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takadi

Referred here from Organics...first time into Container gardening

15 years ago

So I'm thinking of making a good universal soil mix and justaguy recommended I come here. So my earlier suggestion was to make a organic potting mix containing vermicompost, charcoal, leaf mould, and composted coffee grounds, however I was suggested that I take a different approach since that's too much organic matter to be a viable long lasting medium.

So should I add sand like some have suggested? Some silty dirt? Gravel or stones? Vermiculite or perlite? Though I'd much rather prefer something that I can make myself or can find in my backyard

Comments (31)

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    How about taking a little time to read this. It might answer some of the questions you have before they are asked, & leave you better able to understand/analyze the suggestions you're bound to get. ;o)

    Al

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Well I did want to make an organic soil mix that I could easily find in my backyard or make myself, but it seems that after reading that thread, I might be starting a war by the mere mention of the word organic. I just want to plant some thai basil trimmings that I've recently rooted, so what would you all recommend?

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  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    What's not organic about pine bark, peat, and perlite? I didn't mean to waste your time - so sorry.

    Looks like you're all set then, for your 'good universal mix' .... hard to get any more organic than worm poop, charcoal, leaf mould, and composted coffee grounds - unless maybe you toss in a little manure for good measure. ;o)

    Fare well.

    Al

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Nothing wrong with pine bark peat or perlite, it's just that I wanna see if I can make a good mix without having to buy anything...sort of the whole "living off the land" concept. I guess that's what I meant by organic. Are shredded pine needles an acceptable replacement for pine bark? I figured leaf mould would be a good substitute for peat, but I'm not sure what to use instead of perlite.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    You'll have to use something that seems to you, to be "inorganic", such as crushed granite, pumice, small pea stones. Sand will only fill in your air space in the soil. Use anything not to big, about the size of perlite pieces to allow roots to breathe in your soil...That is if you want to.:-).
    By the way, would you consider sand or any of these must needed additives to your soil for proper drainage, to be "organic" or inorganic"?

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I guess when I first thought of organic, I thought "something you can easily make yourself or find in your backyard", but I guess that's a false definition. Technically, sand and rocks would be inorganic, but it would fit the definition of what I would like to find and add the the mixture (if it's widely available or free).

    Isn't the special thing about perlite is that it can expand with moisture or temperature?

    By the way, why is it that sand fills up airspaces, but no powdery items like crushed pumice or large items like pea stones? I can understand how pea stones are large enough to not have the kind of surface tension that would choke up air pockets, but what about the crushed granite or pumice?

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    The crushed granite and pumice I have used, have never been as fine as sand or as samll.:-)

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Talk to a Farmer and ask what he does to his soil prior to planting. Ask how he avoids spending money on growing crops and then you'll have part of your answer. Not sure why we try to grow without spending money, yet it can be done. Just wait a year to build composted soil, gathering pinebark and lettting it age. Many would gladly pay a small less the $100 to grow this year rather then wait a year for cow manure, and greens, leaves and other items to compost. Why not do both and continue your green growth and enjoy yourself in the garden. Just a thought to your quest. I'd gladly give up smoking, drinking and buying name brand clothes if it would help me garden cost effectively. And for those who don't drink, smoke,and buy expenise name brand clothes I don't have any other ideas for you except wait a year for the organics to change to a nice growing medium.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    The thing is, I already have a 10x10 heap of compost waiting for me in the back, I guess it's just the geeky side of me that can't wait to put the compost I put so much love and work into to use.

    And mike, thanks for the clarification :)

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Let me see if I can take a stab at addressing your concerns:-)

    First, container gardening has some substantially different requirements to it than does inground gardening. Primary to that is a concern for fast drainage, as a container grown plant does not have the surrounding soil to absorb excess moisture and provide natural drainage - it is confined to the area of the container and a few small drainage holes at the bottom. Water movement through a container is vastly different than it is in a garden setting (reread Al's link). Garden soil is too heavy and usually comprised of quite small pore space, so its ability to drain well in a container is compromised.

    The need for fast/sharp drainage is combined with a need for moisture retention as well - and yes, it is quite possible to have fast draining, moisture retentive soil although it sounds like a contradiction in terms.

    The problem with most 'found' ingredients is that they do not offer the characteristics that a good container soil requires. They either provide excess organic matter which will continue to decompose, allowing for considerable shrinkage and reduced pore space (compromised drainage) or they are too moisture retentive.

    If you are doing a single season container, like an annual growing of the basil, you may have modest success including some of the 'found' ingredients, but they are not recommended for long term container culture. They breakdown far too rapidly. But you will still need to include a majority of materials that will not decompose rapidly and provide the proper texture and necessary drainage....the bark fines, the pumice, the peat, etc. Hence all the recipes you find on this forum - all of which are designed specifically for growing plants in containers - and why there is such a thing as commercial bagged potting soils. Of your available free or found ingredients, the only one I'd consider adding would be the vermicompost and only in very modest amounts.

    The term 'organic' really doesn't have much bearing here :-)There is really nothing non-organic about a quality container potting soil unless it has synthetic fertilizer or polymer additives. Organic in this sense only refers to naturally occuring materials, like the bark fines, peat, or perlite/pumice - nothing synthesized or created from chemical components.

    And there's nothing wrong with that pile of compost waiting in the back yard, but it is far better served being used in or on the ground than as a base for container soil.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Ok....
    To add to "gardengals" comments in which she has been a big help many times hereto us. Thanks gardengal!

    I am starting to feel like a plant hospital!! And a plant doctor!! Maybe I should start charging people doctors fees and give some of my profits to AL, since he is our mentor? lol
    I can't even tell you how many friends of mine bring their sickly plants to me ,to be repotted into Al's mix and pay me to get the ingrediants! The cost of supplies is free now..lol
    I even have a friend who drives to New hampshire for me to get me turface. I even know a worker at my local greenhouse that wants me too make him a batch. Even he looses his Gardenias to collasped soil after a year or two planted in their special bagged mix.
    Everytime they bring me their sic, and I mean on the verge of death and collapse plants, they are all in bagged potting soil. I kills me to see them in such despair. I feel like I am helping little children these poor plants!
    In particlular, I survived a "prayer plant". I could see such potential in it! Let's see wht it does in a few days!

    Most of my friends plants are brought to me in soil hard as a rock, collasped soil, or soil that won't absorb water that just runs off, or water goes through in seconds and spills on the floor and yet water doesn't wet the roots , or loaded with knats and so on. These poor, poor plants.
    They are though, usually the plants that have been growing in the same soil for at least a couple of years if not longer. I am begining to think most people don't believe in refreshing oil soil, especially if there is peat in it.... Not feshly transplanted ones, they are doing well for them, so far....lol
    I tell them unless they plan on transplanting their plants EVERY year into a fresh bagged soil, then they better start using Al's soilles mix for long term use where the soil does not breakdown easily and compacts and suffocates their plants roots! The slient killer.
    Of all these friends of mine plants that I have transplanted so far, all these plants roots were on the verge of death because they could not get air or they were rotted from soil staying to wet to long.
    Just wanted to share.
    Great thread here!!

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Well thanks for the polite answer gardengal, I guess it makes a little more sense to me. I guess I knew that container gardening and conventional gardening were two different animals, but not to the extent that I am being suggested.

    The problem is I have alot of trouble finding vermiculite around my area (perlite is pretty easy to find) and I figured a good project for myself is to have a little fun and get creative and stray a little from the norm. I just didn't realize that it wasn't scientifically feasible, which is what I'm getting from here.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Takadi,
    If you need to find turface...You could call anyone in your area who takes care of tennis courts or a place that finds grains for farms. They will have it.
    If you looking for crushed granite, a chicken feed or animal grain store will have that too.
    I wouldn't use vermiculite. But you can try for yourself. To me that is the worst stuff for keeping the soil wet and collasping the air spaces in the pot.
    I would use perlite instead. But that is just me, since I live way up in the cold regions and can't afford for my pots to stay wet to long...
    Maybe different if your plants will sit out all day in an Arizona hot sun...
    Hope this helped..:-)
    P.S One thing you could do too. I actually e-bayed for pumice, and found lots of it there.
    Take care

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Is turface the "clay balls" in the soilless mixture that you and Al were talking about? What exactly is turface?

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    turface

    {{gwi:3464}}
    {{gwi:3465}}

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hmmm, interesting, that stuff is what they line track field with isn't it? So it's basically baked clay pellets. I'll try to look around for that, though I doubt I can find it knowing how my area is

    I've been looking around for pine bark fines (or other names it goes by like soil conditioner) without any luck, at Home depot's, lowe's, the garden centers, nurseries, etc. I have some partially composted pine wood chips in the back. I was wondering if I could screen out the larger chunks and bake them in the oven to sterilize them.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Don't you have tennis courts in your area?
    Where the heck do you live?
    Mike

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    You may or may not agree with what I am about to say, but since I've had a few shots fired over my bow, I think I'm entitled to a reply. Nothing I'm saying is in anger - just a few observations. We certainly did get off on the wrong foot. You came over from the Organic Gardening Forum looking for validation that your proposed "good universal soil mix ... containing vermicompost, charcoal, leaf mould, and composted coffee grounds" was workable if you could amend it with something - and, something you could find in the back yard.

    It doesn't diminish anyone when they come here with little knowledge about the subject you are inquiring after when you come here. Many of the folks that show up on the forum know very little. I could easily see that you didn't have a very broad base of knowledge about container soils to draw on, so I suggested you do some basic reading so you could get at least a feel for what to aim for in a container soil.

    When you came back you said "Well I did want to make an organic soil mix that I could easily find in my backyard or make myself" Which told me you were still clinging to your preconceptions and the parameters you had set, in spite of what you read in the thread I linked you too.

    After the quote I listed above, you said "... after reading that thread, I might be starting a war by the mere mention of the word organic." The thread I linked you to is something of a meeting place for those who want help and those who would like to offer theirs. There is a good store of collective wisdom in that/those threads, so I was more than surprised when all you were able to take from them was the idea that I/we were waiting to pounce on you for your wish to make your own 'organic' soil. The irony in that is you weren't yet able to see that the soils being discussed there all fit well within the parameters of what would be considered 'organic'.

    When you followed me to M-Taggart's thread & piggy-backed to ask me a question, I explained my feelings and you offered an angry response. You then accused me of being sensitive & emotional, and threatened essentially to leave the sandbox, take your toys, and go home ("I guess I'll head off somewhere else then where people are a little more open minded. Well certainly not the container forum." So far, that's quite a rucus for a first-time visitor. ;o)

    When other's pointed out some of the things I'm pointing out now, you indicated you weren't here for an education and weren't 'results oriented'. Really, you were, on both counts, but let's assume you weren't looking for an education for the moment. What would be so wrong with someone offering you one? ;o) That's what I did - offered you a chance to broaden your base of knowledge about container soils, which would probably have eliminated the need for a good % of your questions and saved you some time.

    No one was condescending (to you) here - but many of us are intelligent enough to see when the tail is wagging the dog. I come here from a want to help, and I'll help anyone, no matter what their level of knowledge. I'm not the kind of guy to say "I don't think I like this person, I think I'll mess with him". If there's conflict, it's for a reason. I can get along with anyone who's not full of it (referring to those operating beyond their limits of knowledge - not to you) & shows me & others a reasonable amount of respect.

    My attitude toward you so far went from a want to help, to mild indignance, to indifference, to surprise at the anger in your response(s). You can look at what I said, think of it as an attack on your character, fire off an angry response and/or discount it, - I hope you don't; or, you can consider what I said and realize that I was only trying to help and you misjudged. Regardless of what you choose, it will necessarily speak of your character, just as my response to you necessarily speaks of mine.

    I wish you well. Take care.

    Al

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    None of this stuff is hard to find. I can buy bark "soil conditioner" at any of the big boxes. I can also buy "Wonderbark" which is meant to be used as an orchid growing medium at all of the nurseries and one of the big boxes in my area. If you look at the Turface website, you can find the nearest dealer. In my case, it's clear across town, but I can purchase "Dry Stall Horse Bedding" at the feed store near my house. Crushed granite, pumice, and turkey grit are readily available too. In fact, I bought a bag of crushed granite at the feed store. The woman who owns it sells quite a bit of those sorts of products to gardeners and is quite happy to order bags of this and that. (Hint: if you ever want to try alfalfa meal as a fertilizer, your choices are expensive alfalfa from a garden store or cheap horse food from a feed store -- it's the same stuff).

    I find it hard to believe that you live some place so remote that you don't have a big box, a garden center, or a feed store. I suspect that it might take a bit of ingenuity to turn up those products in Manhattan, but you've already said that you have a back yard.

    Here is a link that might be useful: Turface Dealer Locator

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Al,

    Instead of writing what you wrote now and correcting me on my so called "preconceptions/misconceptions" (which is still dotted with condescending language, purposely or not), you reply with this particular statement:

    "What's not organic about pine bark, peat, and perlite? I didn't mean to waste your time - so sorry.

    Looks like you're all set then, for your 'good universal mix' .... hard to get any more organic than worm poop, charcoal, leaf mould, and composted coffee grounds - unless maybe you toss in a little manure for good measure. ;o)

    Fare well.

    Al "

    What in the world was I supposed to make of that? Was this your way of "educating" someone who apparently has so little knowledge? And when I ask a question again...no response. Strangely enough, I thought you were being genuine (though vague...it's hard to read sarcasm on the internet) until your second post to my third question, which went on a tirade of accusations of my lack of openness and willingness to learn that I had no clue I even portrayed.

    Ironically, MY attitude toward you went from mild curiosity, admiration, then also surprise (from your second post which blew off my inquiry), and now general annoyance. When I asked questions on gardenweb forums, I always received an answer, regardless of my parameters, which I don't think are that strict anyways, as opposed to your parameters, which seem to almost REQUIRE of certain ingredients, such as pine bark, and consider other ingredients inferior or an exercise in futility. And hey, if it is an exercise in futility, why not say so? Gardengal, Meyermike, and justaguy were able to make that point just fine without coming across with a tone of "indignation". Being talked down to like a child and now being compared to a child (as per your overdramatic misinterpretation of my responses with your sandbox analogy) is hardly what I call being "educated".

    Now I've been reading around here and I can see many people on here have had good experiences with your vast knowledge base and willingness to help, and many friendships have have been formed, and valuable information has been exchanged. I only wish to receive and give the same experience, nothing else. However, when someone treats an honest suggestion or question of mine, no matter how wrought with ignorance, with your sense of indignation, indirectness, and indifference, I have no choice but to question your motives and your ability to provide me with the right information. And you are right, it will necessarily speak of your character.

    It was wrong of me however, to judge a whole entire forum based on one bad experience though. I have been learning quite alot from here, regardless

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I live in the DC area, but I am currently in Blacksburg, VA. I called the local Home Depot's and Lowe's, but none of them know what I'm talking about. The gardening centers I called said that they used to carry it, but not currently at the moment.

    I'll look around at feedstores though, I've been able to get quite alot of cheap stuff in bulk from there. Considering how Blacksburg is practically a farm town...

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Ahh beautiful ole Blalksburg you must stop by Christiansburg's Tractor Supply Store. Just a hop skip and jump from Blacksburg.

    George

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    "Ahh beautiful ole Blalksburg you must stop by Christiansburg's Tractor Supply Store. Just a hop skip and jump from Blacksburg."

    I wish...unfortunately I don't have a car :(. The farthest the bus goes is to Kroger's

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Hmm... There is always bicycling. :-> Some of your comments make more sense if you are a grad student without a car.

    In the DC area, Wolf Trap Nursery in Vienna has some pine fines. When I called, they said they had it but sold as "soil conditioner". Now I just need to worry about getting the 2 heavy frozen bags out of my car... They should be bus/metro accessible.

    Merrifield, also near Vienna, had something last year called Fines that was sold as a "soil conditioner"

    Perlite is a bit pricy, but at least it is light and could be carried in a backpack. Walmart had it pretty cheap last year.

    You might try playground sand or builder's sand. I've heard varying things about which of those to use, and whether they help or hurt. But at least they wouldn't be total muck like the rest of it.

    Even if you are experimenting, like I did last year, it ended up being a huge amount of effort for very poor results. I think I used half standard potting mix, and one part compost, one part peat moss. I did this partially based on Ed Smith's book "Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers: Using Ed's Amazing POTS System "

    Huge blossom end rot on my Roma tomatoes, and my eggplant didn't seem to be happy. Lettuce was horrendously bitter. Then there were the aphids and the whiteflies and the mushrooms. So it ended up that for the amount of time I spent on it vs. the amount of produce, I probably was getting a return of $.01 an hour.

    For a grad student, you'd probably be better off studying.

    And if you are only in Blackburg temporarily, how are you going to get plants back to DC?

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I take a greyhound bus every vacation, so hopefully I'll be able to take home some plants.

    Most of what I'm doing is a hobby, but I'm hoping to get into agricultural studies or horticulture. I'm currently an undergrad majoring in Biology though, but it's just not the same :(.

    I think what I'm getting here is that the key to container gardening is particle size and sterility, not necessarily the nutrient or microfauna content of the medium. It seems that hydroponics are the most logical conclusion to achieve the best and easiest results.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    It seems that hydroponics are the most logical conclusion to achieve the best and easiest results.

    Pretty much, at least in theory :) However, for those uninterested in hydro, using a fast draining medium and supplying all the nutrients and water ourselves (instead of having a nutrient solution and pumps) works pretty dang well too.

    The potting mix only has to hold enough water and nutrients until we can reapply. Some can do this twice per day, some once per day, some once every few days. Build the growing medium accordingly and you will get the best results you can.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Takadi,

    I was looking on your page, and there is no info about you. Where you live, what climate zone ur in, what your interests are, your climate, what your favorite plants are, and why you like container gardening. It would be nice to know a little bit of you to be more of a help so we can all help you according to your growing area.
    If you don't want to make it public, then drop me an e-mail and I will try to help you get all the ingrediants you need to make a great soil, and with any other interest in growing plants.
    Are you a male or female!!? lolol
    Hope your doing well in finding what you want... We are all here to help, and yes even Al.
    ...;-)

    Mike;-)

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    If your looking for Pine Bark Fines, Home Depot Sells the following item by Garden Pro "Clay breaker" Soil Conditioner Stock # A321-297 UPC code 740114220269 handled by Costal Supply Co.,Inc. at 4.77 for 2 cu ft.
    Its in an Orangish and Yellow bag.

    George

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    So I was able to find every ingredient except for crushed granite or pumice, so I just bought some builder's sand and some pea stones and gravel instead.

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Okay it's been some weeks and I've got some questions.

    First, I called some local feedstores but none of them carry crushed granite. What is a good replacement of granite, or if it's possible, does anyone have any contacts or sources I can call?

    Second, I have questions of the fundamentals of container gardening. If a container already has the necessary ingredients that allow it to have good aeration, drainage, and water retention that will last a long time, why would it not be recommended to add some sort of nutrient dense organic matter to fertilize the plant? Is it because it will eventually compact and build up into the enclosed system, thereby negating the positive effects of the other materials in the pot? Is it because the soil food web can't establish itself in an enclosed container, thus rendering the addition of organic matter useless? If it's the latter, what exactly is the science of why container gardening can't become a sort of "microcosm" of the natural conditions of an outdoor garden? I've seen analogies of fishbowls compared to lakes, but I'm thinking if there's the right balance of plant life with animal life to recycle nutrients and gases, the contained ecosystem can be sustainable (for example, those biospheres they sell at nature stores that only require sunlight). Or am I going in the wrong direction and completely wrong in that sense? Btw I'm assuming organic matter includes things like bone meal and blood meal as well

    If the organic matter debate is irrelevant in container gardening, can use of liquid type organic fertlizers like teas or diluted urea be used in place of chemical ferts? Or are chemical ferts an unavoidable reality when it comes to container gardening?

    Thanks

  • 15 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Chemical (synthetic) fertilizers aren't unavoidable in containers, I think many of us just see no point to them (though many of us do use organics for our in ground gardens).

    You described the problem of using organic solids such as manure/compost in that it will clog up the spaces between particles as it breaks down. This isn't a huge issue if you already have a mix with superior drainage and the amount of organic matter is kept low (let's say 10% of the total volume), BUT, the nutrient benefit isn't going to be reliable or significant.

    The soil food web is definitely another potential problem in a container. It isn't that you can't have bacteria, worms etc, it is that it is difficult for most to maintain a working population due to rapid environmental fluctuations in containers. pH, moisture, temperature all swing wildly in containers. If you think about how the soil food web are built up in soil we add organic matter and often mulch the area to make the environmental fluctuations less drastic. Many have hopped on to the no till bandwagon so as to not disturb the critters in the soil.

    Even if you did build a potent soil food web in the container, think about what they are going to do. They will attack every organic component of the mix including the bark and peat and thus the soil will structurally collapse before it needs to.

    There are those who grow organicly in containers, some post here from time to time. I have not read any of them to say it's particularly easy to do well and I recall one person who assembles a mind boggling number of ingredients to make a good mix and then tosses it in the garden each year due to it's collapsing too much to reuse. You certainly can do containers organic if you wish though.

    Blood meal isn't something I would use in a container because a little goes a very long way and it all becomes active nearly immediately. The risk of over fertilization would be high. Bone meal I also wouldn't use because it takes a long time to release nutrients and would likely have been flushed out of the container before that happens.

    If you wish to use teas I see no problem with that, but if you are willing to use diluted urea why not just use Miracle Grow or any other liquid fert with urea in it? I don't see the difference between organic/synthetic in this case.

    Just my thoughts.

    You can always do a few containers in a purely 'synthetic' way and some others in a purely organic way and see which you prefer. No harm in a little experimentation ;)