Testing Your Soil pH Without a Kit

Learn two homemade soil pH testing methods

I’m always looking for quick tips to make my gardening chores easier. I ran across a couple of gardening hacks about testing your soil pH without a kit and I thought I would try them out and see what I need to do with my garden. Let’s do a little kitchen chemistry!

2 DIY ways for testing soil pH without a kit | PreparednessMama

But first…

Why do you care if your soil is alkaline or acidic?

Knowing your soil pH is the key to understanding if essential minerals will be available to the roots of your plants.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, “if you live in an area with alkaline soil — which has a pH above 7.0 — you have two options. You can either take measures to lower the pH, or you can choose plants well-suited to growing in alkaline conditions. If you take the latter path, you have a wide variety of plants to choose from.”

the pH Scale courtesy of chesapeakquarterly.net

The pH Scale courtesy of www.chesapeakquarterly.net

You can lower the alkalinity of your soil by adding organic materials like pine needles, peat moss and composted leaves. You should always make small changes, over time -so make your soil amendments and wait for it to work before making any more.

According to the article, Your Garden’s Soil,  in Mother Earth News , “Raising the organic matter content of soil will usually move the pH of both acidic and alkaline soils toward the neutral range. This is because organic matter plays a buffering role, protecting soil from becoming overly acidic or alkaline. Finished compost usually has a near-neutral pH, so regular infusions of compost should be the primary method you use to improve soil with extreme pH issues. If your pH readings are only slightly acidic or slightly alkaline, compost and organic mulches may be the only amendments you need to keep your crops happy and your garden growing well.”

#1 – You can test your garden soil pH with vinegar and baking soda

Collect 1 cup of soil from different parts of your garden and put 2 spoonfuls into separate containers. Add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the soil. If it fizzes, you have alkaline soil, with a pH between 7 and 8.

Test soil pH with vinegar and baking soda | PreparednessMama

If it doesn’t fizz after doing the vinegar test, then add distilled water to the other container until 2 teaspoons of soil is muddy. Add 1/2 cup baking soda. If it fizzes you have acidic soil, most likely with a pH between 5 and 6.

If  your soil doesn’t react at all it is neutral with a pH of 7 and you are very lucky!

This test was fun to do. After I added the vinegar there was no reaction in my bowl and I thought my kitchen science experiment wouldn’t work. Then I added distilled water to another bowl of soil and poured on just a sprinkling of baking soda. Instant fizz! So much fizz that I could see it immediately and hear it working. There’s no doubt –  I have acidic soil in my new garden.

#2 – You can make a cabbage water pH test

Measure 2 cups of distilled water into a sauce pan. Cut up and add 1 cup of red cabbage. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow it to sit for up to 30 minutes.

Strain off the liquid – which will be purple/blue. This will have a neutral pH of 7.

Testing soil pH with cabbage water | PreparednessMama

To test: add 2 teaspoons of soil to a jar and a few inches of cabbage water. Stir and wait for 30 minutes. Check the color. If it turns up pink, your soil is acidic.  If it is blue/green, your soil is alkaline.

There are quite a few fruit and vegetable plants that thrive in acidic soil. These include:

  • blueberries
  • beans
  • broccoli
  • beets
  • bok choy
  • garlic
  • kale
  • lettuce and other leafy greens
  • parsley
  • peas
  • potatoes
  • onions
  • spinach

If your soil tests slightly alkaline (pH between 7 and 8) you’ll be able to easily grow these vegetables without making amendments:

  • artichoke
  • asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • cabbage and Chinese cabbage
  • cantaloupe
  • grape vines
  • leeks
  • Lima beans
  • mustard and other leafy greens
  • orange
  • peach tree
  • spinach
  • sugar beets
  • Swiss chard
  • turnips

Knowing the pH of your soil will help your plants grow by absorbing nutrients better from the soil. Their ability to do this depends on the nature of the soil and it’s combination of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter. The makeup of a soil (soil texture) and its acidity (pH) determine the extent to which nutrients are available to plants. Use these 2 ways to test soil pH and have a great garden this year.

Other soil building posts you might like:

Mason Jar Soil Test
How to Improve your Soil Structure this Winter
SMART Composting – Turn Your Spoil into Soil
Improve Garden Soil
10 Drought Buster Garden Strategies


About Shelle

Preparedness enthusiast Shelle Wells shares her passion to provide women with reliable, realistic and practical information about preparedness, self reliance, gardening, food storage and everyday life – without the hype. Come ask an expert how you can prepare your family for the big and small disasters in life.
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21 Responses to Testing Your Soil pH Without a Kit

  1. Pingback: Gardening Link Bomb | Ed That Matters

  2. Mak says:

    Or, spend $8 and find out what the actual pH and lime rec are. The fizz test will only make you more curious.


  3. Mama Kautz says:

    This is awesome!! Thank you for sharing and linking up!

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  13. Allison says:

    Problem with this technique is that alkaline soil will not “fizz” without the presence of a carbonate, like limestone. The acid soil only fizzes because you’ve added bicarbonate of soda.

    Not actually a workable technique.

  14. Tammy says:

    We have a 4-H Junior Master Gardeners group. It’s getting close to Spring planting time here, so this would be a fun project for each of them to try, especially as they happen to all be homeschooled. I’ll share with their instructor.

    Have a blessed day and thank you so much for sharing these ideas.


  15. tosha says:

    This was fun to try! Not sure how accurate after reading some comments but our soil tested neutral. Yeah! We also tested with some strips that turned out neutral but it would be fun to continue with an actual test kit to compare how accurate the home tests were (especially for educating kids like I am!).

  16. Sunny James says:

    great article I will definately try this & see what results I get with our garden soil

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  19. Dawn says:

    I’m going to try this just to see. But what is a “garden hack”? Not sure what that means. :) Thanks for the info.

  20. Great without using of any kits this is the best method to find out the solid pH.

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