Maintaining quality soil is mandatory for any gardener. If you’re just starting a brand-new garden or your plants haven’t been growing as well as expected, then a soil test might be in order.
The problem is that professional soil tests can be awfully expensive, not to mention time consuming. It doesn’t help either that the results can be extraordinarily difficult to understand, especially if you don’t have a formal degree in agronomy.
The good news is that there are far easier, more inexpensive ways to conduct a soil test. They aren’t the most scientifically accurate methods in the world, but they’ll certainly do the trick.
The first test helps uncover the type of soil you have in your garden. Soil tends to be clay, sand or loam. Clay is full of nutrients, but it drains slowly. Sand drains quickly but cannot retain moisture for the life of it. Loam on the other hand offers a perfect mixture of clay, sand and sift that both drains well and maintains nutrients well.
To figure out what type of soil you have, you need only grab some semi-moist soil and then squeeze it. Open your hand and then analyze it:
- Loam: It maintains its shape, but when you poke it, the soil crumbles.
- Clay: It maintains its shape, even when you poke it.
- Sandy: It falls to pieces as soon as you open your hand.
The next test helps you determine your soil’s drainage capabilities. If your garden takes too long to drain, many plants will not survive in it.
- Dig a hole 2 feet deep & 2 inches wide in your garden, and then fill it with water.
- Use a hose to fill the hole with as much water as it can hold.
- Turn on a timer and record how long it takes for the water to drain.
If the water takes more than four hours to drain, then it suffers from poor drainage capabilities.
Many people instinctively hate worms, but the presence of worms in your garden is actually a good thing. It means your garden is healthy and chockablock with nutrients.
- Wait until the soil in your garden is at least 55 degrees and moist.
- Dig a one-foot wide and one-foot deep hole in your garden.
- Put the soil from the hole in some sort of container.
- Sift through the hole soil and count the number of worms if you encounter.
If the sample contains fewer than ten worms, then your soil is likely lacking in organic matter.
Testing for acidity or alkalinity requires making a bit of an investment. You’ll need a pH testing kit. The good news is that you can purchase one of these from practically any gardening or home improvement store. Just make certain you follow the instructions.
If your garden already contains tomatoes, then you’re in luck. This test can help you identify what nutrients are lacking in your garden.
- Nitrogen: The tomato contains yellowing foliage.
- Iron: The veins are green, but the leaves are yellow.
- Potassium: The tomato contains a lot of older leaves and/or spotting and curling.
- Phosphorus: The plants are small and have a lot of bluish/green foliage.
- Calcium: The leaves of young tomato plants are wrinkled.
This information isn’t as comprehensive as a lab report by any means. However, if you’re a casual gardener who just wants to grow some cucumbers and tomatoes for the summer, then this is all the info you need to get started.