Soil Amendments and Testing

We carry a variety of mineral and organic inputs for our region's soils, which can be acidic, low in Phosphorus, higher in Magnesium, low in Calcium and usually depleted of minerals. We suggest a soil test to help you figure out what your soil needs.  

Soil Test Interpretation and Organic Recommendations offered by Dr. Mark Schonbeck 

Are you just getting started in or transitioning to organic farming or gardening, bringing a new field into production, or farming at a new location for you?  Have you encountered problems with soil quality, nutrient management, weeds, or crop vigor – generally or in a particular field?  Do you need help interpreting soil tests and choosing the best amendments for your particular soil type, climate, and crops?  Dr. Mark Schonbeck has experience developing organic and sustainable recommendations based on soil test reports, soil type, field history, and your goals, questions, and concerns.

For more information, or to arrange a consultation, please contact Mark directly at 540-745-4130 or e-mail  His fee is $30 per hour.  A typical consultation takes three to 10 hours depending on the number of soil tests and the range of concerns to be addressed.  Farm visits are subject to a travel charge; he can also work with you by e-mail and/or phone.  In addition to input recommendations, he helps you choose cover crops and crop rotations, and develop soil-friendly weed and pest management strategies. 

From past reports, Mark has helped many farmers choose the best soil building techniques for their operation, saving them time and money, making his service well worth the cost. We highly recommend getting a soil test every few years. Note; most extension services have a soil test kit you can obtain for taking your soil sample to send off to extension service. There are many private soil test labs out there that also do a great job on testing.

How to take a soil test 

Be sure to get a good soil sample. Take cores from the surface to a depth of 6 inches (if you don't have a soil core sampler, cut a vertical slice into the soil with a spade or shovel, then take a uniform slice along the vertical cut from the surface to 6 inches). Take 12-20 cores from points scattered evenly through the field or garden you are sampling. Take separate samples for any portions of the field or farm that have distinctly different soil types or very different management histories. Mix the cores thoroughly in a clean plastic bucket or stoneware crock, place a pint of soil in a sample bag provided by the testing lab, or in a zipper-seal plastic bag. Remember not to handle your soil sample with your bare hands, use rubber gloves.

Where to send your soil test
Send the sample to a reputable soil testing lab - such as A&L Eastern Agricultural Laboratories in Richmond, Virginia Tech, or other lab of your choice.  In addition to soil pH, organic matter and major nutrients (N, P, K, Mg, Ca) it can be helpful to test for essential micro nutrients, especially Boron (B) which is often deficient in Virginia soils. When you receive the test report we will need the following information. A brief outline of the history of the field(s) or garden(s) sampled, your production plans and objectives, any observations on the condition of the soil itself or of the vegetation (crops, weeds, native plants) growing in it, and any specific questions.  Be sure to state whether your farm is USDA certified organic.

From past reports Mark has helped many farmers save time and money by providing them with insightful information so they can choose the proper soil building techniques for their operation. His service is well worth the cost. We highly recommend getting a soil test done every few years.