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Author Topic: Soil testing  (Read 886 times)

arobwk

  • Joined Nov 2015
  • Kernow - some say it's in England !
Soil testing
« on: December 10, 2018, 02:29:20 pm »
Soil testing for nutrients with chemical kits is a pain in the ...
I am aware that my fields really do need some macro-nutrient supplements (from DIY chem' testing) which I will implement in the Spring (many tonnes of horse manure presently stock-piled).  Not sure about micro-nutrients and I might get a professional chem' test done. 
However, I've been thinking about a combination of occasional tedious chem' testing supplemented by periodic use of pH and Electrical Conductivity (EC) soil probes - for example, chem' test, say, biennially, or whatever, and then pH & EC probe tests periodically to roughly guage what might be happening over the seasons in between.
I don't want to get too nerdy about this:  a good dose of manure etc periodically has been good enough for eons of agricultural activity, but I'd like to get a better picture of how my soil behaves.

So, my questions are:

Firstly, what do others do, if anything (i.e. anything beyond just chucking a good load of manure around)?
2ndly, can anyone recommend a good pH probe meter?  (I came to realise that a gifted cheapy probe I was using wasn't actually working).
3rdly, anyone used/using an EC meter to give them a feel for the composite nutrient content of their soil?     
« Last Edit: December 10, 2018, 02:33:32 pm by arobwk »
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landroverroy

  • Joined Oct 2010
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2018, 03:12:56 pm »
If you're already into diy chemical tests, I use a proper pH kit with universal indicator solution, barium sulphate to clear the solution, and test tubes.


You could also use universal indicator test paper with several individual soil samples shaken up with deionised or distilled water. Not tap water as that may not be neutral - could be the reason for inaccurate results from your cheapo pH meter?


To be honest, unless you have a fair acreage and are producing something on a commercial scale, you do sound a bit nerdy, :innocent: because  so long as you add nutrients according to how much you are taking out, and check the pH every now and then, you won't notice the difference! 
So, as a general guide:-

A good way to add trace elements (apart from manure) is to put on some calcified seaweed (if still available) or Gafsa phosphate - which contains 32 trace elements.
If you are just grazing the land, the main element that needs replacing is phosphorous.
If you take a hay or silage cut then you need to add potassium as well, unless you are plastering with manure from ruminants or horses which already contain a lot. Pig manure is higher in phosphate.
Nitrogen is usually leached out each year so will give crops a boost, especially in spring.

I used to work in soil testing, but don't bother testing my own (apart from pH) as it's all grassland so pretty easy to gauge what it needs.
« Last Edit: December 10, 2018, 03:15:15 pm by landroverroy »
Rules are made:
  for the guidance of wise men
  and the obedience of fools.

arobwk

  • Joined Nov 2015
  • Kernow - some say it's in England !
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2018, 04:02:51 pm »
Thanks kindly for thoughts @landroverroy, but I’m not really into chem’ testingit’s a choreI know my soil is presently deficient of nutrients and I’m also concerned about leaching from run-off.  I don’t want to be fertilising more than I absolutely need to though:   with many permanent plantings over (idc) 3 ha, manuring will be labour intensive and fertigation and/or foliar feeding could be quite expensive.  And, yes, there is a commercial angle (albeit fairly small-scale).
 
I’m fairly sure calcified seaweed is still available:  I’ll have to investigate what Gafsa phosphate is!  (However, I don’t want to over-do P supplement as I seem to think too much can affect soil mychorrizae.)
 
The methodology I had in mind:   start with chem’ tests and record results from electronic probes (pH and Electrical Conductivity) taken at same time;   manure and/or fertigate early next Springrecord pH/EC probe tests routinely over the growing-year with chem’ re-test only if there’s any obvious pH or EC change and amend/re-fertilise if necessary with an appropriate fertiliser blend.   Once I know what is happening across the fields, I would hope to default to an “about right” fertiliser regime with very little testing.  I accept that might still sound a bit nerdy.

I’m still interested in any recommends for a tried-and-tested accurate/reliable pH probe meter, preferably with digital read-out, at a reasonable price.  Plenty pH probes available for pennies (mine eventually determined to be defective), some at tens of £s and some at a lot more than that!). 
 
[Soil-probe EC meters are few and far between:  Luster Leaf 4in1 meter would give a rough and ready EC reading, but I’m inclined towards Hanna Groline Soil Test probe and a decent pH meter.]

arobwk

  • Joined Nov 2015
  • Kernow - some say it's in England !
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #3 on: December 15, 2018, 01:45:38 pm »
With no recommends, I've ordered this pH/moisture meter.  Analogue meter, but scale gradation is way better than most and entirely adequate for pH readings in the field.  Not exactly cheap at £27 (ebay find), but same meter was £45 on Amazon!
« Last Edit: December 15, 2018, 07:01:55 pm by arobwk »

landroverroy

  • Joined Oct 2010
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2018, 06:39:59 pm »
Sounds good value arobwk.
Presuming that you don't have any means of checking its accuracy, a general guide is that vinegar should give a reading of roughly pH 4. Can't remember now what the alkali check chemical is. But it's useful to be able to at least check one end of the scale.
Will be interested to hear how you get on with it.
Rules are made:
  for the guidance of wise men
  and the obedience of fools.

arobwk

  • Joined Nov 2015
  • Kernow - some say it's in England !
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #5 on: December 15, 2018, 07:45:15 pm »
Will update idc landroverroy.
(I wasn't sure what a vinegar test should give pH-wise, but I did eventually test my old meter in vinegar;  it gave pH 7  :D   Obviously I knew then that I needed a replacement !!  )
« Last Edit: December 18, 2018, 03:41:36 pm by arobwk »

arobwk

  • Joined Nov 2015
  • Kernow - some say it's in England !
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #6 on: December 18, 2018, 03:52:49 pm »
Again with no recommends, I have decided to start out really cheap on the nutrients metering front - an EC (general nutrients level) meter is on order for less than £10.  Who knows - might be all I need!  If not, the £10 starter outlay is no big deal.  Again, I will report idc.

Me

  • Joined Feb 2014
  • Wild West
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2018, 12:09:35 am »
Martini pH meters work. Not as cheap as some

arobwk

  • Joined Nov 2015
  • Kernow - some say it's in England !
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2018, 03:51:07 pm »
What !? - a pH meter for martinis!  Had to check that out. 

Scenario - "Now arob, my dear chap, do tell what pH meter you are using for your soil management regime?"  ...  "Oh, nothing special;  I just use my cocktail meter - works perfectly well in the field as well as at the bar.  The alcohol sorts out any contamination issues."

I was quite disappointed to find that "Martini" is an instrument brand name  :D and you're right Me, they're not cheap. 
« Last Edit: December 20, 2018, 07:57:51 pm by arobwk »

arobwk

  • Joined Nov 2015
  • Kernow - some say it's in England !
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2018, 01:45:50 pm »
Mmm ! Both new soil meters received.  The cheapie pH/nutrients meter is a keeper (for further field trials idc) - the pH/moisture meter is being returned (although I'm going to risk a like-for-like replacement). 
While mucking around with the two of them, I discovered the pH/moisture meter didn't always work and sometimes needed a sharp tap to get the needle to spring into action, after which both meters would show pretty much the same pH. 

[I also dismantled (broke-open) my original pH meter and twiddled the various wires - lo and behold, the needle decided to actually work in pH mode !  I'm not trusting it though and it is, anyway, in "bare-bones" state with little chance of its casing being re-constructed for use in the field.] 



landroverroy

  • Joined Oct 2010
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2018, 01:55:27 pm »
Sounds like you've had a good Christmas then arobwk -  not one but 2 pH meters.  Happy testing. :farmer:
Rules are made:
  for the guidance of wise men
  and the obedience of fools.

arobwk

  • Joined Nov 2015
  • Kernow - some say it's in England !
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2018, 02:30:57 pm »
Sounds like you've had a good Christmas then arobwk -  not one but 2 pH meters.  Happy testing. :farmer:

pH (proper Happy) Christmas thanks landroverroy !!  LOL
« Last Edit: December 30, 2018, 02:35:09 pm by arobwk »

arobwk

  • Joined Nov 2015
  • Kernow - some say it's in England !
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #12 on: January 18, 2019, 01:27:12 pm »
Well:  the defective pH/moisture meter was replaced, but the 2nd one turned up with the tip hanging off the probe revealing a small-diameter plastic rod at it's core, which had snapped somewhere along the line.  So I would suggest this (see photo earlier in this thread) is a meter to AVOID. 

[The vendor suggested, at 1st, that I try taping it back on and, if it still worked, they would give me a £5 discount ! 
Sorry, but no. 
Then it was suggested I could get it fixed locally and they offered a £13 discount, for my troubles, at great loss to them !! 
Sorry, but no - it's not repairable.  I'm awaiting confirmation of full reimbursement. ]
 

landroverroy

  • Joined Oct 2010
Re: Soil testing
« Reply #13 on: January 18, 2019, 10:57:41 pm »
Fortunate then that you have the other one, so all is not lost. :sunshine:
Rules are made:
  for the guidance of wise men
  and the obedience of fools.

 

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