The Grow System
I’m fairly new to gardening and definitely new to soil testing. I can get testing done through Auburn university in Alabama but I just have very little experience with the whole idea.
I have dabbled in soil testing methods a bit. Since I don't know your setup let's say that one has a 10 foot by 10 foot backyard garden. The first test that one would want to do is on the overall composition of the soil. Some experienced gardeners can do this by the look and smell of the soil. Grab a handful of slightly damp soil and press it together. Does it form a clay lump? (clay) Does it hold together but also crumble a bit? (loamy) Does it not form a ball at all, but look sandy? (sandy) Take an equal scoop from several areas of the garden and mix them together to get an over all test. Sort out rocks and bit pieces of straw etc. Dry some of this soil to send in for a soil test. Do the jar soil test. https://preparednessmama.com/jar-soil-test/ Look up a soil testing laboratory and send in your soil sample to see how the nutrients look. Perhapsyou can get free soil testing from State Extension Labs.
However, most gardeners do not start out the way I described. They check that the soil looks good in the hand and that it is growing plants. Select a plot of land that is clean, has good sunlight, and holds water but also is not too wet. The soil should also be able to be tilled or dug by hand. Then just assume that the soil needs more organic matter and start adding that to it.
Just to echo @flowerpower *
your local county extension office might even have classes on how to read soil test.
The Maricopa extension office out in Phoenix would have classes and instructions on how to do a soil test.
Our current county's extension office offers free testing. :)
And classes on understanding the results. It can be quite intimidating with all their codes and figuring out what it means.
@owl I wonder if you saw our comments? I forgot to @ address you before.
@Hassena I enjoy looking into the nutrients and soil details, but I know many people do not want to get into that level of science. Really it is about chemistry. Gardening has so many diverse nooks and crannies in it, that makes it a great hobby and passion as well as an important survival skill.
I appreciate all the advice so much! I have done testing through the county extension service but wonder if I would get more detailed information if I used one of the independent laboratories