Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and simplify things down a little., and this post is focusing on a fun an educational experiment you can try at home with your children.
This article will take you through a simple experiment that you can do at home with some keen young minds and a few household items to test the pH levels of the soil in your own backyard. At a commercial level, geotechnical engineering and soil classification teams apply similar basic principles in order to classify the properties of various different soil samples, albeit in a more sophisticated and scientifically controlled manner.
The experiment will help you gauge the approximate pH level of your soil, and can then be used to guide you decisions about what is the best use for that particular area, in much the same way that an engineer would for an upcoming project.
The acronym “pH” stands for “power of hydrogen” and measures the level of hydrogen ion on a scale of 1 to 14, where a score of less than 7 is classified as acidic and a score of greater than 7 is considered alkaline. To provide some reference, vinegar usually scores a 3, whilst hand soap would score around a 10. Distilled water is pH neutral and scores a 7.
In order to determine a rough estimate of where your backyard soil sits on the pH scale, you will need to collect approximately 1 cup of soil, 2 containers or jars, some white vinegar, and some baking soda.
Take a container or jar and place a couple of spoonfuls of the soil sample in each one. Slowly add water until the soil is just moist, and then add a tablespoon of white vinegar and check to see if any fizzing takes place. If you can notice some fizzing, this suggests that the soil is on the alkaline side of the scale i.e. above 7. If there is no fizzing, it is likely that your soil pH is acidic i.e. less than 7.
The test for acidity levels is very similar. Take a fresh container and add the same amount of soil and water as in the previous test. Now mix a separate solution of 1 tablespoon baking soda and 2 tablespoons of water. Once this is combined, pour over the soil and check for signs of a fizzing reaction. A reaction will suggest that the soil is mildly acidic and no reaction suggests alkalinity.
Whatever the outcome of your soil test, there are a few simple remedies to try to balance the pH level in your yard and encourage better use of the space you have. For acidic soil, try agricultural lime to balance the pH, and for alkaline soil, add some organic mulch/compost. Alternatively, try researching some plants or fruit and vegetables that thrive naturally in slightly unbalanced soil.
This is a simple yet interesting test that gives some insight into the variety of different characteristics that soil can display and how this may affect potential usefulness of the area, and is very educational for any budding young scientists looking to explore some safe and easy experiments at home.