Episode 90: Soil Testing with Safe Soil UK

This week, I’m delighted to speak to Robert Galster, one of the co-founders of Safe Soil UK, about soil testing. There are many companies offering soil testing but the whole process is incredibly opaque. Companies offering the testing don’t often tell you what to test for, or offer to explain the results they’ll be sending and the process can be very costly. Enter Soil Safe UK, who offer soil tests for gardeners, that make sense and that don’t cost a small fortune!

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What we talk about:

What does a soil test involve?

Are all soil tests the same?

When might we need one? Is it a legal requirement in some cases?

What does it measure? What might it reveal about your soil?

What are some typical results we might see?

What are some common problems that might be revealed?

About Robert Galster & Safe Soil UK

“At Safe Soil UK, our aim is to make the testing and analysis of soil easy. Whether it’s to check that soil has all the nutrients it needs to grow great veg or to investigate for potential serious contamination (the UK’s industrial heritage has left behind much that can have a negative impact on our health), we offer a straightforward approach to soil testing. Because while growing and eating local, even homegrown, should ideally be what we do as often as possible, it definitely shouldn’t be dangerous.

Britain’s proud industrial and farming history left behind a legacy of contamination, with countless substances and waste products that have the potential to harm human health being discharged into the ground. Our testing packages can give you peace of mind that your growing space is safe – so why chance it?

We’re big fans of gardening in general and growing vegetables in particular. Have been for as long as we can remember. Robert, one of our cofounders, tells of his early childhood memories annoying his mum by “planting” exotic fruit in various plant pots around the family home. This involved making a little hole in the soil using a toothpick and dropping orange, grapefruit and lemon seeds into the holes. Not a great deal came of these early efforts – Robert blames the climate – but he got better with time. And lots of practice.

Since then his interest in gardening has remained with him and flourished as it expanded to include growing his own fruit and veg.

And that interest played a part in launching Safe Soil UK. That and curiosity.

A few years ago we came across a local rumour that a site near our urban house was once a battery factory. At this point, our interest started to extend beyond soil basics like pH and texture and on to toxic elements that may have been lurking beneath our feet. So we started to root around (pardon the pun) for a way to check the soil.

What if our little annual harvests of veg and flowers were actually serving up a cocktail of lead, arsenic, chromium and other unsavoury (to say the least) elements while our time tending the fledgling crops was exposing us to airborne samples of dioxins, hydrocarbons and even asbestos? Posing that question marked the germination (again, sorry!) of Safe Soil UK, which aims to make the testing of urban soils easy, affordable (the scientific analysis involved in the testing is never going to be cheap but we’re doing our best) and also help interpret the results using UK government standards where they’re available and relying on international guidelines to fill in any blanks.

There’s no disputing that the UK’s industrial heritage has left behind a legacy of contaminated land. We are descendants of a people who were at the sharp end of the industrial revolution and while this played an important part in establishing the living standards we now enjoy, there was a darker downside as the very industrial processes and activities that made Britain one of the wealthiest nations on earth also released substances and waste products into the environment that have the potential to have a detrimental impact on our health.

When we started our journey in search of peace of mind that our little patch of land was not slowly killing us, we hit a roadblock. There is no shortage of laboratories capable of testing soil but many of these charged a fortune. Then there was the problem of what we actually wanted to test for. The list of harmful chemicals and elements that a lab could test for is a long one. Which ones should we be testing for? And finally, how much of something is too much?

The answers to these questions required extensive research but we got there in the end. And while no health authority can make a definitive call on the precise level at which something becomes harmful or even lethal, most agree on ranges. We use these to interpret results and where conflicts exist, we point them out to allow our customers to make informed decisions and, hopefully, provide peace of mind. When that’s not possible, we are happy to share recommendations on potential remediation approaches.

We’re happy to report that we’re now in position to make everyone’s journey of discovery markedly easier than the one we had to take.”



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