The only test you don’t need to study for: How to test your soil’s health

For anyone who has a desire to grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers, a critical detail that is often overlooked is soil health. Healthy soil has better potential for carbon sequestration, capturing carbon dioxide and storing it in organic matter. Additionally, healthy soil better retains water. With a higher water retention rate, soil will better feed that water to plant roots. Every type of soil is different and some plants will grow better in certain types of soil compared to others. In this blog post, you will learn ways to test soil health. It is key to first test the soil to show what needs to be done to amend and optimize soil health. Four tests that can aid in getting baseline results include: The Squeeze Test, The Percolation Test, The Worm Test, and The pH Test.

The Squeeze Test

The Squeeze Test is a simple test that will show you what type of soil you have. If you have kids or simply like getting dirty, this will be a fun test – and it only requires a digging device and your hand. You will be looking for soil particle size.

First using your digging device, dig a small sample of the soil at about 8 inches deep. Place the sample in your hand, add water, and (here comes the best part!) play with it. While playing with it ask yourself a few questions: How much grit does it have? Are you able to form it into a ball? The amount of grit will determine an indication of texture. Another indication of texture is the ability to form the sample into a ball. A final part of this test will be to pinch out a ribbon of the sample.

The three most common soil textures are: Sandy Soil, Loamy Soil, and Clay Soil. Sandy Soil will feel gritty and break apart easily in your hand. The Loamy Soil will feel smooth, hold its shape for a short length of time and then break apart, and is mostly loam. Finally, Clay Soil will hold together in a ball and not break if dropped. The Squeeze Test is an easy, fun test to show what type of texture your growing medium is.

The Percolation Test

A Percolation Test is a test that will show your soil’s water absorption rate. This is another simple test where you will need a digging device, a bucket or two filled with water, a timing device and a wooden stake at least 16 inches long. Generally, sandy soil will absorb more water when compared to soil with a high concentration of clay.

First, dig a hole one foot deep and one foot across. Next, put the stake into the hole and make sure it is straight. After inserting the stake, pour water into the hole. You should fill the hole up to the top. Allow for the water to drain through the hole which could take a few hours. An ideal result will be a water absorption rate of 1-2 inches per hour. If it drains faster that means the soil is more sandy, and if slower it means there is more clay.

The Worm Test

The next test, The Worm Test, is as easy as the previous two tests. All you have to do is dig a hole. Within the area you wish to test find some damp soil and dig a 1 cubic foot hole and place the dirt extracted from the hole into a wheel barrow. Sift through the dirt and count the amount of worms within that dirt. If you find at least 10 worms the soil has good health. If your soil is low on worms, you can remedy this by adding more organic matter.

pH Test

A pH test is key to let you know if your soil is high in acid or is more alkaline. In order to have healthy soil you need a neutral balance of acid and alkaline. There are several ways to test your soil, but one of the most interesting and fun ways to test is using red cabbage. This may seem bizarre but it works if done right. For this test you will need a head of red cabbage, distilled water, baking soda, vinegar and a sample of your soil.

Using a knife, cut the red cabbage head into finely chopped pieces (you can also use a food processor to chop up the cabbage). Next, boil a pot filled with distilled water, and once boiling add the chopped red cabbage. Allow the pieces of cabbage to soak in the pot for about ten minutes, and then remove the pieces of cabbage leaving the purple-hued solution. To test to cabbage juice, pour a small amount of the juice into two cups. Add baking soda to one cup and vinegar to the other. The baking soda red cabbage solution should turn blue or green because it is an alkaline solution. The vinegar solution should turn hot pink and show that it is an acidic solution. Finally add a sample of your soil to the pot filled with the remaining cabbage and observe the color change. If the solution remains purple or violet, your soil is close to neutral. If it turns pink your soil has high acidity and has a pH between 1-7, if it turns blue or green your soil has high alkalinity and has a pH between 8-14.

The tests when done properly, will enable you to be able to show the results your soil’s health. You can then research methods on how to amend your soil if it is in poor health. Once your soil is healthy you can successfully be able to grow plants. And, there is no better taste than eating a fruit or vegetable you grew by yourself out of the healthy soil you created.

-Posted by Sean

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