What exactly is pH and how does it impact the growing of our own food?
While many of us “glaze over” when someone starts to talk about chemistry, there’s a certain amount of understanding needed if we plan to be successful in growing our own food.
The endevour of growing food isn’t quite as easy as it sounds to some people. Our soil will greatly affect not only the health of our plants, but will also have a lot to say in terms of production.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to go to all the work of starting my own seeds, weeding and watering, I really would appreciate a good harvest! It doesn’t happen by accident, however. Understanding pH is the key.
So, let’s start with what pH means. It means “potential hydrogen” and is measured on a scale of 0-14. Soil with the highest acidity would measure O while soil with the highest alkaline would measure 14.
In simple terms, pH indicates the soil’s ability to attract hydrogen ions. Why is this important?
Hydrogen is one of the four elements that livings plants need to survive. Because the plant contains hydrogen, it continues to absorb hydrogen through the water via a process called osmosis. This hydrogen-osmosis cycle is what keeps the nutrients traveling from the water into the plant. Without proper nutrient absorption, our plants would be discolored, susceptible to disease and low fruit production.
Hang with me and look at this chart. Can you see how a pH level of 5.5-7.5 will allow the maximum absorption of available minerals?? Isn’t that kind of cool? I think so.
Based on this information, wouldn’t it be helpful to have a chart that details what fruits and vegetables need in terms of pH to grow at their highest potential? Yes it would and it’s right here.
Finding the pH of your soil doesn’t have to be complicated, many garden centers carry pH testing kits. Your local extension office should be able to help you soil test as well. You can also look into weed indicators here for additional insight.
Once armed with your pH number, adjustments in your soil’s pH will likely be in order. This isn’t an overnight process, it takes time….sometimes years.
Traditionally, in order to raise the pH in your soil, you would add lime. In order to lower the pH in your soil, adding sulphur will remedy the situation.
However, organic gardening is very important to me and using compost and manure is how I get my garden rockin’ each year.
Vermiculture, or growing worms, is another benefit for your garden. Certain animal manures that have been aged are also a great soil ammendment.
If you are serious about growing some or all of your own food, you can’t play guessing games with pH. Take the time to get a test, this will be your starting point. After three years of working compost, worms and manure into my very clayish soil, I finally have gorgeous “black gold” this year to plant in. It’s been worth all the work as I anticipate a heavy harvest this year!
Meredith’s 30# watermelon in 2010!