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Read Your Soil: Improving Your Soil Without a Soil Testing Lab
By John Beeby (, Ecology Action Soil Fertility Advisor

Each soil is unique, just as each person is unique. And just as there is no medicine good for all people, there is no purchased fertilizer or other input beneficial to all soils. Like doctors, we must first understand a soil before we can hope to improve it.

Testing soil by sending a representative sample to a soil testing lab is the primary way a farmer can understand what their soil does and does not need, in order to improve it and avoid adding nutrients that could be detrimental to the overall health and fertility of the soil. However, most small farmers in the world do not test their soil because it is far too expensive to ship and test a soil sample, and then get a recommendation for fertilization based on the test results. As a result, most farmers do not know what their soil needs or how to improve it, and either have to overfertilize it—wasting their money and the earth’s resources—or not fertilize it and suffer with low yields year after year.

What if there were a way farmers could understand their soil and what it needs to become more fertile, using only simple tools and tests they can conduct themselves, as well as their own powers of observation, and eliminate the need for a soil testing laboratory? All farmers would then be in a position to understand their soils and how to improve them by giving them the nutrients and inputs they need, and not what they do not need.

The tool that empowers all farmers to do that, just released, is Read Your Soil. It combines the use of cultivated plants to indicate nutrient deficiencies (Beeby, Test Your Soil With Plants 2nd ed., 2013) with Dr. John Doran’s USDA Soil Quality Test Kit Guide ( to determine soil characteristics like pH, soil texture, electrical conductivity, compaction/root depth, and topsoil depth and color. Read Your Soil then analyzes the farmer’s inputs to create a recommendation to improve their specific soil. Once you sign up at, you can use the app free of charge, without ads, on your phone, tablet, or laptop. It can also be accessed off-line for field use and will generate a recommendation

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