Sunday, February 5, 2012

How to Do an At-Home Soil Test in Only 16 Steps

 Step 1.  Buy a Soil Testing Kit

 Step 2.  Read the directions:

1. Spread out collected soil on a piece of paper and pick out leaves, stones, or sticks.
2.  Use the back of a plastic spoon to crush any lumps bigger than a pea.
3.  Let soil dry overnight.
4.  Follow all directions about mixing distilled water, soil, and provided tablets in the little test tubes.
5.  The water in the test tubes will magically turn colors and then you can easily determine everything about the soil.

Step 3.  Get a trowel full of dirt from a few inches down in the ground, dump it on a piece of paper, and throw it in the spare room overnight to dry.

Step 4.  Start crushing the dry dirt with the plastic spoon.  Realize that the dirt was full of ants. 

Step 5.  Clobber Gently remove ants with plastic spoon.

*Images have been censored.*

Step 6.  Spend lots of time trying to crush dried pieces of clay with plastic spoon. 

Step 7.  Actually follow the directions and mix distilled water, soil, and little tablets according to instructions on soil kit.  Compare colors to chart.

Step 8.  Realize that my soil actually is acidic.  Throw out the cheap, lying ph tester that has been telling me all this time that my soil is alkaline. 

Step 9.  Wonder why two of the tubes stayed clear and did not change color at all.

Uh, aren't there supposed to be some color in those two clear test tubes?
Step 10.  Redo the whole test with different dirt and get the exact same results, including the two clear test tubes.

*See image above*

Step 11.  Suspect that the soil test kit I just recently bought was in fact already expired.  Go back to store and get different soil test.

Step 12.  Follow all the directions exactly this time, and remove leaves, sticks, ants, etc., from dirt and crush it before putting in the spare room to dry. 

Step 13.  Mix soil with distilled water, fill test tubes to correct levels, add tablets, shake, pray that colors appear this time.

Step 14.  Celebrate that there is some color in the test tubes.  Stop celebrating when I realize that the colors tell me that there are very few nutrients in my soil.

Step 15.  See if I can convince Mr. Red House to increase our budget for compost and soil amendments.

*pretty please?*

Step 16. Go make sure there are no more ants in the spare room that my parents will be staying in next weekend...


  1. I've always wanted to do a soil test, but it seemed to complicated. Thanks for explaining the process.

  2. I've thought that it would be an easy thing to test soil. Most people ask off hand, "have you tested your soil for the proper 6.0-72 pH levels?" To which I say, (not looking them in the eye) not yet, I will do that soon. Now I know that I can look them in the eye and say, "I have yet to live through that harrowing experience... and I may never..." by the way, the cheap soil tester is the one I have. thanks...I'll have to throw it away now and pretend I never bought it. ;-)

  3. ANTS!!!!! Behind you!!!! Only kidding...! How dedicated are you in the garden , going to all that trouble of testing your soil.
    ANTS!!!'re OK, it was a smudge on my computer screen ...(insert squeaky screen-rubbing sound)...
    Only once bunged some chicken poop on the garden, about 100 years ago) and have never bothered since.

  4. I have thought about doing a soil tester, but in terms of what plants that are suitable for my garden I have done the trial and error method the last 10 years, and know that I am on the acidic side. I have camellia, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, pieris, and lots of woodland plants and they all thrive. I can’t grow dianthus though, and struggle with lavender and poppies. I also have a look at what my neighbours grow in their gardens, as that tells a lot about the general conditions.

  5. Haha, I loved this post :)
    And ph tester looks just like yours so now I'm thinking, maybe mine is also a "cheap, lying ph tester". I think I'll have to get one of these soil tester kits too.

  6. haha - I would have done this all wrong because of #2 - read directions! I'm one of those that only reads directions as a last resort. Good thing I already know I have acidic, clay soil. It looks exactly like yours - and dries hard as brick, too. Now, if those are fire ants, we have soil twins!

  7. Well, this brought back memories! My efforts at self testing my soil also revealed little nutrients in my soil. And the whole process left me with plenty of doubt, so I am continuing on with what seems to do best in my garden.

  8. Hilarious!

    We did no test our soil last year when we bought our house, but only because I can tell just by looking at it that it is... well, crap!

    Maybe I will test it this spring since we did some improvements to it just to see what it is still lacking.

  9. I love the honesty and admire your determination. I would have given up after the first try. I wonder if putting ants in one of those tubes would throw off the results a great deal?

  10. Hilarious! And rather familiar, though I am much less dedicated than you. No drying of soil or crushing. Hope you get your compost allowance increased!!

  11. It was definitely a whole process!

    The Burpee soil test (the one I did at the end) was actually fairly easy and doable. The Mosser Lee one was more complicated with more steps, and the tablets were hard to dissolve. So if you want an easy soil test - go with one like Burpee that has the powder in capsules!

    The advantage of the Mosser Lee brand was it was cheaper, as the Mosser Lee brand had enough tablets for several soil tests.

  12. It's always so funny to compare the directions on a package with how they turn out in real life. You have a great way of recounting the whole experience. I especially like (don't like) the ants!

  13. Well done! I am in awe at your exactitude. Why do I feel like a lazy sod now! The ants are hilarious by the way:~))

  14. Just about the same as my experience over the years....your description did make me laugh!

  15. I've never done a soil test before, this post has inspired to get 1 done pronto! :) Hope you got those red ants (fire ants) out from that room, I was bitten by 1 this weekend & oh boy, the bites still itch like mad 2 days after!

  16. Thank you for bringing a smile to my face. What we do for our plants.

  17. Our soil usually ends up being acidic as well. Soon, we will be adding some lime. This was a very good post...detailed and helpful!

  18. Oh, dear. Well, at least now you know and can do something about it. (this is important, Mr. Red House!) Bummer that it took two tests, but glad the 2nd one worked. I've never done a soil test before - it's great to see the play-by-play here! 95% of everything edible that we grow is grown in containers - lack of sunny spaces in the yard, and too many tree roots to dig in. Also a lot of cats. ;)

  19. I own that test too. Your experience is about what I've always envisioned. It appears that I've used my test but can't remember it at all (maybe it was just too harrowing). I'll probably garden as I have for the last 20? years, survival of the fittest. If something doesn't grow I don't plant it again. If it makes it I do.
    Loved the telling of your experience!

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