JANUARY 2021 | ANOTHER STEP IN BUILDING A SOIL

JANUARY 2021 | ANOTHER STEP IN BUILDING A SOIL

Hello again in 2021. There is colour to be found, sparingly, in winter as the big picture shows – the brightly coloured twigs of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’.  Remember last month when I focused on getting started with building a soil?  This time I am thinking about a useful second step on the same road. For me there is nothing better to counteract Lockdown ennui than building something, however small, for the future.
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What benefit to be gained from a pH test of your garden soil?

It is a more precise step than taking a walk around your local area if you are new to it and which you might also do to see what those who came before you are growing in their gardens – an abundance of roses signifies clay, an absence of rhododendrons signifies alkaline soil etc etc.  A pH test measures the acidity or alkalinity of your soil presented as a number between 0 and 14.  7 is neutral, anything above is alkaline, anything below is acid.  It is a logarithmic scale which means that a change of 1 unit say from 5 to 6  is actually a change of 10.  Why would you care about that?

There are many lists on the internet from which, once you have your pH measurement, you will find out which plants are likely to thrive in your soil plus if you are a buyer-in of compost you will understand which to buy and which to avoid. It could be very useful to your garden planning to have prior knowledge of which plants will thrive – nothing worse than falling in love with a plant in the garden centre and taking it home to watch it dwindle and die over time.  Ugh!

How to do a pH test

The pH of your garden is unlikely to be exactly the same all over and you may wish to pH test areas individually.  I have always found that taking samples from a 5cm depth of soil of different areas is a good way to get an average.  If you want to be really methodical imagine the letter W superimposed on the entirety of your garden or plot.  From all five points of the letter take a soil sample to a depth of 5cm, mix the various samples together and put into a open container.  Leave to dry out naturally.

There are three ways of pH testing.  I still have a professional gardener’s kit – the only type I have ever used –  plus an unused probe device I got for when the other kit ran out.  pH paper strips are also commercially available and used much like litmus strips.  Both the probe and the paper strips should be used with soil water.  All presumably give you an indication and this is adequate for garden purposes but none are laboratory standard accurate – nor need to be.  It is possible, and expensive, to have your soil laboratory tested should you wish.

I have done my pH test.  You can see the results below.

A pH testing kit
A pH testing kit.
Read the colour codes supplied with the kit to see the test result. You can see my plot soil result in the test tube in the corner.
Read the colour codes supplied with the kit to see the test result. You can see my plot soil result in the test tube in the corner.

 

A probe device for measuring soil moisture and pH
A probe device for measuring soil moisture and pH

Can you change the pH of your soil?

The short answer is no.  However all is not lost.

One of my neighbouring allotment plotholders has a passion for the very popular blueberry, a plant which requires acid soil.

She has made a raised bed for her blueberry bush and buys in ericaceous compost sufficient for the one small bed.  In this way you can grow plants incompatible with your soil.

I hope to get around 10 plants from my comfrey root cuttings which will make for very useful organic matter to add to both my plot and my garden
I hope to get around 10 plants from my comfrey root cuttings which will make for very useful organic matter to add to both my plot and my garden






Colour in winter from orange Pyracantha berries
Colour in winter from orange Pyracantha berries

I’ll leave you with a splash of colour as I started. You will no doubt be lockdown coping by getting on with your garden planning for the coming growing season and reading your gardening catalogues. I am off to sow my onions and leeks in the hope of getting larger versions of both – more of this next time. Happy gardening!

Bye for now from Rosanna.

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