Learning how to check if your soil is healthy for your garden will be a good skill to have. Gardening requires soil rich in nutrients and dense enough to hold the plant in place but soft enough to allow water and air to permeate the roots. A healthy plot of soil should have plenty of underground activities from living organisms including burrowing and crawling animals, other plants, and colonies of microorganisms. Earthworms, fungi, nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and microorganisms that break down organic matter for nutrients should be present.
For people who love to garden, learning about the suitability of the soil in your garden is vital for the success of your garden. For more tips in choosing the best soil testers or other important gardening topics, visit us at WeekendGardener.Net.
While each crop and plant may require different soil chemistry to grow, in general, soil that is rich in organic matter is the best kind of soil for the plants to grow. This type of soil tends to be darker. It also should easily crumble off and not sticky together like dough. When the plants growing I an area show a root system that spreads out, this is usually a good sign of healthy soil.
If this is your first attempt to test the health and quality of the soil in your garden, then you came to the right place. Sure there are many professional soil testing services that you can hire. But it always helps to know how to do it on your own.
In this article, we are going to give you a checklist questionnaire that you can use to check out the health of the soil in your garden. We advise you to do this checklist during the spring growing season. Also, make sure to check the health and quality of soil in different spots in your garden. This way, you can a better overall profile of the health of the soil in your garden.
QUESTION 1: ARE THERE LIVING GROUND ANIMALS IN YOUR GARDEN PLOT?
As mentioned above, healthy soil contains an active community of living upper and underground communities of living organisms. What you need to do is dig a six-inch hole and observe the interior of the hole you dug for 4 minutes. In that span of time, except for earthworms, count the number and species of moving living organisms that can find. This may include small ground beetles, centipedes, ants, spiders, and other creepy crawlers. Healthy soil should have a minimum of at least 10 species of animals. A lower number than this means your soil is low on animal life and maybe unhealthy.
QUESTION 2: HOW MANY EARTHWORMS ARE THERE IN YOUR GARDEN PLOT?
Dig a chunk of soil from your plot. This should be around 6 inches deep. Observe and count the number of earthworms in the hole. If you counted five or more, then the soil is generally healthy. Earthworms are especially a good sign of healthy soil. Earthworms aerate the soil. This allows the roots of the plants with plenty of space to grow. It also promotes the circulation of air. Furthermore, earthworms eat organic material and they help break down these organic matters so they can become nutrients in the soil.
QUESTION #3: IS THE SOIL TILLED?
Healthy soil has the right consistency. It should be solid enough that it forms clumps. These clumps of soil should be able to retain their shape with slight pressure from your hands or palms. However, it should be aerated enough that it can be broken up easily. Healthy soil should be well aerated and allows water and air to circulate freely around the root system of the plants. To check the health of your soil, dig a deep hole on a damp soil of around 6 to 10-inch deep. Get a chunk the size of a soup can and break it apart. If this chunk is soft and = breaks apart easily, then this is a sign of healthy soil.
QUESTION #4: HOW EASY IS IT TO TILL AND WORK THE SOIL IN YOUR PLOT?
There are different types of soil. Sandy soil can be easily tilled, but they cannot form a shape and will usually erode easily. On the other, clay is difficult to play and very compact. Healthy soil should be easy to work. Try tilling your soil, if the soil is not workable then it could be a sign of unhealthy soil. If chunks of solids stick to the spade, then you are probably working with clay. If it is difficult to form raised plots because the grains of the soil run in all directions, then it is probably sandy. Healthy soil is one that can be till easily.
QUESTION #5: HOW COMPACT IS THE SOIL?
This is related to the question above. This time, you need to check if the soil is well-aerated. What you need to do is stick a steel wire into the soil. Continue pushing the wire down into the soil until it bends. Mark the part of the wire that’s directly on top of the soil when the wire starts bending. Healthy soil should allow a steel wire to penetrate it by 12 inches before bending. An unhealthy soil is too compact that the wire will bend before it reaches 12 inches. This kind of unhealthy soil is too compacted and will restrict the availability of water, air, and nutrient availability for the pants. Beneficial organisms such as earthworms are also prevented from moving around the roots of the plants when the soil is too compact.
QUESTION #6: DOES WATER INFILTRATE THE SOIL EASILY?
Test how easy it is for the water to reach the plant roots. You can do this by pushing an empty can of coffee into the soil. Both ends of the can should be removed. Push the can until only 3 inches of space remains above ground. Then fill up the visible portion with water. Time the draining of water. Do this repeatedly until the soil’s absorption rate of the water slows down and consistent. If water is absorbed in a rate slower than ½ – 1 inch per hour, the soil is too compact and unhealthy. If the water is absorbed faster than ½ – 1 inch per hour then the soil has a good water infiltration. A soil with good filtration rate is good for your plants because it prevents erosion and runoff while promoting proper aeration for the roots.
QUESTION #7: IS THE SOIL ABLE TO MAINTAIN WATER?
Well-aerated soil is more resistant to evaporation and can hold up water for your plants. This test can be done after a rain when the water is all soaked in water. Track the time of the last rain and how many hours until your plants show signs of thirst such as slight withering of green leaves and limping branches. Then compare results to what is normal in your area. If the plants are showing signs of needing water at more frequency, then your soil may be to lose and cannot hold water for your plants.
QUESTION #8: ARE THE ROOTS OF THE PLANTS GROWING IN YOUR GARDEN HEALTHY?
A very indication of healthy soil is the health root development of plants. In your garden, pick up the weeds or other plants that are growing. Dig up one sample of this plant and examine the health of its root system. Find if there are any white roots with fine strands of hair. These roots are healthy. On the other hand, if you find roots that are brown or mushy roots, then there is a serious issue with the water retention of the soil. It holds up water for too long. Short and stunted roots are a sign of disease.
Learn this simple checklist of questions. Get a notebook and record your answer. I am sure that with frequent practice you will soon develop the capacity to make comprehensive soil tests.