Author: RAY 

Date: OCTOBER 15, 2018

How To Test Soil pH Levels:

Check and Measure for Perfect Gardening

When it comes to the actual resources we have to work with, aside from salt water, fresh soil is one of the largest natural resources we have to work with. 

With the proper cultivation of soil we allow for fruits, vegetables, various plants, roots, herbs and much more to thrive with vibrant colors and flavors! When it comes to gardening, your SOIL plays a significant part in letting everything grow successfully. 

No matter where you are, there’s THREE main components: organic, inorganic and microorganisms. A brief overview of each:

  • The organic section of soil is simply, the broken down remains of previous living things such as “plants, animals and other living organisms”. 
  • The inorganic is the part of soil which is from rocks that have broken down over time. You may think why would this be useful, well it is because inorganic components of soil contain liquids (water) and gases (air) which aid plant growth and health. 
  • Lastly, microorganism which live within the soil impact the growth of plants and overall health. One such organism is called “plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) .

One way to test the health of your garden, is to perform garden soil testing. This is done by checking the pH levels.

Why Does pH Matter In Your Soil?

By having the appropriate pH level of soil, it allows for optimal growth and crop yield. Not all plants which need soil to grow, are created equally. Depending on what you are trying to grow, it will demand a certain level of pH.

Take Blueberries for instance, the ideal pH level in soil for optimal growth is 4.5-5.0 ph.. slightly on the acidic side, but almost neutrally in balance. On the other hand let’s take Artichokes, which requires 6.5-7.5 soil pH level for optimal growth. For the most part, the pH level required to grow most fruits and vegetables is 4.5 to 8.0 pH. Here’s an outline of the pH Scale.

How To Measure Soil pH Without a Kit

Alright now, you are wondering “how to test soil ph WITHOUT some kind of kit”… and I am here to tell you it’s possible, all can be done at home. The first test requires only the use of Vinegar and Baking Soda. 

Method #1. Baking Soda & Vinegar

Step 1

What you do first is collect 1 cup of soil from different sections of your garden and put 2 spoonfuls into separate containers. What the two containers will do is let you see how the chemical reaction will be (acidic or alkaline).

Step 2

Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the soil, if it fizzes, it means you have alkaline soil ranging with a pH level of 7 and 8.

Step 3

Now with the other container, you can add a bit of distilled water until the soil becomes muddy. Add 1/2 cup of baking soda to this container and see if it fizzes, when that happens, it means you have acidic soil with a pH level between 5 and 6. Typically when you check for acidity and it starts to bubble up, you’ll start seeing it almost instantly

NOTE: On rare occasions, you won’t get any reaction from both containers, this simply means you have a neutral level of pH and it’s very good for you!

Method #2 - Red Cabbage Test

Step 1

This second test is a bit more straight forward by being homemade. It only requires a saucepan and 1 cup of cut-up red cabbage. What you first do is get the saucepan, add 2 cups of distilled water, place the red cabbage inside the saucepan, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Once your 5 minutes is up, turn-off heat and let it simmer for about 30-40 minutes.

Step 2

Finally once the time passes, you can strain off the liquid into a separate bowl (you’ll notice the liquid being a purple blueish color, totally normal). What this results in, is a BASE neutral pH of 7. 

Now on to the test!

Step 3

​Get a clean bowl and place 2 to 3 teaspoons of garden soil inside. Afterwards, add a few inches of cabbage water and stir. After 30 minutes if it turns pink, it means your soil is acidic, but if it turns blue/green, your soil is alkaline. 

Both tests require less than 2 hours of your time, and are pretty accurate with your soils pH level when done RIGHT.

How To Measure Soil pH WITH Kits

Now, here’s how to check soil ph using a variety of kits that can be bought in stores and online. Here’s how you do it step by step with method number 1 using Rapitest Test Kit:

Rapitest pH Test Kit

1) Get a handful of dirt from your garden and place inside glass bowl. Make sure you dig down into your soil 3-4 inches, to ensure you get past the surface soil and get a really good samples that won’t be altered by random surface things. 

2) Get a little square test kit with clearly measured makers of pH. This should also come with testing capsules which you’ll use for each individual test. 

3) Have a cup of distilled water ready to mix things up.

4) Now, using the measuring kit, using a metal spoon, place a teaspoon of soil inside the kit. 

5) Once placed inside, open a capsule and pour powder inside on the soil. 

6) Pour some of the distilled water inside until you reach the very top (but don’t overfill).

7) Close the kit and start shaking it well, do this for about 15 to 30 seconds. 

8) Lastly let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes until everything settles and you can finally compare your analysis of the colors the mini pH chart presented on the kit.

Method number 2 using a DIGITAL pH testing meter:

Basic Digital pH Meter

This second method on how to measure soil ph requires a very simple device, and is probably the easiest method there is. The only downside to this is it ISN’T the most accurate way to do it. 

To get the most accuracy, it’s recommended you measure different parts of the garden, add everything up as a total, and divide by the number of number of areas you measured.

Spot #1 pH 5.4
Spot #2 pH 5.8
Spot #3 pH 5.1
Spot #4 pH 5.4

Total is 21.7, now divide it by the total number of spots (4) and you get 5.425 or let’s just say 5.4. Now that is your most accurate pH level using that method. You can get a digital pH meter here, there are pretty affordable.

Here's method number 3 using a PROFESSIONAL GRADE pH testing meter:

Advanced Digital pH Meter

Now you may be wondering what is the difference between method #2 and this 3rd method. I am here to tell you that this is by far one of the most accurate methods you can do when it comes to using tools for measurement. 

You see, this is where it may require a bit of an investment up-front to perform properly. Professional grade testers cost at least 100 dollars on average… so expect that. Accuracy can be as precise as 0.001.

Performing tests with these devices almost always requires a calibration of the primary probe from which you measure the pH level of anything. Once measuring begins, you’ll have have highly precise reading of your soils pH level.

Here's method number 4 using LITMUS PAPER/STRIPS:

Need Vinegar & Baking Soda then Mix Soil & Distilled Water

This procedure will check for the pH level of your soil. When it comes down to overall cost, this has to be one of the more cheap options you’ll have available. Done quick and easy, what you’ll first do is get a sample of soil from your garden, get some distilled water, and have a few pH testing strips ready. 

1) To first check their effectiveness, get some baking soda and vinegar. Take one strip and dip half way into vinegar to see what color it changes to. If it changes to match color sheet provided indicating acidic, it means it is doing its job. Do the same with the other half of that strip, dip into baking soda and see what happens.

2) Once you know the strips are working as intended, what you should do is add 1/2 cup of distilled water and a handful of your sample dirt into the bowl. Mix it up carefully and let sit for 25-30 minutes. 

3) Take a new clean test strip, place inside the bowl and quickly take it out. If the strip retained a lot of dirt, take and dip quickly into distilled water to rinse off. Afterwards begin comparing its color to the color-sheet you are provided which represents pH levels. 

It’s that simple!

How To Lower pH In Soil

What do you do if you find out your soil’s pH level is too high? You can take certain steps to adjust it by following the following techniques I’ll outline below. 

Organic Matter

Method #1 – Organic Matter

The first option we have with lowering the pH level is by adding organic matter. When I say this, I mean adding things like compost, composted manure and acidic mulches (among other things as well). Sometimes this is a missing ingredient in your soil for optimal pH, while many other times organic matter is naturally there.

*Remember when we mentioned organic matter being one of the 3 primary things which make soil healthy, well adding more of it will decrease its pH level in the long term.

Big downside with this method is it takes a while for the organic compounds decay to do their jobs. It’s common to add organic compounds at the beginning of a season and let it take effect over the course of THAT season. 

Aluminum Sulfate

Method #2 – Aluminum Sulfate

Method number 2 is adding an aluminum sulfate. This is for RAPID pH lowering, and is to be treated as such.

No need to wait for things to decompose from method 1, you can actually go to your local market and buy an acidic soil additive from brands like Timberline, Actinovate, Miracle-Gro and others. 

Aluminum sulfates when dissolved in soil, work instantly to bring down the pH. Adding this to your garden should be carefully done as you should avoid adding too much and risking aluminum toxicity in soil. A general outline of how much to use is about 1.2 pounds of aluminum sulfate for every 10 square feet of soil. 

Garden Sulfur Spread

Method #3 – Garden Sulfur

Method number 3 is adding sulfur. A slower acting but MORE powerful method to increasing the acidity level of your soil.

You see, when you buy gardening sulfur, you can actually sprinkle a FRACTION of what you’d have to sprinkle with aluminum sulfates. About 0.2 pounds per 10 square feet of soil will be more than enough to let it start metabolizing by bacteria in the soil. When you purchase sulfur, ensure you get PURE sublimed sulfur. This helps ensure potency ounce for ounce.

Sulfur-Coated Urea

Method #4 – Sulfur-Coated Urea

Did you know what sulfur-coated urea can actually increase acidity of soil over time. It would be our number 2 fastest acting additive which would start producing results in as little as a few short weeks.

If you look closely, this stuff is found commonly in many store bought fertilizers. An additional benefit to being a fairly fast activating product, it SLOWLY releases nutrients your plant’s needs, INSTEAD of releasing them all at once.

How To Lower pH In Soil

Odds are you may have soil that is too acidic, in this case you may be wondering WHAT should you do? Much like I mentioned a few different ways you can LOWER your soil pH, I’ll be doing the same by mentioning how to RAISE your soil pH levels.

Ground Limestone

Method #1 

One of the best things you can do to combat “too acidic” soil, is by adding a base. Powdered limestone or lime is by far the most popular compound used to do so, found in most gardening stores (and sections). 

You have four choices in which form you want your lime: pellets, hydrated, granules, or pulverized. Remember that it depends on how much moisture is in the ground, so once you have an idea of THAT, you can pick one of the four options for delivering this base into your soil.

> Granular and Pelletized: This method is much easier to spread using a machine, however it isn’t quite as effective at altering the soil pH. 

> Hydrated Lime: Because this form is significantly more water-soluble, it will quickly increase pH. This form is only recommended for EXTREME cases of acidic soil.

> Pulverized Lime: While possibly the biggest pain in the rear-end for spreading (as it can get clogged inside the applicator), it is absorbed easily by the soil and is the recommended choice for me.

Wood Ashes

Method #2 

Use wood ashes. This is something you can’t buy many places, in fact it would be easier for you to make some yourself. Wood ashes from a burned tree can add micronutrients like calcium, potassium, phosphate, and boron. While not being as effective as lime, over time it can dramatically increase the pH. Keyword is OVER TIME.

Some key things to keep in mind when applying wood ashes. 

1) Ensure you don’t get wood ashes to get in contact with any plant roots or germinating seedlings because it may damage them.
2) If you have sandy soil, wood ashes work particularly well!

Water your soil THOROUGHLY

Applying The Liming Source & Watering

Two to three months prior to planting, it’s recommended you till the liming material into the soil. Till it into the soil’s root zone OR, the top 7 inches of soil. 

If your garden is small enough, this can be done by hand. 

Due to the fact that lime is not very water soluble, make sure you water your soil regularly. There won’t be much of an effect if your soil is dried out. What water does, is active the lim and help it seep DEEP into the soil. 

Depending on the current moisture level of your soil, will determine how often you should water it. Don’t do it too much, as it will leech other materials out.

My name is Ray. I’m a survivalist, an off-grid fanatic, and a proud married man to a beautiful woman. This website was started to be an educational resource for learning everything there is to getting off the grid and being self sufficient. Contact me if you’d like to connect, right here.

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