Soil testing is an essential part of the coffee farmers routine. After the harvest we get the soil tested and correct for problems. Getting the soil right is the foundation. It sounds so logical and straight forward. As in all things coffee farming it is always 10 x harder and more expensive to do it right than you could possibly imagine. Most people do not do it right. Just for kicks, I'm trying.
About a month ago, my main worker was digging little holes all over the farm. He dug in a zig zag pattern across each of the 3 farm lots. Then mixed up the samples from all the holes in each lot to make a general sample. He carefully labelled the samples and put them in clear plastic sacks for me to drive into town.
I then drove it 40KM into David to the soil testing company that sent it off to Costa Rica. There are no labs in Panama. Because everyone is testing their soil after the harvest, it took much longer than normal to get the results back. In fact, I had to go back in to David yesterday to ask for them. Magically, they arrived in my email by the time I got home.
I imagine, reading these analysis is somewhat like reading a profit and loss or a balance sheet if you have never done so before in your life. It is not intuitive but if you have a big red negative you know there is a problem. Well, even I could ascertain that an acidity value between 3-4 on one of the farms was extreme. Normally, a PH around 5 is expected at the end of the harvest and you need to get it up to 5.5-6 quickly before planting and to help the plants get productive again.
What is one to do with a PH of 3. Panic. Out came the calculator. Not mine, but the calculator of my trusted advisor. Turns out I need about 30 tons of calcium compound. I need it quick, before we start planting. I am imagining us disappearing under a cloud of chalk for the next 3 weeks.