There are two ways you can test your soil for biology, field observations (do it yourself method) and laboratory analysis with a microscope. In this guide, I’ll outline how to collect soil samples for the laboratory analysis, for the field observations guide click here.

The laboratory analysis with a microscope is the only way to know with certainty what microbes are present (harmful or beneficial) and in what number. The soil testing for biology will provide you with information about the amount and diversity of organisms such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, beneficial nematodes, root-feeding nematodes, and mycorrhizal fungi.

Based on this microbial soil test you can better plan your soil management strategy; mulching, composting, applying compost tea, making compost extract…

The best time to take soil samples is in mid-spring, after significant soil warming, and in mid-fall during moist, but not excessively wet, conditions. When soil temperature is less than 4° C most soil organisms are dormant.

What you’ll need?

Estimated cost: $10

1. An apple corer
2. Resealable sandwich bag
3. A permanent marker to label your bags


How to take soil samples 

Estimated time: 30 min – 1h

STEP 1: Select the area you want to take your samples from


STEP 2: Split the area into different habitat zones or points of interest

  • If the selected area is not uniform or homogenous, i.e., you have different growing systems or different topography, split the area into these individual components so that you can get a representative soil test results for each.
  • Different habitat zones or points of interest could be gardens, field crops, food forests, orchards, weed patches, pastures, woodlands, boggy areas, ridgelines, rocky areas…


For each habitat zone/point of interest:

STEP 3: Choose at least three representative sample points

  • Pick the spots you want to know more about, these could be individual plants (trees or shrubs), unhealthy or healthy patches of grass or other vegetation, rows of trees, good or lousy performing garden beds…


STEP 4:  At each sampling point, use the apple corer to take at least 3 to 5 soil samples

  • Remove the sod aside to get unobstructed access to the soil and push the apple corer 7.5 – 10 cm (3 – 4 in) down into the soil.
  • Push and turn to get a core of soil out.


STEP 5: Place the soil into the resealable sandwich bag

  • Put all 3 – 5 soil samples from the sampling point into the same sandwich bag. 
  • Afterward, seal the sandwich bag and make sure to leave some air in the bag.


STEP 6: Label the bag with your own Sample ID using a marker

STEP 7: Send your sample to the laboratory

  • If possible, send your samples on the same day they are collected. It is ideal that samples are received by our lab within three days after collection.
  • You can find a list of officially recognized Soil Food Web laboratories here




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