Learning as much as you can about your soil will help you decide what needs to be done to make it ideal for the crops you want to grow. If you can learn about your soil’s composition, texture, drainage, mineral density and acidity, you will avoid bad yields or overall disappointing results that happen when your soil quality is poor.
Test 1: Percolation Test
This test will help you determine whether you have drainage problems or not. Some crops, especially culinary herbs, slowly die when their roots are always too wet. So, to test your soil’s drainage:
Dig a 15 cm wide and 30 cm deep hole and fill it with water and allow it drain completely. Fill it with water again
and take note of how long it takes to drain. If it takes more than four hours, you have poor drainage.
Test 2: pH Test (acidity test)
The pH of your soil plays a major role in how well your plants grow. You test pH on a scale of 0-14, were zero is very acidic and fourteen very alkaline. Most crops grow best when the pH is fairly neutral, ie between six and seven.
Most farming stores have pH test kits which are are fairly accurate. However, you must ensure you follow all testing instructions. Once you know your soil pH, you can easily correct its quality.
Test 3: Worm Test
Worms are good indicators of the overall health of your soil. If you see earthworms in your soil, then your soil could have all of the beneficial bacteria and microbes that make it healthy. To test for worms, ensure the soil is warm (avoid cold mornings), and that it is a little moist, but not soaking wet.
Then, dig a hole 30 cm across and 30 cm deep and place the soil on a piece of cardboard. Slowly check the soil with your hands as you drop it back into the hole, and count the earthworms as you do this. If you count at least ten worms, then your soil must be in good condition. If they are less, then either there probably isn’t enough organic matter in your soil that supports a healthy worm population, or your soil is too alkaline or acidic.
Test 4: Squeeze Test
You have to know the character of your soil. Is it sandy, clay or loamy? Clay is full of nutrients, but slow draining. Sandy is drains quickly, but can’t retain moisture and nutrients. Loamy is generally said to be ideal because it retains nutrients and moisture but doesn’t stay soggy.
To determine the type of soil you have, take a handful of moist (not wet) soil, squeeze it firmly then, open your hand. Here what will happen:
- If it holds its shape, and crumbles when you poke it, it is loamy soil
- If it holds its shape, but stays firm when you poke it, it is clay soil.
- Lastly, if it falls apart as soon as you open your hand, it is sandy soil.
These tests are easy, and an inexpensive way to ensure that your crops have the best foundation. If your plants are still struggling after doing all these tests, and amending the soil, have your soil tested for other mineral deficiencies, as well as steps you need to take to correct the issues.