Taking a soil sample is one of the very first steps in preparing your soil for a bountiful garden. The best time to take a soil sample is in the fall. This is so you have sufficient time to apply any compost, lime or other nutrient-rich materials to your soil so they can work in for the coming season. If you have not already taken a soil test, it would be good to take one as soon as the weather allows.
One of the first things you will need is a soil test sheet. Soil test sheets for Virginia Tech are available at http://www.soiltest.vt.edu/Files/testing-process-and-fees.html. You’ll scroll to the bottom of the page to access the soil test sheet that must be included with your soil sample. There are selections for Home Lawns & Gardens, Commercial Crop Production, Commercial Greenhouse, and more. Download the appropriate sheet.
Soil test information for Tennessee is found at https://ag.tennessee.edu/spp/Pages/soiltesting.aspx. “Soil and Media Information Sheets” is linked under the tab “Submit a Sample”. Download one of these from the site and submit it with your sample. You can also obtain these sheets at your local county extension office and the Appalachian Sustainable Development office. These offices also have the boxes you will need to send in the samples.
Wait till the soil is not too wet. You prepare with a clean bucket and digging tool. Take small samples of the soil, in a zig-zag pattern, from a number of locations in your garden. Combine these samples in the bucket and mix them up. Give the sample an identification number. Fill a soil sample box to the line, write your name and soil sample ID on the box exactly as you write it on the soil sample information sheet. Fill out the remainder of the soil text sheet. Crop codes are found on the last page of the sheet.
To learn more about your soil type (that is requested on the VA Tech Commercial Crop test):
Send the soil and the sheet to the appropriate testing lab. Your results will be emailed to you with recommendations. Your extension office, feed and seed store, and other fertilize distributors would be happy to help you interpret your results and find the materials you will need. Appalachian Sustainable Development has some worksheets to help you determine amounts of organic fertilizer you would need to meet the recommendations. If you are interested in these worksheets, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive them.