Testing the pH of your garden soil may sound like a boring chore but it will save you lots of time and plenty of money on fertilizers and composting. By testing the pH, your soil will either read more acidic or more alkaline. If your soil sits on either extreme it will be difficult for your soil to use nutrients, making composting almost pointless. If you correct the pH you can ensure your soil will be able to use your compost and you won’t have to buy fertilizers.
The first step in managing your soil pH is by actually testing it. Test kits are sold online at places like Amazon but are also accessible at home improvement and big box stores like Home Depot or Wal-Mart. If you do not trust yourself you can have a professional lab test it. Consider calling the agricultural department or greenhouse of a local college or university. Many times they will do the test free of charge. It will take a lot longer than an at home test kit.
Once you have your test kit or decide you will send it in you will need to take a sample of your soil. The best way to do this is dig several 4-6 inch holes in your garden or area you are testing. Dig these holes at different locations to get a good sense of any inconsistences in your garden. For example, if one area holds water long than another, be sure to get a sample from there. If one section seems to produce better plants than another, make sure a sample is gathered from there.
When you have your holes, take each sample and carve a thin vertical line from each side of the hole. It will look much like a cross section and give you a variety of color, thickness and consistency from which to test. Take those vertical lines of soil and place them into a bucket. You will then mix them up as best you can, breaking away clumps. Try to make the soil very consistent so that it all looks the same. Remove any rocks, large pebbles or large weeds.
Finally, you will test the soil. Each kit is different in how much they recommend you test but they will give you an amount of soil and an amount of the indicator chemical to use. It is important to make these proportions as accurate as possible in order to avoid error. Remember improper readings could result in more money spent and compost wasted.
If your results show an acidity of pH 6.1 – 6.9 you are in the ideal situation. Your plants should grow just fine so long as everything else is equal. Acidic soils are commonly those that read pH 5.0-6.0. Your goal then will be to work in compost materials that are more alkaline. These commonly include well-aged manure, guano, and bonemeal. If your soil test proved to be between pH 7.0-8.0 your soil is more alkaline than usual. You will then need to add more acidic compost like leaves, leaf mold, old sawdust, old bark, peat moss and pine needles.
You can make these changes to your soil acidity but they may take several months to repair themselves depending on the extremity of your pH test results. It is best to work in the recommended ingredients with a tiller or similar instrument. If you can solve a pH problem you are conquering the biggest culprit of soil nutrient deficiencies.