Testing your soil

pick on bare soil“When I was deciding where to put my vegetable garden, I picked the sunniest spot in the yard and started digging. I wanted to get a look at the soil. What I found was great soil for gardening, and some garbage left behind. Because some of the debris was painted, I became concerned about lead in my soil. Since I had planned to test the soil for pH, organic matter, phosphorous, and potassium, I decided to add lead to the list.”

Lead is a concern if your garden is near an older painted structure. Lead in residential building paint was common up until the mid-1970’s, when it began to be phased out. To learn more about lead in soil, we recommend reading OSU Extension’s “Evaluating and Reducing Lead Hazard in Gardens and Landscapes.” Besides information on testing, there are also great tips on amending your soil to reduce lead uptake by plants, as well as other options for dealing with lead. For example, adding organic matter to the soil (which is also good for your plants!) can “enhance the formation of organic compounds that bind lead, making it less available in the soil water.”

If you do plan to have your soil tested for lead, be sure to check out our Conservation Directory for a list of local soil testing laboratories in the Soil Testing section.

Some gardeners are also interested in testing soil for pesticides. This can be difficult unless you know what types of pesticides you are looking for, and even then it can be very expensive (as much as $200 per sample). The more information you can find out about what types of pesticides you know or suspect were applied, the easier it will be to test for them and interpret the results. Since any pesticides that stick around would be bound to the soil, we recommend washing your garden produce very thoroughly!