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Calibrating Test Kits - for non-Chemists

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I received a request to write something like this, so: (I hope someone will check this for accuracy.)

Calibrating Test Kits

Calibrating a test kit means using that kit to measure some water samples with known concentrations of the substance being tested for, and using those test results to verify that the test kit is accurate, or to train yourself to recognize the colors that correspond to the concentrations you want to test for. Hobby test kits are not laboratory quality tests. That means we don’t need extreme accuracy in the standard test solutions we use for calibration. If we have a good quality gram scale, with +/-.01 gram accuracy, and good laboratory glass graduated cylinders to measure water volume, there are other articles that tell how to make very accurate standard solutions. The methods described here are for use with ordinary kitchen measuring equipment, measuring spoons and cups. And, the Fertilator calculator on APC was used to easily calculate how to mix these.

Nitrate Test Kits

First, buy a gallon of distilled water from your local grocery store. Use that to make the test standard solutions.

1. Add 1/4 teaspoon - a level measure, not a heaping measure - of KNO3 to 4 cups of distilled water (one quart). This gives you 4 cups of 800 ppm nitrate water.
2. Mix 1/4 cup of that 800 ppm water with 1 3/4 cups of distilled water. This gives you 2 cups of 100 ppm nitrate standard water.
3. Mix one cup of that 100 ppm water with one cup of distilled water. This gives you 2 cups of 50 ppm nitrate standard water.
4. Mix one cup of that 50 ppm water with one cup of distilled water. This gives you 2 cups of 25 ppm nitrate standard water.
5. Mix 1/2 cup of that 25 ppm water with 3/4 cup of distilled water. This gives you 1 1/4 cups of 10 ppm nitrate standard water.
6. Mix 1/4 cup of 25 ppm water with 1 cup of distilled water. This gives you 1 1/4 cups of 5 ppm nitrate standard water.
7. Use your test kit to measure the nitrate concentration in each of the 5,10,25, and 50 ppm nitrate standards. If you wish, add the 100 ppm standard to that set.
8. Compare the colors of those to the color card for your kit, and either verify the accuracy of the kit, or use those colors to train yourself to recognize the colors.

Your nitrate test kit is now calibrated. You can store the standard solutions in tightly sealed bottles for an indefinite period of time for future calibrations. Ideally, you calibrate the kit each time you use it.

Phosphate Test Kits

First, buy a gallon of distilled water from your local grocery store. Use that to make the test standard solutions.

1. Add 1/4 teaspoon - a level measure, not a heaping measure - of KH2PO4 to 4 cups of distilled water (one quart). This gives you 4 cups of 1000 ppm phosphate water.
2. Mix 1/4 cup of that 1000 ppm water with 2 1/4 cups of distilled water. This gives you 2 1/2 cups of 100 ppm phosphate standard water.
3. Mix one cup of that 100 ppm water with one cup of distilled water. This gives you 2 cups of 50 ppm phosphate standard water.
4. Mix one cup of that 50 ppm water with one cup of distilled water. This gives you 2 cups of 25 ppm phosphate standard water.
5. Mix 1/2 cup of that 25 ppm water with 3/4 cup of distilled water. This gives you 1 1/4 cups of 10 ppm phosphate standard water.
6. Mix 1/4 cup of 25 ppm water with 1 cup of distilled water. This gives you 1 1/4 cups of 5 ppm phosphate standard water.
7. Mix 1/4 cup of 5 ppm water with 1 cup of distilled water. This gives you 1 1/4 cups of 1 ppm phosphate standard water.
8. Use your test kit to measure the phosphate concentration in each of the 1,5,10, and 25 ppm phosphate standards. If you wish, add the 50 ppm standard to that set.
9. Compare the colors of those to the color card for your kit, and either verify the accuracy of the kit, or use those colors to train yourself to recognize the colors.

Your phosphate test kit is now calibrated. You can store the standard solutions in tightly sealed bottles for an indefinite period of time for future calibrations. Ideally, you calibrate the kit each time you use it.

Other Test Kits

To follow, maybe:confused1:
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Ho hum............calibrated test kits for nutrients which are among the easiest things to add.....but not CO2 calibrations, light? Well, folks need a PAR meter, and reference bulb and distance, but light calibration is fairly easy as well.

Still, why do folks spend a lot of time, energy, $, effort etc on ferts, and not on light or CO2? Wanna be all precise and Scientific with ferts, then wing it with CO2/light?

My point is that light and CO2 are much larger factors in management. The same types of calibration rules apply to their measure that do to Test kits for NO3. Once CO2/light are correctly addressed for a management goal you have, then nutrients are really easy and have much less impact.

Still, folks should calibrate whenever they can if they want to feel the results are actually correct. If you prefer to guess, then why bother testing at all?
Do not even bother, do a decent water change and move on.

Better than guessing and not doing anything.

Regards,
Tom Barr
 
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