Research question on bad soil
I'm doing research for a book so I hope you can take the time to help me out. Is there any existing soil condition that would cause vegetables to not grow at all? If there's no condition you are aware of, did soil testing exist for common people in the 1940's?
Linn County Oregon
Thank you for contacting Ask an Expert with your question on soil testing.
Without an understanding the focus of your book, it is difficult to give you specific answers to the questions you pose. Certainly there a number of soil situations which would prevent vegetables from growing—from submerged soils, to chemically-contaminated soils, to permanently dry or frozen soils, among others. This may or may not be the direction you are investigating.
As to soil testing, scientists and farmers have been trying to understand their soils for many years. In the late 1800s, chemical methods had advanced to the point where soils began to be tested for nutrient content and other parameters that were thought to influence growth. Laboratory testing today is much more refined and advances continue in our understanding of the chemical, biological, and physical aspects of soils.
In the 1940s, some testing was available, but it would have been focused on farms and university research, rather than urban/suburban home gardens. As World War II began, the Extension Service would have worked with farmers for the war effort and used all the tools at hand.
Luckily, you are quite near Oregon State University in Corvallis. I suggest you contact the Linn County Extension Office in Tangent (541-967-3871) or the one in Benton County (541-766-6750). Ask that the agent refer you to a soils specialist at the University for a discussion on soil testing regimes or for a history of the work of the Extension Service.