Testing Soil- Testing Soil pH and Methods of Testing Soil Samples

Testing soil involves testing soil samples that have been taken by using various methods to test soil pH and nutrients in the soil. Soil testing is one of the most important task that you can do to ensure you have optimum growing conditions in your yard and garden. Find valuable facts and information on soil testing and how to use the results to your advantage.

Healthy soil is one of the keys to growing edible crops in particular. It is important to know the soil components and needs of your particular soil. A simple home soil testing is an inexpensive test of your garden soil that will help you make decisions about plant food and other amendments.

Understanding Soil pH 

Testing soil pHis a basic soil test that measures pH (the degree of acidity or alkalinity in the soil), the presence of phosphorus and potassium, and organic matter ( a measure of nitrogen availability). Soil pH affects the availability of nutrients for uptake. A neutral pH is 7. Above 7 soil is alkaline; below 7 it is acid.

"Testing Soil"

pH Scale

pH for Edible Plants

Most edible plants grow best in slightly acid soil-a pH of about 6.7. Asparagus and onions grow well in alkaline soils with a pH up to 8, whereas potatoes and radishes thrive in acid soil, as low as 4.5. If the soil pH is not appropriate for the crop grown, nutrients in the soil will not be available to the plants.

Using Lime

Lime reduces acidity (raises pH); sulfur increases it (lowers pH). Testing the soil before applying either one helps to determine which type and how much of either application is needed, if any. Some soils may be deficient in phophorus or potassium, which are necessary for plants to bloom and fruit. Additional tests are available to assess the need for any mineral amendments needed for optimum gardening.

How often to test your soil

Soil testing can be done every 3-5 years, as this should be sufficient enough for most home gardens. If you routinely plant a crop not typically grown in your geographic area, you may want to have the soil tested annually. If a problem arises during the growing season that points to soil fertility as the cause, have the soil tested immediately. Otherwise, take the soil sample in autumn so you have time to incorporate any needed amendments before the next spring planting season.

"Testing Soil Samples"

Home Soil Testing Kits

Soil Testing Methods

Use a soil probe created just for sampling; or a clean, sharp knife or trowel, to take samples from the soil. Allow wet soil to dry, then break up any lumps. Remove any surface debris, then dig to a depth of 6-8”. Taking samples from more than one area of the garden will also help you decide where to locate specific crops and can provide helpful comparisons when diagnosing plant health problems. Draw a diagram of your garden and label the areas where you took the samples with letters or numbers. Place each sample in a separate clean, dry box or plastic container with a corresponding number or letter label.

If you are testing the soil before you have planted the garden, then take several samples from various locations and mix them together to get an analysis representative of the area as a whole. In planted gardens, take samples from between plants to avoid any plant foods and mulches added between rows.

Home Testing vs. Commercial Soil Testing

Home soil tests are less precise than the results from commercial laboratories, but they can provide rough estimates of the needs of your soil. Also with home testing means that you are the one interpreting the results of the test.  If you are purchasing a kit to use for your testing, you will be given a color chart that will give you a fairly good result.

Best Results of soil testing is done by contacting your local extension agent for a soil testing laboratory that will provide soil testing in your area. The laboratory you choose will provide instructions on how to package your samples for mailing or delivery, as well as information on how to interpret the results.

In many cases, your local or state Agricultural extension service will do testing for you. Simply contact them for more information. They are there to help local gardeners and farmers with any type of questions you may have pertaining to plants and crops in your area.

In Kansas, try this link for more information: http://www.ksre.ksu.edu/

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