Okay. That blog title sounds a little creepy. But my obsession with my soil and it’s high pH levels may be getting a bit unhealthy. However, if I’m going to put a lot of work (not to mention the investment of good dollars) into this garden for the next six months, I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot before I even get started. Working with soil that’s unlikely to be productive is exactly that.

The thing about high pH levels is that, at a certain level, many nutrients become less soluble in water. And since plants drink their nutrients through their roots, elements like iron, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc become less available to them. Without the right nutrients, they starve.

Now some plants seem to like the higher alkaline soils. Cabbage, probably, would grow really well with my dirt just as it is. However, while we like cabbage in this family, there are a number of other vegetables we would like also. And we have to find a pH level amenable to all of them, with minor adjustments for their differing tastes. By and large, most vegetables do well between pH levels of 6.5 and 7.5. So that’s what we would like to aim for.

I still can’t figure out why I’m getting such a high alkaline reading on this soil. We’re east of the Mississippi, which tends to be acidic and not alkaline. The soil looks good and black, with an abundance of earthworms crawling around beneath the surface. I’ve accepted the fact that our drive probably is or has been a limestone covered drive. (What’s there presently doesn’t look like limestone to me, but even if it isn’t now limestone, I’m certain at one time it probably was.)

I conducted two more soil tests yesterday. One was with soil about 30 feet from where I tested the first time. I also tested for nutrients. This test yielded a somewhat lower pH result – around 7.0. (I’m using one of those inexpensive kits that you mix with soil and water and then match to a color chart.) But I was astounded to see an extremely low result for nitrogen. The phosphorous and potassium levels seem okay — maybe a bit low (again, hard to be precise due to the color-matching aspect of the test). But the nitrogen test failed to show any color at all. Does that mean there is no nitrogen?

That’s when I went over the test directions once again. It appears that I’m not very good at reading directions in their entirety. That’s when I noticed that I was supposed to have mixed together three tablespoons of dirt from three different spots where I intended to garden, at a depth of four inches. I had neglected to dig down four inches. So I headed out to pick up yet another test and proceeded to test the soil once again, taking dirt from three locations at the far end of what I hope will in time be my gardens eastern-most edge (and away from the drive on the most westerly side of the intended garden).
And, for the third time, I again obtained an alkaline result (somewhere between 7.0 and 8.0), as well as nearly medium levels of phosphorous and potassium (I guess gardeners call this “potash”) and, as far as I could see, zero nitrogen.

I am accepting the zero nitrogen test results. The grass in this area of the yard is not very lush. So that seems probable. (But zero?!!) However, I really want to be sure about the pH level before I set out looking for sulfur to bring it down. For one thing, I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to find sulfur here in an area of the world that seems to suffer more from the other end of the spectrum. But, also, if I’m wrong, it seems as if it could cause me a lot of potential difficulties later. And the pH test is only $1.19 anyway, so it’s a small cost to avert potentially big problems later.

It occurred to me overnight, as I fixated further on my sad pH problems, that I had not used distilled water for the test, as the directions suggested was best. I had instead used bottled drinking water, thinking this would be better than water from our tap, which goes through a water softener. Alkaline soil is often called “sweet” when compared to the “sour” nature of acidic soil. If I can believe what I’ve been reading, evidently farmers of yore literally would taste the soil (hopefully in small amounts) to decide if it was right for their crops. Do you suppose people who bottle water might add a bit of mineral that would push the water toward the sweeter side of the pH scale? I don’t know. But it does seem possible.

So, I have decided that the small investment of yet another pH test and a gallon of distilled water is in order to be absolutely positive of my soil’s pH level before I work to change it.

In the meantime, we’ve begun turning over the soil. Here’s a photo of my older son, Zac, having a go at it yesterday, which was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day. We were able to get a 10 by 10 foot patch turned over with very little effort.

Zac digs in.

Zac digs in.