** Scoop some soil into a container. Then, add a half-cup of vinegar. If the soil bubbles or fizzes, it’s alkaline.
** If there’s no reaction, scoop a fresh soil sample into a second container. Add a half-cup of water and mix. Then, add a half-cup of baking soda. If the soil bubbles or fizzes the soil is highly acidic.
DIY Amend your soil with chicken manure, wood ash or lime, if it’s acidic.
DIY Amend your soil with sulfur, use no more than 2 pounds per 100 square feet of garden soil or use pine needles, if it’s alkaline.
I have found over the years that unless your soil is on the extreme acid or extreme alkaline end of the scale, most plants will adapt and do fairly well in you unamended garden soil.
Low fertility soil that is lacking in nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that are vital for healthy plants. Add organic matter or inorganic fertilizer. Organic matter can include anything from compost to bone meal to lawn clippings, depending on your specific needs.
Inorganic fertilizer is inexpensive and works quickly, but instead of actually amending the soil, it simply feeds existing plants and must be reapplied 2 or 3 times during the growing season.
Whether you are using organic, DIY self compost or commercial fertilizer, *Remember, a little goes a long way. Better to apply/reapply 2 or 3 times during the growing season than to over do at spring planting time.
Dealing with heavy clay soils is a long term process that will require a great deal of humus (compost) to be tilled into your garden soil. 3 or more inches of compost tilled into your garden soil in the spring and again in the fall will over time turn your clay soil into a wonderful rich garden soil. This process is a never ending process, but will require less compost and become easier after the first 3 or 4 years of amending your clay garden soil.
I see and hear of people recommending that you add sand to clay soils as an amendment. DO NOT DO THAT! Clay soil and sand mixture is a great recipe for making adobe brick. Instead add large quantities of humus (compost) 3 or 4 inches deep tilled into your garden two times a year, this will over time as the compost mixes and continues to break down change clay soil to a wonderful garden soil.
The next best thing to amending your clay soil is to think small and build and garden in small raised beds filled with purchased top soil and compost.. Raised beds is a good option for the small scale backyard gardener but is not a viable option for larger scale farmers cultivating many acres.
Square Foot, Raised Bed Gardens Verses Direct Soil Planting
You may find this old posting useful in deciding what gardening method is best for you and your backyard arrangement.
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