What is pH and how do I test it?

You may vaguely remember your high school chemistry class and something about a pH scale, lemons, baking soda, and battery acid. But how do we apply that high school chemistry class to your life today? PH stand for Potential Hydrogen and the scale we use indicates Alkalinity and Acidity. The scale begins at 0 Acidic (think battery acid) and ends at 14 Alkaline (think bleach and drain cleaner). Pure water is neutral, about a 7 on the pH scale. This is important because the pH of your water (or soil) determines what will grow in it as it effects what nutrients are readily available for uptake. Most plants prefer a very slightly acidic environment, about a 5.5 to 6.5 on our scale. Variation in either direction will cause certain nutrients to become unavailable to your plants. Do yourself a favor and test your water EVERY time. You want to test the pH levels after your nutrient solution has been added to the water, it’s important to test AFTER the nutrients have been added as the nutrient solution will change the pH.

There are a couple ways to do this, from paper test strips which give you a reading by presenting a color that is matched to a scale, to pH pens that will give out a digital reading. Digital pH pens are the easiest method, especially since you will likely have to test multiple times as you try to balance it. You may notice that your water and nutrient reading is either acidic or alkaline every time and can then determine if you only need to purchase a pH Up solution or a pH down solution.

If you are not pHing your water, or are doing it incorrectly, your plants will tell you. If the pH is too low (too acidic), your plants will reflect an excess of manganese, aluminum, and iron, a deficiency of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and molybdenum, and if growing in soil – soil life will be inhibited, say goodbye to those beneficial microbes! If the pH is too high (too alkaline), calcium, iron, and phosphates will not dissolve in your water, and your plants will be deficient in manganese, phosphate, and iron, as well as copper, zinc, and boron.

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