Soil tests and the equipment to do it

Discussion in 'Organic Lawn Care' started by ICT Bill, Jan 9, 2008.

  1. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,115

    I have been thinking about soil tests and what equipment you could use to do it yourself.
    I understand in spring there may be an overwhelming amount of them so it would justify sending them out, just not enough time in the day.
    But what if you wanted to "SEE" what was going on in the soil while you were on site.
    what equipment would you recommend?
    I have heard of PH meters that are only $70 to $80, seems reasonable

    Someone asked me how to do a soil organic matter (SOM) test in the field or back at the shop later, how do you do one of those?

    Is there a reference book that has these things in them?
    I guess we need to lay out what exactly is tested in a soil test and see what would be cost effective or not
  2. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 18,308

    If you have something similar to this:

    and get a soil test kit:

    and the manual for the above test kit:

    or build your own

    You have pretty much everything you need for basic field tests and for collecting high quality samples for lab analysis.

    Also doesn't hurt to know the soil series your dealing with.
  3. cpel2004

    cpel2004 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,416

    Are you talking about a soil tester or a PH tester? I havent used one personally but I herd Kelway is the industry leader.
  4. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 18,308

    I have a Kelway tester (moisture + pH), however I wouldn't recommend using it for anything other than a quick and dirty test.
  5. cpel2004

    cpel2004 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,416

    Kiril share a little more about your experiences with the Kelway, please?
  6. Kiril

    Kiril LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 18,308

    I'll do ya one better and illustrate the use of it.

    1 & 2) Tester and case
    3) Tester showing length of probe area
    5) Showing depth of test
    5) Testing pH (lower than I would have expected)

    Note - moisture tested around 70%, a little lower than expected, Mr. Lincoln showed a reading of 6.


    1) Need adequate soil moisture to get relatively accurate pH reading
    2) Limited depth of testing (most suitable for turf)
    3) Requires conditioning film to maintain some level of accuracy

    So in conclusion, good tester for getting a general idea of soil moisture and pH, however I am not comfortable using it for any tests that require a high degree of accuracy.





  7. ICT Bill

    ICT Bill LawnSite Platinum Member
    Posts: 4,115

    So we need to test for all of these to get a good profile of what is going on in the soil nutrient wise?

    Nitrate Nitrogen
    Humus (Organic Matter)
    Ammonia Nitrogen
    Nitrite Nitrogen
    Ferric Iron

    That picture on Lamottes site got my heart racing, just like when I was a kid and I got the chemistry kit for my birthday. so many colored bottles and so little time.

    With that many tests to do it would seem to me that you would need to get a bunch of samples together and sit down and do them all at once. I don't think you drag that kit out into the field

    I thought there may be a kit out there that you just plugged into the soil and Viola all kinds of reading come up. But you would need a different probe for each test I would think.

    OK back to reality, what basics tests would you need to do if you were just trying to get a picture of a new clients yard that you were going to take care of for the year?
    I've never heard of aluminum deficiency
  8. Organic a go go

    Organic a go go LawnSite Member
    Posts: 211


    Would you put Total Exchange Capacity on that list
    or no?

    As a side note I sometimes despair when I think of
    all the variables potentially in play going organic.
    It puts organic lawn care cos. at a disadvantage
    to a degree I think because we need so much more
    detailed information and there isn't a great way to
    get it quickly.

    I rarely send off soil tests and I don't love it. When I get
    a new customer I'll do a quickie/cheap ph test and then
    eyeball the soil for earthworms or burrow holes and then
    see what the weeds are telling me, and on that note I
    could stand to learn quite a bit more. Anyway I just proceed
    as though every yard is going to benefit from more OM but
    obviously some spring to life more quickly than others.

    Obviously I could work more effectively and efficiently if I could
    tailor inputs for each yard but I feel like the lag in test to result
    to application puts me behind the 8-ball.

    Thats one reason I was
    curious about refractomers earlier. If I can't get a quickie soil test
    my hope is that I can find something that I can use as a correlative
    indicator of whats going on even if I can't put too fine a point on it.
  9. tadhussey

    tadhussey LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 294

    what about a microscope to look at the organisms present in the soil? That will give you clues as to pH or other potential problems you may need to remediate.
  10. Organic a go go

    Organic a go go LawnSite Member
    Posts: 211

    Yes microscopes would be another good tool of course. I'd love to use it if for no other reason than I think it would impress the heck out of most customers to pull up and start blinding them with science but I've always been a little intimidated by the learning curve. Not the learning curve of using a microscope, I didn't sleep in chemistry *every*day, but the curve of developing a context to put the information into. Assuming I understood *what* I was looking at Im not at all confident that I'd be able to assign it a helpful relative value. Put that one on my "to learn" list too.....

    What magnification are do use?

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