Doing A Soil Test For Your Vegetable Garden

We all know that the key to a thriving vegetable garden is great soil. So you have done a soil test for your vegetable garden, right?

Chances are, you haven’t. Because most gardeners don’t.

That’s why, in this article, I will explain how importing it is to do a soil test for your vegetable garden and how it works.

Why You Should Do A Soil Test for Your Vegetable Garden

For fruits and vegetables to grow healthy and produce a good crop, they need the right soil. Not only in terms of nutrients, but also in terms of pH level and soil structure.

If you have ever wondered why a vegetable or fruit does not do well in a certain area of your garden, the answer is probably because of the soil.

Different plants thrive in different conditions. For example, Nasturtiums do really well in acidic soil. 

So, if you know all about your soil in the different parts of your garden, you can plant the right plants to enable them to thrive. Because most gardens have different soil compositions in different areas. 

Of course, over time you will find out what works and what doesn’t work in various parts of your garden. But by testing your garden soils, you know immediately and don’t have to waste time, effort and money on trial and error.

Especially, when you are starting a new garden or moving to a new house, you should test your soil, to ensure you are getting off to a great start.

But a soil test will not only tell you the composition of your soil, it will also help you to identify what you need to do to improve your soil and get a healthy soil that will enable your garden plants to thrive.

For example, if you have very acidic or alkaline soil, there are ways to  adjust the pH level of your soil. That means you can create a better soil environment for your fruits and vegetables.

That’s why it is important that you do a soil test for your vegetable garden.

What A Soil Test Can Tell You

doing a soil test

There are different soil tests available, which test different things. However, these are the main things you test:

  • pH level: soil pH level can range from very acidic (3.0 – 5.0) to alkaline (7.1 – 8.0). Not many plants will grow well at these two extremes. For a vegetable garden, you want moderately acidic soil (6.1 – 7.0), as this will allow you to grow a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
  • moisture level: plants need moisture to grow well, which they get from the soil. While you can obviously control the amount of moisture they get by the amount you water them, you also want to make sure that your soil is capable of retaining moisture. Because this means that your plants will get a steady stream of moisture, which will be healthier for them.
  • nutrients: nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potash (potassium) are vital for the healthy growth of plants. Nutrient deficiencies in the soil can lead to stunted growth and increase the risk of diseases. Knowing the levels of these important nutrients in your garden soil will help you to decide what to add to your soil.
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Soil Type

While you need testing equipment to test for the above things, there is one soil test for your vegetable garden that you can do without any equipment. 

And that is a soil type test. Knowing what type of soil you have in your garden is the first step to take if you want to do a soil test for your vegetable garden.

Because if you know what soil types you have in your garden, you already know a lot. Generally speaking, there are four soil types in UK gardens.

Clay Soils

clay soil

This soil type consists of over 25% clay, and it is also called heavy soils. While clay soils are rich in nutrients, they also retain water more, which means they are at a bigger risk of getting waterlogged.

This is because they drain much slower than other soil types. Which is also why it compacts easily when wet and walked on.

This type of soil also takes longer to warm up and, when dry, can crack.

While it can be a challenging soil type to work with, when dealt with in the right way, it can work for various plants.

Sandy Soils

On the other hand, sandy soils are well draining, because they have high sand content and very little clay. It can be seen as the opposite of clay soils and is also known as light soils.

It is easy to work with, even when wet and warms up quickly. 

However, sandy soils are low in nutrients. And because they drain very well, they can also dry out quickly.

Sandy soils also tend to have a low pH level, which means they are acidic.

Loamy Soils

This soil type is often seen as the perfect soil for vegetable gardening. Because it is a combination of clay, sand and silt.

As such, loamy soil has the best from all three types. It drains well, is easy to work and is rich in nutrients.

Most loamy soils have one dominant material, either sand or clay.

Chalk Soils

This type of soil often occurs on a base of chalk or limestone bedrock. Which is why it is very stony.

Because of this, it is free-draining. But any minerals will be washed away quickly too.

Chalk soils can be heavy or light and are very alkaline.

Most gardens contain more than one soil type. So, if you want to know what soil you have, you need to do a soil test for your vegetable garden in several places.

Why It Is Important To Know Your Garden’s Soil Type

Yellow courgettes grown in a pot

Knowing the various soil types in your garden means that you know exactly where to grow what. Because different plants thrive in different soils.

But it also helps you to know how to improve your soil, if needed, depending on what you want to grow and where.

So the minimum knowledge every vegetable gardener should have about their garden is what soil types they have.

Now then, let’s find out how to do a soil test for your vegetable garden to find out your soil type.

How To Find Out What Soil Type You Have In Your Garden

The good news is, that it is quite simple to find out what soil types you have. All you have to do is have a close look at your soil.

Ideally, you want to check the soil in every spot where you are growing plants. Because, as we have already mentioned, there are different soil types in most gardens.

Pick up a handful of soil and look at it. If it is made up of fine particles, it is either sandy or silty soil.

If you can see different sized particles, it’s likely to be loamy soil. You are very lucky! 

Stoney soil tend to be chalky soil, but it’s more difficult to recognise by looking at it. And the same is true for clay soil.

So next, is the shaping test. This means you try to shape a ball with your soil. If it doesn’t keep its shape, even when wet, it will be sandy soil.

Clay soil will be sticky when wet and can be easily rolled into a ball. It will hold its shape very well. If you rub your soil ball, it will become shiny, if it is clay soil.

When you try to form a ball with loamy soil, it will be easy to do, but won’t hold its shape that well. It also won’t go shine when wet and being rubbed.

The best way to find out if your soil is chalky or lime-rich is by pouring some vinegar on it. If it starts to fizzle, then lime is present, and you will have chalky soil.

Now that you know how easy it is, go out and do this soil test for your vegetable garden and find out what soil types you have in your garden.

Improving Your Soil

compost heap

Now that you know what type of soil you have, we can look at what you can do to improve it, so you can grow vegetables.

If you have clay soil, you have to improve the soil structure. This can be done by adding organic matter.

Just dig in a few buckets of mulch or compost. 

This will break the clay down into smaller crumbs, which will result in two great things. First, it will improve drainage, which will make it easier to work with and reduce the risk of compaction.

Second, it will enable the roots to absorb water and nutrients from the soil. 

And because the organic matter will break up the soil into smaller crumbs, the soil will warm up quicker.

If you have sandy soil, also add organic matter, such as compost.

This will add a good amount of nutrients to your soil, but it will also bind the loose sand together. As a result, your soil will retain moisture much better. 

However, it will still be necessary to feed your plants, to ensure your plants will thrive and produce a good crops.

If you are one of these very lucky gardeners who have loamy soil, then smile, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

Loamy soil is seen as the perfect soil for gardeners, so no need to do anything to improve it. I bet you are so glad you did this soil test for your vegetable garden, aren’t you?

However, it will be beneficial to add some organic matter at the end of the growing season, to replenish the nutrients used by your plants. 

Chalky soils are difficult to improve. The main issue is that they are very alkaline. If your soil has chalky white stones, then it is best to just grow plants that will thrive in such conditions, as it is not possible to acidify such soil.

If you want to grow vegetables with chalky soil, I would recommend you build raised beds, which are filled with compost.

This way, you can grow your fruit and veg successfully.

As you can see, it does pay to do this soil test for your vegetable garden. Because you could find out why certain plants don’t thrive.

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Two Recommended Soil Test Kits

Once you know what soil type you have, you can move on to digging deeper (pun intended!) and find out more about the composition of your soil. For this, you have to do a further soil test for your vegetable garden.

There are two types of soil tests available. One is a soil meter, the other is a chemical DIY lab kit.

Recommendation #1: YurDoca Soil Meter

YurDoca Soil Meter

Check current stock levels, price, and reviews on Amazon

This soil meter will test the pH level of your soil, the moisture level and also the light level at a specific spot in your garden.

It’s very easy to you use, you just push it into the soil in the area in your garden you want to test. A very easy soil test for your vegetable garden.

By using a switch you can quickly and easily switch between the different measurements.

I like that it only takes about 10 minutes to get the reading, so it won’t take long to get results, even if you want to test several areas in your garden.

It doesn’t need any batteries, so you can do this soil test for your vegetable garden whenever you want.

Recommendation #2: Luster Leaf Soil Test Kit

Luster Leaf Soil Test Kit

Check current stock levels, price, and reviews on Amazon

This soil test kit works like a home lab kit. You mix water and a chemical substance with a soil sample to learn the soil pH level, as well as the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potash (potassium) in your soil.

It’s really easy to use and also quite exciting, waiting to see what the result is.

I especially like that you can find out what the levels of nutrients are in your soil. It will tell you if there is a surplus amount of a certain nutrient, if the amount is sufficient, adequate, deficient or depleted. 

This means you know exactly what you need to do to improve your soil to create the perfect growing environment for your fruit and veg.

The soil testing kit includes enough material to test 10 samples for each component, so enough to do this soil test for your vegetable garden, even in a big garden.

There are also soil testing labs, where you can send your soil samples to. While you will get much more detailed results than with a DIY soil testing kit, it will also be much more expensive.

And I think that the results you can get from a home testing kit are perfectly fine for home gardeners.

Because both test different things, you don’t necessarily have to choose between them. But you could use them both as a soil test for your vegetable garden to get a deep understanding of your soil.

Using The Test Results

Now that you have the results from your soil test for your vegetable garden, how can they help you to have a higher yield?

Moisture And Light Levels

Let’s start with the moisture and light level. If you have watered the area within 24 hours of doing the test, it will tell you how well the moisture was retained. 

If the moister levels are low, you know that either, you have to water again, or you might want to add organic material to the soil to improve water retention.

On the other hand, if the moister level is high, the soil is not well-draining, or you are watering too often. You might have to experiment a bit to find out which of the two applies to you.

If you find that your soil is not free-draining, you could mix organic matter in to improve the soil structure. 

In terms of light levels, if the area gets high levels, you know that the area is great for sun-loving plants, such as tomatoes. 

If you want to grow plants that don’t like too warm, such as lettuce, then you can try adding shade, by planting a tree or a tall bush. 

If the area does not get much sun, you need to choose plants that are fine with these conditions. Maybe a tree shades the area. In that case, you could consider taking down the tree or trimming it.

pH Levels

pH level

The results of the soil test for your vegetable garden in terms of pH levels could be a revolution.

There are normally four different pH level ranges that your soil could fall into:

  • Very acidic soil – pH 3.0 – 5.0
  • Acidic soil – pH 5.1 – 6.0
  • Moderately acidic soil – pH 6.1- 7.0
  • Alkaline soil – 7.1 – 8.0

At the two extremes, very acidic soil and alkaline soil, only specialist plants will thrive. For a vegetable patch, these pH levels are not suitable.

Because the plants are unable to access any nutrients that are in the soil, which they need to be healthy and produce crops.

But don’t despair, you can change the pH level of your soil!

If your soil is very acidic, then you can add lime to raise the pH level. This is readily available in garden centres or online.

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  • Monitor your soil pH throughout the growing season to ensure an ideal level is maintained

And if your soil is alkaline, you can add sulphur, iron sulphate or other materials that will reduce the pH level. 

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Acidic soil won’t work for vegetables, but there are plants that will thrive in soil with a pH level of between 5.1 and 6.0, such as camellias and rhododendrons.

If you want to grow vegetables, add lime to the soil to bring it within a pH range that will work for vegetables.

The ideal pH level for vegetables is 6.5. However, anything between 6.1 and 7.0 will work for the majority of vegetables. This is the range you should aim for.

Because in soil within this range the nutrients are available for the plant roots and organisms, such as earthworms and bacteria, will be active. This means you can be sure to grow healthy plants that will give you a good yield.

So, if your test results fall within this range, congratulations, you have  perfect vegetable growing soil!

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Nutrients

Doing a soil test for your vegetable garden that shows you the levels of the most important nutrients could be the key to getting a bumper crops.

Once you know what nutrients are in your soil and how much, you can then take action to improve the level of nutrients.

For example, if your soil is low in nitrogen, you can add blood meal to your soil.

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Alternatively, you could mix green manure or nettle leaves into your soil. As it rots, nitrogen is released into the soil.

Ideally, you want to do this at the end of your growing season or the start of spring, so your soil is ready for when you start planting out.

If your plants are already planted, you can feed them with a plant feed high in nitrogen, such as seaweed.

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Nitrogen is important for plants to grow green lush foliage, so is most important at the start of the growing process.

Equally, if your soil is low in potassium, then you can mix comfrey leaves in with your soil. As they decompose, they will release nutrients into it. And comfrey is high in potassium.

Or you can chop up the comfrey leaves and use them as mulch.

Potassium or potash is important for fruits and vegetables because they need it to grow fruits. So, you want to make sure that your soil has a good level of this nutrient.

Now that you know the importance of doing a soil test for your vegetable garden and also how to do it, don’t wait. Knowing your garden soil will enable you to grow amazing fruits and veg. Happy Growing!

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