Extension service offers soil sample help

Published 5:00 am Friday, July 17, 2009

Loyd Star area resident Tom Eakes said he’s got a garden wherehe grows everything from corn to eggplants to peas and watermelons,as well as a pond where he has bass and bluegill for starters.

So maintaining a good balance of nutrients in the soil on hisland is pretty important, Eakes said as he watched MississippiState Extension Service Research Professor David Ingram measure thepH levels in samples of the soil from his property.

“I just wanted to get him to take a look and see what all Ineeded,” Eakes said.

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Ingram was on hand Friday at the Farmer’s Market in RailroadPark with a portable soil tester, taking pH levels for anyone whowanted to bring them by. Once the soil is tested, nutrients andfertilizers are suggested to help balance the level of thesoil.

“The only thing this measures is the pH level,” Ingram said,indicating a small hand-held thermometer-like instrument. “We’veactually got a meter that measures the electrical conductivity, andthat tells how much of each nutrient is in the soil.”

Ingram said much of the soil in the Southwest Mississippi areais acidic, which can be prime sustenance for some crops andterrible for others.

“The first one I tested today, he wanted to grow blueberries andthe pH was 5.3, which is good for blueberries,” he said. “Thingslike blueberries and azaleas, they like acidic soils, so in hiscase he didn’t need to add anything.”

The scale runs from 0-14, with seven being absolutely neutral.Different crops need different things, he said.

Eakes also brought a sample of his pond soil, which registered a4.6 by Ingram’s scale.

“I’d expect that to be about right for ground under the water,”Ingram said. “You want around a six or seven. I’m not a pond guy,but if you’re cultivating fish, it’s common to add some lime andfertilizer.”

Ingram said even if a farmer or gardener missed the soil testingday at the Farmer’s Market, they can still take samples to thelocal MSU Extension Service, where they will be sent off to betested and a full report is sent back.

“This is nowhere near as accurate as our soil testing lab,” hesaid. “We have much more extensive equipment there.”

Lincoln County MSU Extension Director Rebecca Bates said it’s agood idea to have soil tested every three years if crops orlivestock are being grown on it.

“Everyone needs their soil tested, whether it’s for a vegetablegarden or your home lawn, or a pasture,” she said. “Anywhere you’vegot crops growing.”

The reason for the frequency, she said, is nutrient life. Limeusually lasts about three years.

“Of course it’s especially important in a pasture situation,because the cost of fertilizer and lime is such that there’s noreason to buy more than is needed,” she said.

Bates said anyone with soil samples can bring them by theextension service to be sent off to the soil lab.

For $6 a sample, it can be sent off and returned within a weekto two weeks. In addition, plant samples can be sent to measurelevels and determine nutritional needs, and diseased plants can bebrought in for diagnosis.

“You’ll be mailed a copy of the report and I’ll get a copy ofthe report, because a lot of people when they get them, they’re notsure how to read them,” she said. “This way you can call the officeand I can grab your soil report and we can discuss what it meansover the phone.”

Bates said Ingram’s visit was in conjunction with Farmer’sMarket organizers’ efforts to give the weekly marketplace a themeeach month.

“We’re very glad to have him here,” Bates said. “We try to dosomething different each month, and this is especially helpful tovegetable growers to get a quick soil read.”