How to Test Soil and Water on Your Property
By James White
There are some pretty amazing benefits to living in the country. Most people who live in the country rely on wells. Well water comes from rain, lakes, rivers, ponds and underground streams. There are no regulations or tests done on that water, except for the tests homeowners do themselves.
Because the water comes from natural sources, it’s also important to keep an eye on the soil quality. Native plants play an important role in regards to water – they clean it. Soil that is too acidic or alkaline can prevent or inhibit plant growth, which, in turn, means that the water isn’t being cleaned as thoroughly.
Anyone who owns large areas of land should have their soil tested regularly. That can give you an idea of what to look for when testing the water. Remember, someone is doing water tests for anyone who uses the city’s resources, but you have to look for your own. Doing a water audit early can help you to prevent problemsbefore they impact your life, and will help you to make informed decisions about your land.
We’ll start with the soil test because it’s incredibly easy, and you can do it with items from your pantry. It should take about 15 minutes, and you can do it as often as you like. Soil that is too acidic or alkaline will prevent plants from growing and helping to keep fresh water sources clean. Quick refresher – acidity is measured on the pH scale of 0-14. A pH of 7 is considered neutral.
Step 1: Go get some soil. You’ll need about two large handfuls. Put half in one container, and half in another.
Step 2: In container A, add 1/2 cup vinegar. If it does nothing, you’re good. However, if you see it fizzing and popping, you have alkaline soil – which means the pH is above 7.
Step 3: In container B, you’re going to mix in 1/2 cup water. Stir it around to make it muddy, and add 1/2 cup baking soda. If this mixture causes your soil to pop and fizzle, you have acidic soil – where the pH is below 7.
Your follow-up actions will depend on the result you get. A mildly acidic or alkaline soil isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some plants prefer that, depending on what they need for nutrients. If, however, you’ve noticed your plants aren’t doing well, you may need to take action to repair the soil. If it’s alkaline, add pine needles or sulfur. If you’re looking at acidity, add wood ash or lime instead.
A water quality test is an equally important step, and it becomes even more so if you find you need to adjust your soil. Testing your water isn’t quite as easy as the soil test, since you actually have to either buy a kit or send a sample away, but it’s still too easy to not do it. All you have to do is collect some water. That being said, there are different things to look for.
The more common contaminants include fertilizers, human waste and decomposing organics. All of these can lower the oxygen in water, which leads to excessive algae and can result in fish kills. Water with high levels of nitrates or phosphorus is also not safe for human or animal consumption. Testing for fertilizer is easily done with an at-home kit, or a sample can be sent to a local water-testing lab.
The easiest test you can get is a simple test strip kit. These vary in price, but are usually pretty cheap. You can buy them online and in a number of stores. All you have to do is dip the test strip in the water, wait until the colors are revealed and then compare it to the color chart that comes with the kit. These usually test for pH and a number of contaminants.
No matter what you think your issue may be, or even if you don’t think there is one, it’s always better to be safe rather than sorry. With as cheap and easy as these soil and water test options are, there’s really no reason not to investigate. If nothing else, you’ll know more about your home and how best to work with what you’ve got.
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