Soil PH meters

Andy writes: Hi . I just "discovered" this group and have a question .
I see many versions of soil PH meters for sale from about $20 to $200.
Has anyone used these, do they work well, and are there any good tips on operating them properly ??
Also, has anyone cross-checked their PH meter with litmus testing to see if it continues to be reliable even after the sensors grow old ?
Thanks for any discussion on this.
Andy (retired engineer who just planted his first veg garden)
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Stop gardening now, before it's too late. There's no cure.
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"why didn't yall come to the whatever yesterday?" "because he was out in that damn garden all damn day that's why!" But who is the first to take the credit on how well the place looks? Hmmmm?
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It took years, but I trained some of my ex-wife's relatives to stop the Sunday brunch nonsense during good weather. "We're having a little brunch - we hope to see you". Bullshit. You're more likely to see the pope in your driveway. It took forever for these people to understand that only a complete idiot sits around a stuffy living room eating nasty artichoke dip and bad cake, when it's a gorgeous 70 degree Sunday in May, and a normal person should be doing one of the two truly religious things: gardening or fishing. :-)
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pH meters I remember from lab days, years ago, were finicky, needed recalibration and had to keep electrodes wet. I have some old multi-range pH papers which are perfectly adequate for in home uses.
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Hi Andy!
Welcome,before I get to the meter let me say, you will not find sliderule type accuracy in gardening. Much of it,if not most is "hit or miss".
Yes, I have the meter, Yes I have checked it against PH paper. Is it consistently accurate-No. Would I buy another if this one broke-Yes.
It has it's place in your gardening tool box, if your soil is very close or below 6 or if the PH is very close or above 7.
Most people have trouble with the meter's accuracy because of the way they use it.(including me). EXAMPLE: It rains, I check my PH and it is 7.0, later I check it, it hasn't rained so I use my well water to moisten the ground, and it checks 6.5. WHY?? Rainwater is generally accepted to be 7.0 and my well water is 6.2. . .get the point.
I buy distilled water(1gal last all year)and only run the test when there hasn't recently been a rain.
Another thing, the soil 12" away may have a PH significantly different from your last reading. Test in more than one place and average.
Always use the cleaning cloth that comes with meter to clean the probes(it is of special material).
Hope this helps-Oldtimer!
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On the day of 16 Mar 2006 04:18:42 -0800...
typed these letters:

I paid about $30 for an attractively packaged electronic PH meter several years ago. It didn't work. I have tested my dirt with soil test kits. I got believable results with those. I have no standard to compare my results with so I can't claim they are accurate either. After adjusting my soil according to my soil test recommendations I noticed no difference in plant growth.
As an alternative to these devices I would recommend looking into this. In my state and maybe yours too there is an agricultural department that does soil testing free of charge as a service to farmers. Here you can get boxes and a from from the local agricultural agent. On the form you list what you intend on planting and some other information. In the box you put some dirt collected from a few areas of your garden. Then drop it in the mailbox. About 6 weeks later you get very detailed results of your soil test and recomendations of what to add based on what you intend on growing. I would imagine that the states testing equipment is a bit more accurate than what I can purchase affordably and locally.
Devonshire
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AndyS wrote:

I have a sensor that does not work, I had it exchanged a first time and the second one did not work either. The $20 are extremely unreliable. The litmus test has shown some consistency by returning the same value of 6.5 on two tests of the same dirt. The N, P, K litmus tests from the same kit are not as
consistent, though.
To manage the chemistry of your garden, there is much more to it than buying a $200 Ph meter. It is money out the window, since after a few applications of organic matter you will see the pH adjusting to about 6 to 7 depending on your original soil.
Since you are a retired engineer, let me add that gardening will test your observational and analytical skills. It is all part of the fun.
First, you should consider the weeds that are present around your place. They will tell you a lot about the tilth and pH. I have sandy, acid soil (pH between 5 and 5.5) with very little nutrients in the native soil. When I amend with wood chips, often it becomes more acid and only sheep sorrel will grow there for a while. I can always adjust with wood ash (pH 10.4), or leave it alone if I am mulching a tree. There are weeds, such as chickweed, that will do best in neutral soils, so you have a chance to check if your garden is OK as well.
Second, you can look at your vegetables. Potatoes don't grow well but, say, tomatoes and melons do? It could be around 7. Chard does not grow well, but collard does? Probably pH is around 6.0. The best books, like those of Rodale or Burpee, will give you an idea of the preferred range for each vegetable, and also an idea of nutrient needs. So if the tomatoes grow well you will know there is enough organic matter, and if the collards grow well, you will know there is enough nitrogen. I have one bed where I group the beets, cabbage, chard, onions all together, and spread wood ash generously to get to about 7.0, but the potatoes 10 yds away never get any ash.
Third, what is the rate of nutrient loss? It is higher with sand, but it can be quite low with clay. That will change the pH some, since the pH is closely related to the Ca content of the soil. What is the rate of loss through herbivory (you eating the veggies)? You will be surprised at the numbers.
Finally, don't forget to install drip irrigation. I did it and it was part of the funn.

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Yes these work well.

Litmus papers only test for acid or alkaline. You can use pH test papers.

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Generally speaking, you can get an idea of what your soil PH is by asking your gardening neighbors what theirs is, or by observing what grows well in your area and what doesn't. A big generality is that places with abundant rainfall have acid soils and places that are arid have alkaline soils. Sometimes these generalities are turned on their heads, as, for instance, in the situation where a rainy area is also right over a limestone deposit. If things like rhododendrons and azaleas are thriving in your area with deep glossy green healthy foliage, the soil is acidic. If the rhodies all look anemic, but people are able to grow great lawns and veggies, particularly cabbages and the like, the soil is probably slightly alkaline. If the soil is dark brown or black, and is crumbly, it is probably full of good minerals and fertile. If it is sandy colored, or very light brown, it is probably deficient in a lot of stuff and even after you add organic matter, it will probably need some fertilizer if you want things to grow rapidly. I have never checked my own soil, but it is generally known that the soil in my area is nearly neutral. We grow rhodies and blueberries, but they are never very happy in our area, and things like mountain laurel seem never to thrive without TLC. On the other hand, the soil is rich volcanic soil, and lawns, flowers, vegetables and other plants rarely need fertilizer or amendments.

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A waste of time and money.

Litmus as an indicator on its own is no good either as it does not give you a range, just a sharp cutoff at a given pH (I forget the value). Around here there are good mixed dye indicator systems that are cheap, reliable, give you a range of pH and are accurate enough for the purpose. Ask at your garden shop, they are likely to have them.
David
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