When taking soil samples, use a clean, plastic pail, not a metal one.
Soil tests can be done for as little as $15.
By Bob Humphrey
Building food plots represents an investment of time and money, and can be a rather expensive one. Yet one of the most important steps in preserving that investment is also one of the simplest and least expensive. Before you do anything else, you need to test the soil.
Begin by taking a representative sample from your plot. This means taking several samples from various locations throughout the plot. How many will depend on plot size and how much the soil, topography and existing vegetation vary within it. As a rough guideline, figure on at least six samples per acre, more if the site varies considerably. Put all your samples in a pail and mix them up well.
You can obtain a soil test kit, complete with instructions and soil sample containers, from your local county extension office, state agricultural agency or a nearby state university. When you finish mixing your soil, put a sample in the container provided with your test kit - usually a cardboard box capable of holding about a half pint.
For each plot, fill in the required information on your soil sample form, which includes plot or sample name, area (acreage), your intended use (in this case, food plots), pH management level, previous crop, if any, and specific test required.
A standard test includes pH, phosphorous (P), potassium (K), calcium (CA), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S) and sodium (Na). The total cost should be around $15 per sample, and you should have results back within two to three weeks.
Results will include existing conditions and recommendations for each forage type listed.
Soil testing services understand that we are not all soil scientists, and most do a very good job of making results and recommendations simple and easy to understand. If you still have trouble, you can contact your county agent or university. They may have additional literature - often free - to help guide you. Or, you could simply hire a consulting biologist.