Cheapest way to test soil pH using red cabbage

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Author Topic: Cheapest way to test soil pH using red cabbage  (Read 8998 times)


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Cheapest way to test soil pH using red cabbage
« on: June 09, 2012, 08:51:43 PM »

Rosie posted a great link about nutritional deficiency:

Here's a link from Australia that shows what's deficient in alkaline soil, and what's deficient in acidic soil:

Acid soil is more common in England, so I'll post the info. for acid soil by Wikipedia: 

"Problems in in acid soils:  aluminium (Al), hydrogen(H), and/or manganese(Mn) toxicity, and nutrient deficiencies of calcium (Ca) and magnesium(Mg).   Aluminium toxicity is the most widespread problem in acid soils ..."

My soil in Chicagoland is rock-hard alkaline clay.  I bought a soil-test kit from Home Depo - it showed false reading, neutral.   I bought a second kit from Lowe's, it asked for one teaspoon of soil ... not accurate!   EarthCo. soil-testing company tested 1 cup of my soil to be alkaline, at pH 7.7, very high in magnesium, barely adequate in calcium & need potassium.
Even a $200 pH meter needs to be re calibrated.  The fish-tank litmus paper sold at Walmart for $5 is used to test your water, and not your soil.   Red cabbage is accurate, since it allows time for soil elements to dissolve.

Shopping list:  50 cents red cabbage and $1 distilled water.  Rain water is acidic (pH 5.6) versus my tap water at pH 8.  That's why you need DISTILLED WATER to boil red cabbage, resulting in a VIOLET solution.  When I boiled red cabbage in my pH 8 water, I get a BLUE solution... shortcut to see if your water is alkaline or neutral.

pH of indicator samples:  dry cracked corn or crushed popcorn kernels (pH 4), peat moss (pH 4), pine bark (4.5), tomatoes (4 to 4.5), potatoe (5.4 to 5.9), whole wheat bread (pH 5.5), frozen cooked peas (6.4 to 6.7), cooked brocolli (6.3 to 6.5), cow's milk (6.4 to 6.8 pH), lettuce (5.7 to 6), cooked oatmeal (6.2 to 6.6), cooked rice (6 to 6.7), dry tea (pH 7.2), egg white at pH 8, baking soda (pH 8.5),  antacid (pH 10), wood ash (pH 10.5).

I use tiny plastic cups for each sample:   1 teas. vinegar (pH 2.2), 1 teas. baking soda (pH 8.5), 1 Tbs. of regular MiracleGro potting soil (pH 6.5), 1 Tbs. of peatmoss (pH 4), 1 Tbs. used coffee grounds (neutral pH), 1 Tbs. of MG Moisture Control potting soil (neutral pH).   Organic potting soil tested clear, or neutral in 1/2 hour, it's a buffer.

Soil samples from your garden in PRE-LABELED cups.

If you test 10 samples, chop a quarter of a cabbage head.   Boil in 4 cups of DISTILLED WATER for 10 minutes, discard the solids.   Pour hot juice over samples, and WAIT FOR AT LEAST 30 MINUTES.   If I have only 2 samples to test, I chop 1/2 cup red-cabbage, put in a coffee-cup with distilled water, and nuke in microwave for 2.20 minutes, and let it sit for 10 minutes.

If your soil is neutral, the juice will be clear like coffee ground or Organic potting soil (both are buffers, takes time to clear up).  Most acid is fuchsia pink like vinegar.  Dark pink is pH 4 (peat moss, pine bark, cracked corn and tomatoes).   Medium pink is pH 5.5 (leaves, potatoe, and bread).   Slight pink is pH 6.5 (MiracleGro regular potting soil, milk, oatmeal, and rice). 

Light blue is slightly alkaline (decomposed grass or tea), medium blue is my 7.7 pH soil, dark blue is pH 8 (egg white), bluish green is baking soda (pH 8.5), and bright green is wood ash at pH above 10.

You can also use fresh leaves - but this varies.  See   

Most acidic is Eastern Redbud (pH 4.3), Virgninia pine (pH 4.4),  sugar maple (4.5), black maple (5.4), black walnut (pH 4.6), white oak (4.6), black oak (5 to 5.5), white ash (5.8 to 6.1), American Beech (5.8 to 6.9), flowering dogwood (5.5 to 6), Slipper elm (7 to 7.9), Hackberry at pH 8.    If the leaves are fully-decomposed over a year, they become neutral to alkaline, according to U. of Illinois Extension.   Same with decomposed grass, slightly alkaline.
Coffee ground is pinkish at first, then it clears up after 1/2 hour.  Coffee ground is a buffer, neutral pH.   MiracleGro ORGANIC potting soil also tested neutral, best for seedlings in pepper plants experiment.

Some cities put lime in their water, raising the pH of tap water, so pipes won't get corroded.  MiracleGro regular potting soil pH is 6.5.   After months of watering with my tap water at pH 8,  I re-tested the pots again and the potting soil became alkaline.   Here's a  link that shows color changes and the corresponding pH:

Here's another link that shows color changes of red cabbage juice:

Problems with high pH:   Deficiencies in Iron, manganese, copper, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus.   Below is link to Cornell University on boron deficiency with a chart to show what's less available at what pH:
« Last Edit: July 28, 2014, 04:45:51 PM by Straw »


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Re: Testing one's soil pH with red cabbage juice
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2012, 11:06:12 PM »

Thank you Straw for this excellent post. I agree that the small soil test kits - are not very accurate. Many garden centers here offer more precise soil analyzes - that includes everything - inclu. the micronutrients. It could actually be fun to this test though.

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