Like most home vegetable gardeners, I started with simply planting seeds of the vegetables I wanted to grow, adding some water, pulled weeds, and waited it out. Over time I realized that although this simple method works to grow great vegetables, I was doing me and my garden a great disservice.
By not paying attention to the soil’s pH level and the amount of moisture in the soil I was limiting the production of certain plants that could have benefited by making some adjustments. Just like a really good NFL head coach who makes game time adjustments, you too as a home vegetable gardener need to make adjustments in your soil as the season moves along.
There are two tools you should get to know that will help you make these adjustments based on the vegetables that you grow. They are the pH tester and the moisture tester. Each tool can be found at a local home or garden center in your area or purchased online. Simple ones cost as low as five or six dollars while more advanced models can go as high as one hundred dollars. How advanced you want to get is up to you, but most home vegetable gardeners usually go with the low cost varieties since they do an adequate job for the tasks at hand.
Soil pH Tester
Let’s start with the soil pH tester. The pH level is the measure of how acidic or alkaline your soil levels are. If you remember from your high school chemistry class, the scale goes from zero to fourteen, where anything under seven is considered acidic and anything over seven is alkaline with seven being neutral which is water.
Certain plants like the soil more neutral. Cauliflower for instance grows best when the soil pH level is in the 6.5 to 7.5 range, where as carrots like the soil a bit more acidic in the 5.5 to 6.5 range. So what happens when the pH level of your soil is not in the ideal range? If it is too acidic or too alkaline then you may not produce anything, or your harvest is very limited. By using a soil pH testing kit you can get an accurate reading of your soil’s level and then make adjustments based on what the test tells you (most kits come with recommendation charts for your soil so you can adjust the level accordingly). For the cost of less than seven bucks at some home and garden centers it is well worth the price.
Soil Moisture Tester
Testing your soil for its moisture level means you are looking for a reading of how much water is in your soil and around the roots of your plants. This can become extremely important so as you do not overwater your plants. A couple of things happen if when you overwater.
First, too much water can wash away valuable nutrients in the soil such as nitrogen. Ever see your vegetable plant leaves turn yellow? A common cause of this is lack of nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen washes away easily and when you water too much you are removing a nutrient your vegetables need to grow.
Second, too much water can cause the roots of plants to develop what is called root rot. This is caused by overwatering creating a condition around the roots where they are unable to obtain the air they need. When this happens the roots will begin to rot and will kill the plant. If your land has excellent drainage you may never run into this problem but I would recommend investing in this inexpensive tool and measure your soil’s moisture level just to be sure.
With these two valuable tools you will now be armed with the information you need to ensure a healthy and prosperous harvest. Combined these two tools can cost you less than fifteen dollars (depending on where you buy them from of course). Do yourself and your vegetable garden a favor, use the tools.
Mike is the author of the book Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the Rest of Us, available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and where ever gardening books are sold. For more vegetable gardening advice, Mike can be reached at his website: AveragePersonGardening.com.
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