Soil Testing Frequently Asked Questions

How do I send a soil sample?

Under 'How to send sample?' tab in each test page, you can find the unique sampling instructions for your test.

Can I drop off a sample?

Yes. Samples can be dropped off in out mailbox at 2100 Glen Canyon Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

What makes healthy soil?

Healthy soil:

1. Is loose, dark, and well-drained

2. Is rich with organic matter - between 5% and 10%

3. Has good texture, accessible nutrients, and a pH between 5.5 and 7

4. Is thriving with microorganisms

The living component of soil is known as the soil food web and includes bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, micro-arthropods, earthworms, insects, and small vertebrates. 


The main elements that impact soil health are:

1. Organic matter,

2. Soil structure,

3. Soil biology 

4. Soil chemistry 

Water infiltration and retention

Healthy soil has a combination of all these elements;  unhealthy soil has a problem with one or more of them. 


How does healthy soil function?

1. Cycles nutrients and breaks down organic matter

2. Prevents leaching of nutrients into ground water

3. Creates habitat for plants, animals, and microbes living in the soil

4. Prevents erosion

5. Increases water-holding capacity so water is available for plant growth

6. Absorbs excess nutrients


Is your soil healthy? 
Healthy soil will have these key indicators:

1. Dark, high in organic matter

2. Earthworms are easily found

3. Water soaks in after a rainstorm, doesn't pool

4. Has a pleasant earthy smell

Should I no-till?

We believe the benefits of no-till outnumber those of tillage. No-till allows the soil structure to stay intact and protects the soil by leaving organic matter on the surface. Better soil structure and cover increases the ability to absorb water, which reduces erosion.

No-till also slows evaporation, which means better infiltration of rain and increases irrigation efficiency, leading a more productive garden.

Soil microorganisms, fungi and bacteria also benefit from no-till because in undisturbed soil, beneficial organisms can establish their communities and feed off of root exudates and organic matter. A healthy soil biome is crucial for nutrient cycling and suppressing diseases. When soil organic matter improves, so does the soil’s internal structure—increasing the soil’s capacity to grow more nutrient-dense crops.

What is a soil test?

A soil test determines the health of your soil. This can include pH, chemical balances, microbiology, and texture.

Good gardeners grow their soil, and healthy plants always follow!

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What does a soil test tell you?

Soil tests tell us about nutrient availability, biological health, and physical structure. These three factors are the bare essentials to knowing whether a soil is healthy and how to improve it.

Which test is right for me?

To track carbon-fixation and soil health in your backyard and garden, your best option is the Complete Soil Health Test.

If you want to measure individual variables within that test (i.e. biological) you can choose from our list of other tests on our Test Soil page.

What if I cant afford soil testing?

Our Basic Soil Test is our most economical test and will tell you some important information about your soil. However, this test is limited as it won't tell you anything related to biology, texture, or carbon sequestration.

You can also tell a lot about a soil by reading the weeds! You can check out a link here.

What is MWELO?

In California, about half of all urban water is used for landscape irrigation. This can be a major source of water waste, but there are many ways to improve water efficiency in landscapes.

One way to save water is to choose climate-adapted plants. These plants are naturally suited to the local climate and require less water than non-native plants. Another way to save water is to improve soil conditions. Healthy soil can hold more water, which means plants need to be watered less often.

High-efficiency irrigation equipment can also help to save water. This equipment uses less water to water plants, which can lead to significant savings over time. Irrigation schedules should also be tailored to the specific needs of the plants in a landscape. Plants that need more water in the summer may need less water in the winter.

In addition to these measures, rainwater and stormwater collection, graywater, and recycled water can all be used to irrigate landscapes. These alternative water sources can help to reduce the amount of potable water used for irrigation.

The Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO) is a set of standards that can be used to improve water efficiency in landscapes. The MWELO is adopted by local agencies, and it sets requirements for the design, installation, management, and maintenance of landscapes.

The purpose of the MWELO is to not only increase water efficiency, but also to improve environmental conditions in the built environment. Landscaping can provide many benefits beyond aesthetic appeal, such as improving public health and quality of life, mitigating climate change, conserving energy and materials, and increasing property values.

Local agencies are required to report on the implementation of the MWELO annually to the California Department of Water Resources. This reporting helps to ensure that the MWELO is being effectively implemented and that water savings are being realized.

By following these tips, you can help to save water in your landscape and make a difference for the environment.

Carbon-Fixation and Soil-Regeneration

What is carbon-fixation?

Soil carbon sequestration, also known as “carbon gardening” includes managing land so that soils absorb and hold carbon. Increasing soil carbon can be done in a few ways including: (1) planting carbon-fixing plants (2) switching to low-till or no-till practices (3) managed grazing of livestock. In addition to regenerating soil health, these practices can capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in soils, making them a form of carbon removal.

How do plants capture carbon in the soil?

1. Plants capture CO2 from the atmosphere and converts it into carbon-rich molecules. This carbon builds up in plants’ leaves, stems, and roots.

2. When the plant is mowed, grazed, or dies, roots leave carbon buried deep the soil.

3. This carbon is slowly broken down and is integrated into the soil, providing long-term storage as well as many soil health benefits.

What are the factors that determine how much carbon can be captured in soil?

1. Tillage breaks-up and oxygenates soil leading to CO2 loss. Stopping or reducing tillage is one of the most important ways to capture more carbon.

2. Carbon-fixing plants like clovers, tall grasses, mustards, and perennials are the key to fixing large amounts of carbon underground. These plants enable us to put CO2 in the soil!

3. Fertilizing less or completely eliminating fertilizer will prevent carbon in the soil from being mobilized and release as CO2. Specifically, stay away from chemical fertilizers.

4. Ditching the green lawn. Lawns are demanding of water, fertilizer, and mowing. Consider phasing out your lawn with clovers and fescues.

5. This process has the potential to capture up to 12 tons of carbon per acre per year.

How much carbon do people, processes or equipment ( cars, airplane…etc.) produce?

The average carbon footprint per person in the US is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average footprint is 4 tons. In order to prevent a 2℃ rise in global temperatures, the average globa footprint needs to 2 tons by 2050.

Why certain plants are better at fixing carbon than others?

Depending on your soil and climate, some plants are better for fixing carbon than others. In general, plants that produce more below ground biomass are the best carbon fixers.

In areas of high fertility, tall grasses like Miscanthus or Sudangrass are capable of fixing the most amount of carbon. In areas of lower fertility, plants like clovers and mustards are capable of fixing the most.

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What is soil regeneration?

Soil regeneration is the process of improving the quality of your soil by adding organic matter, which helps to improve drainage, water retention, and nutrition for plants.

How much carbon can I expect to sequester per acre?

One acre, under perfect management, is capable of storing 12 tons of carbon per year (Rodale, 2014). This includes planting high-biomass cover crops and using regenerative grazing techniques.

Ecological Grazing

What is ecological grazing and why is it better than mowing/weed-whacking?

Because they rarely disturb the soil, goats and sheep do not put carbon into the atmosphere or cause the extreme erosion that goes hand in hand with roto-tilling or disking. Goats and sheep are like compost piles on legs; the biological activity in their gut re-invigorates the soil through their valuable manure pellets. With their hooves, goats incorporate surface plant matter into thousands of little cups in the soil, which helps on a sloped hillside to retain water during a rain event, preventing top soil run-off. These benefits encourage those plant species with fibrous root structures which sequester carbon and increase soil humus which in turn increases the soil’s water-holding capacity.  This equates to a greater buffer against drought and heavy rain, making it a great way to improve the quality of the entire ecosystem. 

How much does it cost?

Depending on where you live, hiring a herd can cost between $1,000 and $2,000 per acre.

Where can I find a local grazer?

Find a local grazer here