Tag Archives: soil compaction

DIY:Knowing my Soil Fertility without a Lab

Just as humans need the right balance of nutrients for good health, so do plants. For example, when tomatoes grow in soil that’s deficient in calcium; they develop blossom-end rot. Sometimes, too much of a nutrient is detrimental: Excessive nitrogen causes lots of leaf growth (such as clematis or peppers) but few flowers or fruits.

What’s the secret to raising healthy Vegetables?  Great  Soil


Soil in the hand.

How can you tell if your soil has what plants need? A soil test. When you send a soil sample to a lab, you get a detailed analysis of soil nutrients and you find out about deficiencies. That’s valuable information. Now you can also assess your soil for even more critical qualities.The methods are quite simple and the only supplies you need are a few items commonly found around the house.


When the soil is neither too wet nor too dry, dig a hole 6 to 10 inches deep. Separate an intact section about the size of a soup can and break it apart with your fingers. Determine whether the soil is cloddy, powdery, or granular. Ideally, your soil should be made up of different sized crumbs that will hold their shape under slight pressure. Crumbs, or aggregates, as soil scientists call them, that break apart only with difficulty mean your soil is too hard.

Why It’s Important
Soil rich in organic matter tends to form relatively round aggregates, which leads to porosity. Open, porous soils allow the free movement of water and oxygen, he explains, so plants can develop strong, healthy roots.


Plunge a rod vertically into the soil at different locations. Mark the depth at which the wire bends. The sooner it bends, the more compacted the soil. A foot or more of easily penetrable soil is ideal.

Why It’s Important
Compacted soil inhibits root growth and water availability, and keeps earthworms and other vital soil fauna from circulating freely.


You may have already learned about your soil’s work-ability the last time you got the garden ready for planting. If tilling or digging the soil produces cloddy or plate-like clumps, the work-ability is low. Farmers measure work-ability by monitoring how much tractor fuel they use; you can simply judge the effort necessary to prepare beds for planting.

Why It’s Important
Soil that’s easy to work allows water to reach roots efficiently and is less prone to compaction. Fail this step, and your garden will likely show disappointing results for many of the other tests. “If the soil isn’t easily worked, other problems have already been going on for a while.


Measure the animal life in your soil by digging down at least 6 inches and peering intently into the hole for 4 minutes. Tick off the number and species of each organism observed, such as centipedes, ground beetles, and spiders. Because most soil organisms spurn daylight, gently probe the soil to unearth the more shy residents. If you count less than 10, your soil does not have enough active players in the food chain.

Why It’s Important
A thriving population of diverse fungi, bacteria, insects, and invertebrates is one of the most visible signs of soil quality. The more that creeps and crawls under your garden, the less opportunity there is for pests and disease. Each level of soil life does its part to break down plant residue and make more nutrients available for plant growth.


When the soil is not too dry or wet, examine the soil surface for earthworm casts and/or burrows. Then dig out 6 inches of soil and count the number of earthworms squirming on the shovel. Three worms are good; five are better. The absence of worms means the soil does not have enough of the organic matter they feed on. An exception: If you live in the Southwest, don’t waste your time looking, even if the soil displays other conditions of soil quality. Earthworm activity is less likely in the desert because worms don’t like hot soil.

Why It’s Important
Not only do earthworms aerate the soil, but their casts infuse the soil with enzymes, bacteria, organic matter, and plant nutrients. They also increase water infiltration and secrete compounds that bind soil particles together for better tilth.


If you’ve grown a cover crop, dig down 6 inches 1 month after turning it into the soil and then look for plant matter. The range of organic material is important to notice here. The presence of recognizable plant parts as well as plant fibers and darkly colored humus indicates an ideal rate of decomposition.

Why It’s Important
The single most important component of healthy soil is organic matter. But plants and other organic materials decompose only when soil organisms are there to do the work. Any sign of this process is a good sign, but the speed of decomposition is important, too. Fast decomposition is another indicator of soil quality. In poorly aerated soil, plants break down slowly, a condition that gives off a faintly sour scent.


Start this test during the active growing season and look for healthy plant color and size that’s relatively uniform. Overall health and development must be judged for what’s considered normal for your region. The caveat to this to the test is that  if you planted late or during a drought, or suffered a pest infestation, results of this test may be unreliable.

Why It’s Important
Plant vigor indicates soil with good structure and tilth, a well-regulated water supply, and a diverse population of organisms. It’s the best sign of effective soil management you’ll have above ground.


Use a shovel or hand trowel to dig gently around a selected plant, preferably a weed you won’t miss. Once you’ve reached root depth, pull an annual plant up and check the extent of root development, searching for fine strands with a white healthy appearance. Brown, mushy roots indicate serious drainage problems—and a poor outlook for this year’s harvest. Stunted roots might also indicate disease or the presence of root-gnawing pests. When you look at the roots, you can really see what’s going on.

Why It’s Important
Roots have the most immediate connection with and reliance on soil quality. Without air, water, biological activity, and crumbly soil to grow in, roots can’t do their job.


Take an empty coffee can with the bottom removed and push it into the soil until just 3 inches remain above the surface. Fill the can with water, marking the water height, and then time how long it takes for the water to be absorbed into the soil. Repeat this several times until the rate of absorption slows and your times become consistent. Anything slower than 1/2 to 1 inch per hour is an indication of compacted soil.

Why It’s Important
Good infiltration gets water to plants where they need it at their roots prevents runoff and erosion, and lets air move more efficiently into soil pores.


Wait for a soaking rain; then record how long until plants start to show signs of thirst. Results will vary widely by region. The basic lesson is that if plants require more frequent watering than typical for your region, your soil is probably the culprit.

Why It’s Important
Porous soil can better resist evaporation and adequately supply plants between waterings. It could make all the difference in the world if water were to go another inch deeper.

Still not convinced take this ride with me.  Do you know that you can carry out a ph test on your  soil sample without a phmeter and no it does not give a reading,  it just helps you to make a decision about your soil.

Go to the grocery’s store and get a baking soda and a bottle of vinegar, then get soil sample from your farm from different random location and mixed them all up together before diving into smaller quantity while you get ready to carry out the test.

Collect 1 cup of soil from different parts of your garden and put 2 spoonfuls into separate containers. Add 1/2 cup ofdownload vinegar to the soil. If it fizzes, you have alkaline soil,

Baking soda for acidity

with a pH between 7 and 8.If it doesn’t fizz after doing the vinegar test.


Then add distilled water to the other container until 2 teaspoons of soil are muddy. Add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes you have acidic soil, most likely with a pH between 5 and 6.


If your soil doesn’t react at all it is neutral with a pH of 7 and you are very lucky and good to go