A soil test is easy to do and costs about as much as a happy meal at McDonalds. Here's how you do it.
What You Need to Test
- Clean plastic pail, plastic bag or anything that holds dirt
- Garden spade, putty knife or a soil auger (pictured at right)
- Soil sample bag
Gather the Sample
- Dig a few inches into the dirt (below the sod line);
- Deposit 1/4 cup or so of dirt into pail or bag;
- Walk around (and through) your plot gathering up samples of the dirt — at least a half dozen or more 1/4 cup samples;
- Mix it together in the pail or bag; and
- Scoop about 1 cup of the mixed soil into a soil sample bag. (If you have more than one plot, do this process for each one and remember to label them.)
Send it Off
You will now send or drop off the bag at a soil analysis service (county ag agent, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, or feed and seed store) and a few days later you have the results and recommendations for soil improvement. Most soil testing centers will ask you what you are planting and then make lime and fertilizer recommendations based on that. Still others, like the Whitetail Institute, will match the recommendations exactly to the product you are planting. This makes all the sense in the world as most commercial food plot blends are comprised of multiple plants and who knows better how to grow them than the guys who researched what seeds to include in the mix. Contact the Whitetail Institute for instructions on how to submit soils for testing.
After the Results
A good analysis will make specific recommendations as to what mixture and how much fertilizer you should apply. Take your analysis to a fertilizer supplier (who can custom mix fertilizers) and ask him to fix you up with a mix that will work for you. If they can't exactly produce your recommended blend, they can come pretty close if they are any good or suggest a standard N-P-K mixture, which will be pretty close to what you are looking for.
Planting without testing is a formula for failure. Testing your soil and adding the right amounts and kinds of fertilizer and lime is often the difference between a one acre plot which produces 2-3 tons of highly nutritious whitetail forage and an unsuccessful plot which produces a handful of scraggly weeds and some tough grass that nothing will eat.