving a sense of what types of amendments are needed.

I was considering having the "routine analysis" and the "Organic Matter analysis" performed but I want to make sure the results I receive will allow me to know how to improve the soil.

Thanks very much in advance!

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What size area are you talking about? For somebody with lots of acres, the accuracy of the test is directly related to a good cross-section of soil collection. If somebody collects only from one area, it may or may not reflect accurately what is needed for the entire area. If you are talking about a small residential plot, I think you can expect that the sample you collect and submit will be correctly analyzed.

as to the TAMU service, I think it is top notch, professional and (again) as accurate as the soil collection one submits. I would go with the basic test. If memory serves me right, part of the data you get back is what you need to add to your soil. When I did my test and followed the recommendations, my stuff has grown well. Should be the same for you. Good luck

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 9:33PM
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good to know what kind of soil you have, but it is possible that weather was the reason for less than stellar results. Or perhaps the varieties you selected were not the best for your area, or cultural practices were not what they should.

Your posting doesn't say if you are a new or an experienced gardener so I may be making incorrect assumptions.

I've grown tomatoes for many years and summer 2013 was quite disappointing in my area (Houston). I didn't do anything different than what I've done in prev years so I will just hope for a more productive 2014.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2013 at 9:38PM
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Thanks very much for the replies. The soil is for raised vegetable beds. I think I will have to get the soil samples in the mail. Best to all.

    Bookmark   December 19, 2013 at 10:35PM
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PKponder TX(7b)

I assume that when you say raised bed, you also mean purchased soil? Some bagged or bulk 'soils' contain a high wood chip content which helps the texture but can also tie up nitrogen as they decompose, robbing your veggies of their building blocks of nitrogen. I have had this experience over and over in newly constructed beds. I usually find that the second season with raised beds is better for tomatoes and peppers (thats what I grow). It's a good idea to replenish with fresh compost every year or so. While you can order a soil test on just this bed, keep in mind that this is not going to be indicative of your land's soil needs.

Specifically, what was underwhelming,yield or health of the plants? What were you growing?

    Bookmark   December 20, 2013 at 7:38AM
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I never have understood this concept of wood chips taking too much nitrogen from developing/growing plants. sooner or later they decompose and who benefits? they plants we are trying to grow. Perhaps a more correct statement would be that "not totally decomposed organic material MAY slow the development of plant materials." I do not hesitate to use wood shavings in my compost and or directly on plants. Within one season this material disappears or, more accurately, decomposes into good, nutrient filled medium.

same with concept of mushroom compost being "too salty". First, it would take a lot of it and an long time to convert soil to salty. Even doing something silliy like pouring table salt on your soil would do squat. The fundamental thing one has to do to understand what they're working with, is get soil tested. Then, and only then, can you develop strategies for good, satisfying gardening.

I know this from first hand experience. Tested soil and it was neutral. Since I was hoping to grow azaleas, I amended my soil with pine needs, iron, and every practice imaginable to increase acidity. 3-5 years later I retested soil to see if my efforts were rewarded and guess what: My soil continued to be perfectly neutral. Some azalea shrubs grew well and some died. Obviously it was more than soil. And my efforts to increase acidity were for naught, but my soil did get fluffier and worm pop. increased dramatically.

I once attended a lecture where the speaker said that the perfect soil is a neutral soil b/c it has just the right amount ofo anything that's needed. It made perfect sense to me and ever since I focus on improving the worklability of my neutral clay soil, rather than changing its nature.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 12:56PM
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PKponder TX(7b)

It's really simple, wood chips require nitrogen to decompose. If there is not enough available nitrogen in the 'soil' to decompose the wood chips AND provide nitrogen for the plants, the plants will suffer from the deficiency.

All that being said, I do use wood chips as mulch and agree, it enriches the soil.

You are fortunate to not have alkaline soil. Here, the water (and soil) are alkaline because of the limestone in our aquifers and native soils.

This post was edited by pkponder on Fri, Jan 3, 14 at 7:35

    Bookmark   January 2, 2014 at 5:37PM
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I think we are in agreement. It MAY slow growth if worked into existing soil, not totally deter. Additionally, air is 79% nitrogen so I'd think partially decomposed material would grab nitrogen from air for decomposition to continue. That is why literature encourages aerating compost to speed decomposition. Accordingly, wood Chips and they like don't need to "rob" nitrogen from plants for decomp process. I think the potential damage to plants happens when wood chips and partially decomposed material is tilled or mixed in with soil as now soil has to feed plants and aid in decomposition. Even then, I'm doubtful there is any significant damage to plants. I simply put it on top and let nitrogen in air do its thing.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 10:18AM
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In follow-up: I've sent off two samples to the Extension service at A&M and will report back on the quality of the results I receive.

One sample is from an existing raised bed of unknown date , since it was at the house when I purchased it. The second is a new raised bed I installed in Jan. '13. It is composed of soil and compost purchased from a nursery in Austin, at 3 parts their recommended mix for raised beds and 1 part compost. My tomatoes, grown from seed and transplanted March 1 after about 8 weeks growth did wonderfully, but I think in large part due to amending the soil at the site of each planting. In the new soil beds, almost all directly-seeded vegetables (with the exception of peas and beans) germinated nicely but then completely stagnated shortly after first true leaves formed. This was true across crop types: cole, squash, root veg. Post-germination application of seaweed-fish emulsion helped somewhat, but the script seemed written and the crop was basically a loss. Quite disappointing given the work and investment...

Thanks again for everyone's suggestions.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 9:59AM
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