Friday, October 30, 2009

Soil testing in New York

[See update below]

Die binnevet van die boud.

...Is the Afrikaans onomatopoeiac rendition of The Benefit of the Doubt. Except that it means, literally, the inner fat of the butt. Or rear. Or bottom. It is, in fact, a much nicer concept. The kind of thing I had for lunch today at Momofuku.

That is what I would I would like to give the Brooklyn College Environmental Sciences Analytical Center, about the no-show of our soil sample result. But at this point I consider the bridge burned. I recommended them on this and another blog several weeks ago as local soil testers.

I must take it back...

When I first sent them my soil sample, carefully dug from 10 pockets, 8"-10" deep, from the East Houston park-to-be, and a check for $67, I was told to expect the results within two weeks. I emailed at two weeks to ask how it was coming along. I heard nothing for another week. At three weeks I received an email saying that the results would be ready that Friday (last Friday), a few days away. They were not.

Yesterday I called the person in charge, who said that yes, my name sounded familiar and that his "students" had misplaced the soil sample, and that I would have the results by today. At the latest.

This is today. No results. Visions of police labs and OJ.

And no in charge person when I called. So I asked in a voicemail for a refund, and asked him please not to test any soil that might be ours as I have lost confidence, at this point, in the whole business.

I am genuinely disappointed. A trusty source recommended these guys, and I was happy to find a local soil testing facility. And I really want to know what the results are. I'm planting edibles and woodlands things, and must know if that is good idea at all.

What flummoxes me, is the lack of communication. So you lost it. Call! Email! Explain. There's this magic word that smoothes over all sorts of awkward situations: Sorry.

So I will dig more pockets, and send the sample to Cornell.

11/4/2009: Update and news! Leda, a Helpful Person, emailed me to apologize for the soil sample delay, and Dr Cheng then let me know results were available if I still wanted them. So they were emailed yesterday. So, at last. I'm now busy digesting and interpreting lead and arsenic level. Arsenic, good grief. The a troubling pH of 7.0. Why troubling? I don't's just smack in the middle.


  1. Marie,

    How miserable and I somehow feel responsible. I have lost touch with the lab ever since they asked me to remove the info from my website about prices/services.

    Colleges. I know, I work at one. They can often be ridiculous messes and students running things (a great idea says the $ guys, a bad one says the quality guys) can often lead to mysterious mishap.

    I suppose its good to stick with what you know. Can you post the cornell lab address/process.

  2. pfui! that degree of disorganization and lack of communication sure doesn't inspire confidence. Out here closer to the boonies we just bring a sample to our county extension agent. And i see that the results really do matter since you are thinking of growing edibles.

  3. Hey Frank - no, you were doing a good thing for them, and for others, based on a good experience. Not your fault. It's strange that they asked you to take info you think they were feeling overwhelmed?

    QC - a soil extension agent is such a mysterious, agricultural, archaic title. It's always fascinated me.

  4. I would have to second the suggestion of bringing it to an extension office or sending it to a lab that is affiliated with them. I am Master Gardener in Colorado, and we have people submit their samples to a local lab, using a standardized form and process. I am sure that it is way different in a city as big as NYC.

    Also, I have long read your blog and love it so I have given you the "Honest Scrap Award" at my Gardening for Nature blog for " her combination of food, wine and gardens." Thanks for all of your wonder posts!


  5. Marie,

    Honestly, I don't know. But I can guess that they are.

    Once I put the info up, Dr. Cheng did call me to say they were getting a big response. But they asked me to take it down partly because I published prices and their price structure kept changing. They didn't seem to understand the cost or what the market would bear at the outset.

    It sounds like they are overwhelmed. If I think of all the city gardening news lately, a lot of people are thinking of testing soil. I still get a lot of hits based on lead, soil testing. I won't write Brooklyn testing off yet, but I will bear your experience in mind the next time around. Cornell has a long history in this business, Brooklyn College-not so much.

    By the way, we do not have an extension agent here in NYC or a master gardener program.

  6. Kathy - thank you very much for your award!

    Frank, Dr Cheng came through at last, btw.


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