Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tillering With Pigs - part one

The latest two piglets I have are great rooters. Some folks would find that to be a negative trait, but I'm using it to my advantage. My attitude....let the pigs do the hard work! 

I've been moving the piglets from place to place, a feat made possible by their reasonably lightweight, flexing pen arrangement. The panels are heavy and stiff enough to prevent them from lifting them up and getting out. But light enough for me to lift and move. 

In the photo below, the piglets have just been moved to a new location. The grass is rather rhick and long, though it got knocked down by moving the pen. I'd like to start converting this area to food production, namely sweet potatoes and taro, which tolerate partial shade. But the tropical grasses have to go first. I've learned by experience that hand digging it out is work, harder than working out in a gym, for sure. The grass roots are beyond what even I would term "challenging". Hum, try "impossible"! If I had to do this project by hand, I'd be very tempted to spray round-up. 

The piggies had a blast being moved to such long, thick grass. For the first ten minutes they frolicked and ran figure eights. Occasionally diving under the grass, they barked with excitement. They can be such fun to watch. Happy piglets makes the heart smile. Soon they settled down, so I filled their food buckets then let them settle into their new digs. Digs....literally. 

Above----- eating like a pig. Talk about getting into your food! 

48 hours later things sure look a bit different. No serious rooting yet, but all the juicy green grass is gone. Yes, pigs graze grass. Most people don't know that. Over the next couple days, even the coarse grass stems will get consumed and we should start see lots of pig snout rototillering. 

I'll post about their progress in a few days, 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hurricane Preperations

This year Hawaii has seen a number of hurricanes heading it's way. So far, they have just brought rain, plenty of it. Areas have been flooded and roadways closed here in Ka'u. And it looks like more big storms heading our way may possibly past over or near at least some of the islands. This many storms have made my mainland friends nervous....for me! Being prepared makes sense and takes some of the danger out of the storms. One giant prep issue is not living on the coast. As much as I love the coast, living there is a tad insane since floods, storms, and significant tsunamis are historically normal for here. 

Having the homestead ready for a hurricane is of course important to us. Not that we can protect everything and not that we go overly crazy about it but we do indeed take steps. Some of what would be storm prep for others is simply routine homestead life for me ........back up water & food supplies for humans and livestock, dry firewood, tools in working order, etc. 

Certain preparation jobs are things that I do routinely anyway. They are part of living on a homestead and living at a location that is about two hours away from major supply Kona and Hilo. They include : 

1- Water. I'll top off our normal day-to-day drinking water containers. We also always store 25 gallons of emergency drinking water. This I'll freshen up with new water, if it hasn't already been done recently. While I'm thinking about water, I'll check that the tarps covering the catchment tanks are well lashed down. Plus I'll divert the rain from the roof to drain away from the house rather than flow into the catchment tanks. But this is something that we do anytime the tanks are full. 

2- People food. A bad storm could destroy some, if all, of the gardens. So I keep a supply of emergency food on hand that doesn't require lots of prep : peanut butter, jelly, crackers, canned tuna, mayo, assorted canned veggies & fruits & soups, quinoa (hubby will eat this but not rice). 

3- Livestock food. Finding grazing for the livestock after a big storm shouldn't be all that of a problem in my location. And since I already keep a couple of sacks of various feed ahead of my needs (basically cob and brown rice for mom's famous slop & glop, plus a bag of hay cubes for the rabbits so that I don't have to be out in a storm cutting fodder), I don't need to bring in extra. And I routinely keep a few bags of dog and cat food on hand. 

4- Medical. I keep well stocked with medical supplies anyway, so no need to do extra. And since we a distance from our pharmacy, we already never let hubby's prescription meds run low. 

5- Fuel. I'll make sure that the extra propane tanks (for the range and paloma) are full. We will fill the gas tanks on the vehicles and fill all the gas cans. And I'll check the tarp over the firewood shed to see that it is in good condition and well lashed down. I could always heat water and cook food on my woodstoves if need be. 

Other prep jobs are outside of my normal weekly routines. They include:

1- Remove or batten down items that could be blown away. Move outdoor chairs into the barn. Take down the shade tents. Stack the water hauling trashcans and then tie them to the fence. 

2- Check the roofing for vulnerable spots. While the house roofing is very secure, those over livestock pens are less so. And iffy spots are reinforced with another screw or two. 

3- Harvest any banana bunches that look ready. Those banana trees take a beating in a storm. 

4- Make sure we have enough small tarps in the tool shed plus nails, screws, or rope to secure them in case a tree limb takes out a window or two. 

5- Park the vehicles in a spot that hopefully will be safe. Boy, that's a whopping big guess. 

6- Move the hoofed livestock, except the pigs, into the most secure inner pasture just in case a fallen tree takes out some fencing. Move the pigs to a spot that doesn't flood. 

Maybe I'm missing somethings, but this seems to be it. We've had heavy, twisting winds here before......errr, like last January. So trees coming down is nothing new. And we've had heavy rains...2 inches an hour....13 inches overnight. 

As for electricity, we're already off grid. So I don't need to worry about losing to grid. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015


It's starfruit season once again. I admit I'm not an avid star fruit user. I suppose that's because I haven't come upon good ways to use them. For right now, I eat them raw......a little diced up in salads, plus I'll add a fruit to smoothies (my smoothies tend to be chunkies.)
Star fruit are so plentiful that I wish I had some ideas on how to use them more. Hubby and I don't do desserts, so that's out. 

If any of you out there have starfruit recipes, other than desserts, I'd love to hear from ya. 

Starfruit is a pretty cool looking fruit. Whole, it's odd looking. Sliced across, it really does look like a star. 

I've noticed that there is often only one seed per fruit. Occasionally more but not many. Such a good sized fruit, you'd think there would be more. The seed is small and inconspicuous, found in a tubelike membrane that runs lengthwise in the fruit. I've collected a number of these seeds and used them to start new trees. 

In the above photo you can see where I sliced through the one and only seed in that fruit. I did that on purpose so you could see it. And I placed another fresh seed on the side for your viewing. A fairly small seed for a fruit that can be twice the size of a fist. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Grass Clippings for Livestock Feed

Many folks have asked me if its ok to feed grass clippings to livestock. I've read many dire internet warnings about this very issue, but I've also read several professional ag reports about the positive results of experiments utilizing grass clippings as feed. It basically boils down to depends. 

I decided to give it a try, not that I heartlessly jeopardized my livestock's wellbeing. I read everything first, took steps to be as safe as reasonable, and started slowly. 

Nowadays when the weather cooperates, daily I feed a trashcanful of fresh clippings to the herd which currently consists of a dozen sheep, one horse, and two donkeys. During the summer it's one trashcanful morning and night. In winter it is only one in the morning because the grass doesn't grow very well, so my supply is more limited. 

Things I keep in mind........
1- the clippings must be extremely fresh and not allowed to heat up at all, nor clump. They are fed immediately. 
2- the clippings consist of the same sorts of grasses and herbs found in the regular pastures. 
3- noxious weeds are eliminated from the areas where I mow for the clippings.
4- clippings are collected via a mower bag to avoid raking up stones along with clippings.
5- care is taken to avoid sucking up trash as I mow.
6- I don't feed clippings from other people's land because of possible poisonous weeds and plants that the animals are not use to eating. 

Things I need to be concerned about and aware of........
1- greedy eaters may not adequately chew grass clippings before swallowing. Incompletely chewed or rapidly eaten clippings could result in choke. This has not been a problem with any of my animals. 
2- livestock might overeat resulting in bloat, laminitis, or colic. I have not had this problem because I limit the amount of clippings plus do not have any greedy gulpers. 

There can be dangers in feeding grass clippings. But my current livestock are sensible eaters. The clippings are just a chopped up version of their regular pastures. And the clippings just serve as a novel snack morning and evening. One trashcanful shared by so many animals means that no one gets too much. 

So why bother to make the grass clippings? Because I have sections of old pasture that I no longer allow the livestock access to. Why? Because I've converted parts of that pasture area to vegetable gardens and orchards. But the grass that's in between and around the trees is perfectly usable as livestock feed. I could use a sickle bar mower, like one used to cut forage for hay making, but the lawnmower works ok for me. It's quick and easy. 

Besides the sheep, goats, and equines, who else likes grass clippings? The chickens. The pigs will eat a bit, but they primarily play in it and make nests. Since they get out to graze in the afternoons, they don't find the clippings all that attractive. And neither do the rabbits. Hands down, the rabbits prefer long grass, not mutilated mower clippings. 

Oh, one more point. Equines (horses, donkeys, etc) are the primary livestock class that may be the most apt to have problems with grass clippings, especially because they can tend to bolt good tasting foods and over indulge. If you notice in the photo, my livestock have to eat the clippings through the fence. Not a problem for the sheep. But the horse and donkeys can only nibble small mouthfuls through the fence since they can't simply bury their noses into the pile. Perhaps that helps prevent the problems associated with feeding them clippings.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Chickens Dining With Pigs

A common question I field from homestead wannabes-- can chickens and pigs coexist? As with most of my answers about homesteading questions, "it depends". 

Most of the people I've chatted with that have both pigs and free range chickens, they say that they have had no problems. But then keep in mind, the pigs are well fed and never go starving. In my own current experience, I've also had no casualties with pigs and chickens being together. 

In fact, my chickens quickly picked up on the fact that I feed pigs "good stuff" and regularly try to crash the party. 

And while the pigs won't let the chickens chase them away from the food nor allow the chickens to eat directly out of their feed bucket, they take no mind of the chickens eating the bits on the ground.....or for that matter, on the pigs themselves! Pigs are sloppy eaters when it comes to wet food. So it's nice to see the chickens clean up the food that otherwise would go to waste and cause an odor. 

But I learned that its not always a safe situation. Hungry pigs will sometimes hunt, catch, and eat live chickens. Yes, live. Back in NJ I knew of a pig that stalked hens, and when successful, ate them live. And once the pigs learn to eat chickens, they won't stop. At least that's what I've been told by the chicken-eating-pig's owner. Thus I'm careful to keep my pigs well fed. I'm on pigs #5 and #6. So far they have all coexisted with the free range birds. 

By the way, I've also been told of incidents where hungry pigs caught snakes, cats, puppies, and small dogs. So the common denominator is hunger. I plan to keep my own pigs happy with full bellies! 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fly Control in the House

These past couple of weeks the house has become the residence to a large number of flies and vinegar flies. Not my idea of nice house cohabitants. Because I didn't have the time to go fly stalking, I hit upon the thought of the old fashioned flypaper. To tell you the truth, I didn't even know if it was for sale around here. So I dropped into my town's hardware store and asked. Surprise! Not only is the stuff still manufactured, but the store had a pack of them. I instantly snarfed it up even though it wasn't senior discount day. And don't tell them, but I would have been willing to pay twice the price because those flies were driving me batty. 

I was one focused mad woman when I arrived back home. Ignoring a lamb hollering for a bottle, the kittens begging to be fed, and two donkeys braying for attention, I carried my treasure directly to the livingroom. Grabbing the step stool out of the kitchen, I aimed to hang my first fly strip. Oooo, I forgot just how careful one needs to be around this sticky stuff. But with a thumb and finger now as sticky as the paper, I did manage to get one flypaper hanging from the beam in the center of the room. 

2 minutes later I got my first fly! Deep satisfaction. Shamelessly I was reveling in murder. But pity soon overcame me and I killed the hapless fly. 

So how well does flypaper work? Pretty good. Just overnight it caught all the flies and hundreds of vinegar flies. 

Way back when I was a youngster, flypaper plus a handheld flyswatter were the common armaments one used to combat flies around the house. But somewhere along the line as time went by, they were cast aside. Toxic chemicals became preferred. Sprays, aerosol misters, and fume emitting bug strips took their place. And now here I sit, totally thrilled about the effectiveness of old fashioned flypaper. So here's my choices:
1- invisible toxic bug killers & repellents, or 
2- non-toxic, effective flypaper hanging in the room plus an equally effective flyswatter that fails the "Better Homes and Garden" esthetic test. 

I'm choosing #2. 

As far as my homestead project is concerned, #2 is far more sustainable, self reliant, and frugal. And of course less toxic and damaging. 

By the way, I'm dumping out the vinegar jar in the kitchen and replacing it with a piece of flypaper. I want to see if it is more effective. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015


First of all, what's a capon? I'm not going to assume that people nowadays known that term. A capon is a young rooster that has been castrated. He's neutered. 

Why bother neutering a young rooster? Because as with most neutered meat animals, the meat is nicer, tastes better, and often more economical for the farmer. 

Many a year ago when I was still in elementary school, a special meal at home was roasted capon. Back then we didn't have those big cornish crosses that produce those monster sized rotisserie chickens. The capon was the closest thing to it. The roast bird was big (really big), plump, tender, juicy, and absolute heaven as far as we were concerned. A real gourmet treat. 

Nowadays the capon has pretty much disappeared. Those super sized Cornish crosses have taken its place. But although I haven't seen one in a store here in Hawaii, I told that capons still can be purchased in select stores or by special order. By the way, what is listed as capon on restaurant menus, I'm told by restaurant owners, usually isn't. 

So what's a capon have to do with homesteading? Well there's are a few benefits that a small farm could use with caponing. First of course, is a tasty, tender, roaster for the table. A typical sized roaster could easily be 8-12 lbs. But capons can offer another valuable service -- foster mother. It was noted that a capon was better at mothering and protecting chicks than a hen. For real! An old Frenchman chicken farmer I met decades ago kept capons for rearing replacement chicks. He'd go buy a box of chicks at our local hatchery and graft them to a group of capons. Those big capons not only mothered those chicks, but they fiercely protected them from the hawks. 

Decades ago I was taught how to castrate a young rooster to turn him into a capon. It was a rather quick and simple surgery, and frankly, I was quite good at it for some reason. But not everybody in my class was. When learning how to capon successfully, the class ended up with a large number of soup carcasses. In plain words, they killed their roosters. The birds were 5 to 6 weeks old, so they were big enough that they didn't go to waste. But the aim wasn't to have soup birds or mini-fryers. No, it was to have a capon that could be raised for several months. Why did their birds die? They bled out. The chicken testes lies very near a major blood vessel. It is extremely easy to nick or cut that vessel, thus killing the bird. So if you plan to try your hand at caponing, it may be a good idea to have someone show you how. There are videos on YouTube but I've been told that they aren't real detailed. But they may be worth looking at if you plan to try it yourself. 

I happen to have two young roosters that I plan to caponize soon as I have a little extra time. 
(Above, the two boys are on the left.)

So I'll be posting some photos soon. I haven't caponed a chicken for many a decade, so I hold no promises to my success this time around. But if I fail, I'll post a nice recipe for using a mini fryer instead. Deal? 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


"What's good living to be old if I can't be having fun." response to an email. 

 The reason I am saying this is that "DonnerBlitzen" just emailed me and was concerned that I was taking time off because I'm exhausting myself creating my homestead farm. Well, to tell it truthfully, I am exhausted, but NOT because of the farm. And bit can be attributed to my age, a bit to the busy aspects of my life, a bit because I don't like to slow down. Now for the spoiler......the reason for taking the past two weeks off from the blog is that my mother got hurt. I was devoting much of my precious time to taking care of her needs.....visiting, talking with doctors and nurse, meeting with with a myriad of social worker types, filing out forms, acquiring documents, meeting with PT people, attempting to have mom moved closer to where I live, dealing with medical insurances and money, etc. In this day and age when things should be electronic and digital, way too many offices still are dealing with paper and in-person meetings thus causing me mucho hours of work. Many of these official offices are 1 1/2 to 2 hours away, which means many hours wasted driving. Not that I'm whining or am expecting pity. This is just a bump in life, a hurdle to be dealt with. 

But lets get back to DonnerBlitzen's suggestion that I take it easy, sell the farm, move into an apartment, and retire. DB told me that I could put the farm sale money into a diversified retirement fund, and live in an apartment where I could save even more money for retirement. Then I'd have more time to relax, take it easy. 

Thanks for the advice, but no thanks. That's not for me! Having spent many hours these past days in hospitals and extended care facilities, I have zero interest in amassing every extra penny that I can just to put it into a retirement fund so that I can live as long as possible in some care facility sitting in a wheelchair and wearing a diaper as I drool onto a bib. Not for me! I'd rather die while shoveling a truckload of mulch or manure. 

And that fat retirement fund? I fully intend to be poor. Yes. How's that for a shocker. Poor as in no investment retirement fund managed by some fiscal business entity someplace. I'd rather use my money to have this farm.

On top of that, I plan to enjoy every week and have fun. What's good getting old if I don't have fun? So what's fun to me?.......
...growing a new vegetable I haven't tried before. Next on my addenda is amaranth. 
...raising livestock I haven't had before, like my pigs. Boy, I'm learning lots about pigs. 
...devising new ways to use old pallets. I'm fiddling with some right now to make a new chicken pen. 
...making creative trellises......and funky crazy yard art. 
...creating a secret garden, a place to express my artistic side. 
...experimenting how to prepare some new veggie I've never seen before. 

And it's not only farming that I classify as having fun. 
...creating my own home and learning building techniques along the way.
...exploring new beaches and snorkeling.
...spending time with friends.
...exploring the other Hawaiian islands.
...making blocks for my block printing efforts.
...seeing places outside of Hawaii.

Plus there are dozens a little 'funs" I do every day....I live! 
...check on my orchids and rejoice with awe if I find one blooming. on making friends with my donkeys.
...hand feed my chickens some grain out of my hand. the rabbits enjoy cucumbers or pipinolas.
...spread some bird seed and watch the wild birds.
...look for the little things growing and living, like tiny mushrooms, dwarf plants in corners here and there, interesting looking bugs, little lizards.

I aim live each and every day. 

Yes, I see no fun in living as long as possible when that living has no fun. I believe in quality of life, not quantity. And no, I won't change my mind on this. Possibly due to my veterinary experiences, I've decided that life is all about enjoying it. Quality over quantity. 

So here I sit, listening to a cane toad singing down in the front field. While I'm not fond of hosting a big cane toad, that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy hearing it sing. As it sings I'm aware that a barn owl is cruising over the pasture hunting mice. Seeing our resident owl at work is a joy. Glancing skyward I see stars......or at other times a full moon.  I still love gazing at a full moon even if it means that sleeping may be difficult due to its brightness. How beautiful it is. With a full moon, our half grown kittens are active. I'll entice them indoors and offer them fresh catnip mice toys. Yes, it's fun watching them play. 

Every day there are good things around me and fun & enjoyment to be had. Even on "bad days" I can look for and  find good stuff. I'll never fit the stereotype of the old lady sitting in her rocking chair watching the world go by. Nor do I hope to die wealthy. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pipinola Refrigerator Pickles

One of my favorite uses for pipinolas is to make refrigerator pickles out of the leftover pickle juice from a store bought jar of tasty pickles. I've read that it's safe enough to reuse pickle juice once. So it is a great way for me to make easy, easy pickled veggies. 

Now I hear ya......what's a pipinola? It's a vine veggie that goes by plenty of different names around the tropics, with chayote being the most familiar one on the mainland USA. It's kind of like a squashy thing, and can be used like a summer squash in many dishes. I like to use them in soups, stews, and stir fries. And they make a darn good mock apple pie. 

Back to pickles. I opt to use the larger, older pipinolas for pickles. Why? Because the young tender skinned ones are preferable for cooking or raw use because their rind is so tender that it can be eaten. The rind and seed capsule of the older ones are tough, thus needs to be cut away and discarded (to the livestock feed pot). 

Above, two large pips, washed and ready for action. 

Aboveboard I've cut off the rind, cut the pipinola in half, and cut out the tough seed capsule. 

Next, I slice the pipinola into thin slices, about 1/8" thick.

Finally I gently pack the pieces into a clean jar, add pickle juice to cover all the pieces, then store the jar in the frig. After one week I often start stealing pieces out of the jar, but they are better if I wait three weeks before eating. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

What is Soil pH?

Jerry has asked, "What is pH? Why do you test for pH?"

For a non-chemistry major, the simplest definition for pH is to say it measures the reactive ions in a solution. It allows someone to classify a solution as acidic or basic, that is, how far off of neutral (non-reactive) it is. I'm sure that went over plenty of heads, but I don't know what else to say. But other than a definition, I'll talk about how pH affects my soil. 

Where I lived on the mainland, my soils were always slightly acidic, which most plants thrived in. Garden areas received a sprinkling of granular lime each spring or fall and it was sufficient to keep a happy veggie garden. I never really thought much about pH. 

Things are quite different where I'm now living.....and actually trying to eke out a self reliant existence. When I started out my homestead, my soil was acidic, around 5.4 to 6. Since I live down wind from an active volcano, I get a nice dose of acid rain on a fairly regular basis. Plus I get daily light deposits of acidic volcanic ash, what housekeepers call gritty dust. On top of that, soil in my area is calcium deficient, so there is no calcium buffer for this acidity.

Besides acidic rain and ash affecting my soil, I also add various soil amendments as I attempt to make my gardens more productive. These amendments have an effect in soil pH. Composts and manures tend to acidify. Coral, shells and bone tend to do the opposite.

By the way, the amount of rainfall has an effect of pH too. Lots of rain leeches out calcium, leading toward acidic soil. Since I live in a location with normally 80" of annual rain which often comes in heavy downpours, I sometimes see a problem with leeching. 

So why is pH important to me, why care? The level of the pH has a direct bearing upon which nutrients and minerals are available to the root zone -- to the soil microbes and plant roots. I could have the best combo of nutrients & minerals but they won't do any good if the can't be utilized. In soils that are overly acidic or alkaline, nutients and minerals are not available to soil organisms. 

My goal is to keep my soil pH close to 6.5 to 6.8. Most vegetables like that range. I use coral sand, burnt coral chunks that have been hammered into small pieces, plus burnt bone that has been hammered into finer pieces. And wood ash. Only the wood ash adjusts pH quickly. The others work slowly, but are very important for adding much needed calcium and other minerals. I rely upon the coral and bone as my primary pH controls, with wood ash being used for quickly (meaning 2-4 weeks) needed measures. Besides, wood ash also is a good source of potassium in addition to having some calcium and other trace elements. Wood ash is a good fit for "sandy" type soils like mine. 

I currently produce or gather all of my soil additives. But when I lived in NJ, I used pulverized and granular lime for addressing pH issues. Of course, they were purchased at a store. But old farmers would tell of times when seashells and oyster shells were used to help condition the soil. Some recalled their fathers crushing the shells under the wheels of a truck before spreading them in the fields. Others remember the shells being burnt first. When hiking around the back areas of NJ beside and through old farm fields, it was not uncommon to see seashell pieces sticking out of the ground. Here in Hawaii I don't see the abundant seashells that I saw on the beeches of New Jersey. Thus shells are not common enough here for me to make a special trip to gather them up for garden use. But if I see them, I'll add them to my collection bucket. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

pH Soil Test - Homestyle

I've been fielding numerous email questions about soil, with the number one about a home test for pH. I find that home testing is simple. And because of our acidic rain here, due to the erupting volcano, plus the fact that I add soil amendments between each crop, I test soil pH frequently. How frequent? For right now, between each crop. Once I start cutting back on soil building amendments, then I'll probably slow down to 2-3 times a year. Both the volcanic acid rain and the biomass soil additives (compost, mulch, manures) contribute to acidification of the soil. 

The test I do involves test strips and/or pH paper. For the bare minimalists out there, you could use a mixture made from red cabbage that would give you a rough acid vs base result. Or for the techie oriented gardener, there are pH probes. I have a probe but I found that it needed cleaning between use for a reasonably accurate reading....and quite frankly, I never seemed to have ultra fine sandpaper on hand when I needed it. Usually I couldn't find the sandpaper because someone used it (sigh...usually me)......that is, IF I could find where I last misplaced the pH probe! I've done that plenty of times. In fact, right now I havent the foggiest idea where the dang thing is. For some reason that's beyond me, I always keep the pH testing strips & paper in my medical kit. Thus I can always find them. Yeah, I equate test strips with medical testing, thus the reason I find them in my veterinary supplies. Hey, I do what works, regardless of how silly it seems to others.

So for my home tests I need...
...pH test strips or paper. I buy them online. 
...distilled water. 
...soil sample. 

...Test strips & paper. While not the most accurate testing equipment, they are plenty accurate enough for gardening. I just need a general idea what the pH is. 

...Why distilled water? Because my catchment water comes from acidic rain. I adjust the pH of the catchment water using baking soda once a month, so on any particular day heaven only knows what the water pH actually is. By using the same gallon bottle of distilled water over a stretch of time, my test results at least are relative to each other. This gives me a better idea of the trends going on in my gardening and soil amendment efforts. 

...The sample. Getting a soil sample is simple as long as I follow a few rules. Clear off the top couple inches of soil which is primarily mulch. This upper section is not where the plants roots are. I'm targeting the plant root zone. Once I'm down to the root area, I'll simply take a scoopful and put it into a clean cup or jar. 

Next I'll add water, enough to cover the soil with the intent of having a layer of water atop the soil once the soil particles settle out. I don't have a centrifuge, so I need to either rely upon gravity to settle the soil particles or drip the soil slurry through a coffee filter.  I've often toyed with the idea of making a bicycle tire centrifuge, but haven't gotten around to it yet. If I actually had a bicycle, it would be simple, but alas I don't have one.  Maybe I could just put the soil/water mixture jar in a sling and swing it around my head for a bit. But I haven't tried that yet either. So I use the lazy gravity method by letting it drip through a piece of napkin, paper towel, coffee filter, or scrap of cloth in order to clarify the water. The only reason I want the water to clear is so that the soil particles don't interfere with my being able to see the color on the test strip/paper. Without filtering or settling out the silt in some fashion, the muddiness interferes with the color on the test strip/paper. 
(I normally don't use a coffee filter, because I'm a scrooge and filters cost money.)

Once I see some reasonably clear water, I'll dip my test strip into it and read the results. I could use an eyedropper, pipette, or even a spoon the collect that water and use it to wet the test strip/ paper. Just alternative options, but I usually just make a quick dip. 

Reading the test strip or paper is simple because they come with a color chart. Just match up the colors then read the chart. Bingo. 

I used to use a swimming pool test kit, but I found a problem..........
....As the above test shows, my soils' pH is often BELOW the test strips capability. On the above strip, the pH is the second colored square down. This test produced a barely yellowish result because the pH is actually below 6.4. How much below I couldn't tell. Thus this test kit won't do for my soils. 

Since I didn't know how much lower the pH was, I decided to use a more broad range pH test that I had on hand. I needed to know if this soil was still in the 6 range, or if it had slipped into the 5's or worse. So here's the next result......

The chart indicated that the pH is 6-ish. The color was strong enough to tell me that it wasn't slipping down in the 5 range. 

But for my routine testing, I don't use either of the above kits. While these two each have their place, I strongly prefer using these.......


The strips and paper seem to give me consistent results and are within the range most useful to me. So I took a strip and tested my sample. In the photo below, it's the strip on the left. The results indicate this soil sample is at 6.1. ......... It was the clear amber but a trace of color change was taking place but not strongly enough to darken the entire color patch to make it 6.2. But as I've said, I don't need a real accurate result, so to say the soil is 6.0 to 6.2 range is accurate enough. 

The strip on the right is another soil sample from a different garden bed. You can see that there was a stronger color change. This bed has been consistently testing at 6.4-ish. 

For garden beds that I have been using for a while, I tend to use the pH paper. I find that it's quick and simple to use, plus it's cheap. I can get a lot of tests out of a roll. The down side is that the roll can get ruined easily if I'm not careful. Dropping it into a puddle is not advisable. And forgetting to put it back into my pocket, thus leaving it outside to be rained on is also not a good idea. 
(Above-  I tear off a short strip of paper off the roll, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches.) 

The above test indicates a pH around the 6.0 and 6.2 range. **** Important----- notice that I hold the paper so that gravity lets it hang down vertically. Once the paper gets wet it is very limp. With people who are having problems using pH paper, it is often because they try to hold the paper upright or horizontal, rather than letting it hang. 

Once I know the current pH status, I can guess-imate how much coral sand, crushed bone, and wood ash to till in. It's only a guess, a gut feeling acquired from months/years of doing this. The soil that tested around 6.0 will get a heavier sprinkling of wood ash than the one that tested at 6.4. Both will get a dusting of coral sand and a moderate addition of bone. That's along with two inches of compost and a light layer of rabbit manure.