AUSTIN, Texas—As the days get longer and the nights turn warm, home gardeners prepare to plant spring vegetables. Step one is to make sure the soil has just the right amount of nutrients needed for each of the crops they choose to grow and the most effective way to check soil quality is to test it. Thanks to the Brownfields Revitalization Office, a division of Austin Resource Recovery, this process will be easy and free during this year’s Soil Kitchen.
The Kitchen will be open on April 14 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and April 15 from 9 a.m. to noon at Parque Zaragoza Recreation Center, 2608 E. Gonzales Street, 78702. Representatives from Kansas State University’s Agronomy Department and Austin’s Brownfields Office will be on hand to test soil for the presence of heavy metals and soil nutrients.
“Soil testing is an important start for preparing garden beds before planting. Understanding what is actually in the soil provides gardeners with the information they need to successfully grow healthy crops for their families,” said Christine Whitney, program manager for Brownfields Revitalization Office.
With support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, gardeners can bring in samples for sophisticated testing at no charge. “Historical uses of land, even for residential use, may have left behind heavy metals. The Soil Kitchen provides an opportunity to inform gardeners of what’s in their soil and what can be done to improve soil quality and food safety,” Whitney said. The testing is confidential. Gardeners simply list their initials and the closest intersection on their quart size sample bags. A number is assigned to the sample and the gardener can look up the number online or contact the Brownfields Office by phone.
Gardeners can also watch demonstrations on how to build raised beds and learn about home composting during the East Austin Garden Fair, happening adjacent to the Soil Kitchen on Saturday, April 14. Additionally, members from Travis County Master Gardener Association will be on hand to encourage gardeners and answer any questions they may have about their gardens and plant life.
Gather together a garden trowel or spade; a spoon; two zip-top, quart size, plastic bags; a waterproof marker; and a clean shallow pan.
Label the bag with the following information: your initials and the approximate location of your garden plot. Please do not give your exact address. Instead, please list your street and the closest cross street. This is for the protection of your privacy.
Go to your garden area and sample the soil in five to 10 different spots around the garden bed(s). Sample to a depth of six inches, using your trowel to make a cone shape into the soil and then extract the samples. Place each of the collected samples into the shallow pan.
When you have completed the sampling work, take your spoon and mix all the soil together in the shallow pan to obtain a more representative sample.
If the soil is very wet, leave the soil to dry out in the pan overnight. Make sure to remove any rocks, grass or dead plant material that could get in the way.
Fill your plastic bag until it is half full and seal it shut.
Drop your sample off at the Soil Kitchen. The soil nutrient information and heavy metals analysis information will be posted online and may take up to two weeks. We’ll give you a card that has information on how to obtain your results online.
About Austin Resource Recovery
Austin Resource Recovery provides a wide range of services designed to transform waste into resources while keeping our community clean. Services include curbside collection of recycling, trash, yard trimmings and large brush and bulk items; street sweeping; dead animal collection; household hazardous waste disposal and recycling; and outreach and education. Austin Resource Recovery offers free, voluntary and confidential consulting services to help Austin businesses reduce waste and comply with the City’s recycling ordinances. In December 2011, the Austin City Council approved the Austin Resource Recovery Master Plan, which is the City’s road map to Zero Waste. The City of Austin is committed to reducing the amount of waste sent to area landfills by 90 percent by 2040. Learn more at austinrecycles.com.
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