Bobberman
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Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I try all kinds of mixes all the time hoping I hit on a good one! What mix do you like? Most of the time there are things you over look! One mix I like is the layer of compost under a few inches of a huge pine tree. Those huge trees set for 20 years and collect fantastic compost! One thing I noticed is that cats love to use the ground under pine trees for their bathroom! Maybe that is why my friend had such a nice garden after he cut down a 40 year old pine tree and had his garden mixed with the rich dark brown compost that went down over a foot under the tree when he cut it down. I probably got 8 wheel barrels full of the compost to add to his garden several years ago!
There are so many things to add to the mix its almost like cooking in a way! Even a little Epsom salts can help the plants! Mild fertilizers is the key I think! To many people think the more fertilizer the better but that causes problems with the water intake of the plants! I would say sand is a good additive to any mix since it helps drainage and the roots seem to hold to it! Also when you replant a seedling it comes out easier without destroying the roots! Worms are great add to a mix especially if you have some shredded newspapers at the bottom of you mix! I always put it in a few trays with some new mix to see what happens!
I think one of the main things is to try to get a mix that does not dry out to fast! Sometimes I add a little clay to the mix. I really like the cow manure compost and mushroom compost that I add to the mix! peat moss seems to dry to me! Last year I added some sea weed liquid mix with only a few drops in the water I watered with. It worked pretty well! The seaweed mix is expensive but goes a long way! How do you like bone meal? Now blood meal is another product but very small amounts at the very bottom seem to work as the seedlings roots reach the bottom!
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lakngulf
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I have fought the battle of "surely I can put dirt together to perform better than this Miracle Gro potting soil" for so many years now. At times I will mix good rich dark top soil from the farm with the potting soil. Other times I will have a "Grow Off" between the two. Biggest problem with the farm soil is compaction, which led me to mix the two for several years.

What could I add to the farm soil to improve that?
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applestar
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

Alabama is one of the rice growing states isn't it? Rainbowgardener said she was going to try rice hulls and it seems like it should be readily available there? I'm not sure it it would be a product that I should consider here in NJ though I'm keeping an open mind.

So far, I've tried

- small chip -about size of fingernail- composted bark mulch (that worked really well but for some reason I couldn't find it again at the local garden centers and couldn't remember which one I bought the original from).
- composted debris after screening compost (works well for larger containers)
- chicken grit (too heavy but good for small containers needing weight -- turkey grit was recommended for bonsai)
- patio sand/gravel (heavy -- but useful for outdoor containers that need the weight to stabilize and keep from falling over).
- I always add sand for the seed starting mix.
- I've been experimenting with screened pumice gravel for containers that doesn't have weight issues, but all pumice gravel made the seed tray too heavy for the shelves and for hefting around.
- corncob small animal bedding (caused N deficiency when used in quantity -- maybe better if somewhat composted or soaked in AACT first)
- woodypet sawdust pelleted animal bedding (caused N deficiency when used without soaking first -- May have been a little better when soaked in equal parts with alfalfa pellets)

- I relented and bought a bag of perlite (the industry standard choice) last spring and I have to admit that does solve the weight issues, but I still don't like the choking dust and I used it up so I'm debating whether to buy another large bag. The lightness is a DISadvantage for the outdoor containers that NEED the weight.

- I agree wholeheartedly that having earthworms in the soil mix help a lot -- seed starting as well as larger container plants. I also like having centipedes in the mix to hunt down the baddies. On the whole my seedlings were healthier when I used home made compost. It seemed like my vermicompost wasn't as good as the home made compost. I prefer the entire soil foodweb working in the mix and watering with AACT seems to give the seedlings a big boost.

*my soil mix trials are unscientific experiments :P so you may see different results* :>
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PaulF
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I am glad you guys get satisfaction from making your own soil from scratch. Me, I'm just too lazy and cheap to experiment. The folks that put my soilless mix in bags do it better and cheaper than I could ever attempt. I pick my own hobbies and mixing soil isn't one of them, but am behind your choice 100%. Just make sure you are having fun with it.
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digitS'
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

It is a good way to save a little money, especially if the gardener is filling some large containers.

I do not make my own starter mix but have used some recipe ideas from the National Center for Appropriate Technology many times, for plants going into larger containers.

At first, I used their "Vegetable transplant recipe" of equal parts compost, peat moss and perlite.

I do not use vermiculite having been completely "put off" by the W.R. Grace & Co's total asbestos contamination atrocity. And, I know a little about what I speak having used that product years ago both in potting soil mixes and in greenhouse boiler insulation. Besides, I don't live all that far from the W.R. Grace mine and have seen what happened to Libby Montana as a result of their greed.

Back to potting mixes! More recently, I decided that there was such an array of recipes and that I'd like to include some good garden soil in the mix - I should be able to come up with a recipe that included topsoil.

So, the last few years, I've just used (by volume) 2 parts topsoil, 2 parts peat moss and one part perlite.The "volume" I'm talking about is by the shovelful. Mixing is done thru a ¼" hardware-cloth screen into the wheelbarrow. I use dry organic fertilizer at about the rate I would put it on garden soil.

Potting Mixes for Certified Organic Production

Steve :)
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Bobberman
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

Straining dirt is a exercise that has results in more ways than one. Lifting weights is exercise but after you are done that's it but I have dirt and exercise. Another thing I do is level my garden and strip out the weed roots when I strain the dirt. The ruff dirt I have from straining I fill in holes with or put at the bottom of a new planter with the good dirt on top! I also use the strained dirt for my new raised beds or put several inches atop the old raised beds! Strained dirt with sand and fine pine shavings seems to work nicely!
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imafan26
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I have made most of my soil mix for years. I just do peatlite. 50% peat 50% perlite plus a slow release fertilizer. It is cheaper in the long run if you use a lot of potting mix than buying a bagged mix.

This works year round. It is fast draining and drying so in summer I need to water more, but I don't have to worry about plants drowning in the rainy season.

I can adjust the percentage of perlite up for succulents or add more peat moss for ferns. I root almost all of my cuttings in pure perlite.

Some of the bagged mixes like MG moisture control is fine for summer but is problematic when it rains a lot and then the polymers swell up and form jelly on the soil and kill the plants.

Bagged mixes and even some composts are adding fertilizer and lime to "adjust the pH" and that makes them more expensive as well.

I was looking for some compost for my garden about two months ago and when I read the bag there was some chicken manure and/or lime added. Since my plot is already alkaline, it wasn't really what I wanted.

I tried adding compost and manure to the potting mix and it did not work out for me. The manure pretty much killed the plants and the compost made the mix heavy and it stayed wet too long. I probably did not get a good ratio of the ingredients.
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rainbowgardener
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I do make my own potting mix / seed starting mix. I am trying to move towards more sustainable, eco-friendly. The first time I did it, I used peat moss, mushroom compost, and perlite. Last year, I substituted coconut coir for the peat moss, since peat moss is a fossil resource that is non-renewable and mined. I liked the texture of the coconut coir better any way, so that turned out well. My plan for 2014 is to substitute rice hulls for the perlite, because perlite is igneous rock that is mined and then heated to 1600 deg F, to expand the rock.

I haven't tried it yet, so can't report any results.

I don't use any topsoil or homemade compost, because I use my mix for seed starting, so it needs to be light and fine textured.

The times I have used it so far, I have found that my mix is not as N heavy as the Miracle-Gro product, so I have to work more at supplementing it, with worm castings, coffee grounds, AACT, alfalfa pellets, etc. As applestar said, my seedlings responded well to the AACT.
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imafan26
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I have made compost tea, but it is mostly the non aerated compost tea. How do you apply the AACT? I don't do it often because it does not go very far and I cannot put it in my sprayer without risking permanently clogging it even with filters. I have lost two sprayers from clogging so now I just take the five gallon bucket and pour it on so it only covers about 20 ft.
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applestar
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I dilute AACT about 8:1 to 10:1 so it goes a long way. Aerated Compost tea is much more concentrated with live organisms.

I use either a tea strainer or a pebble/sand filter in a cut off soda bottle funnel to strain out the rough stuff.

Then I put a cheese cloth folded twice -- 4 layers - in a cut off soda bottle funnel and pour the strained AACT through the cheese cloth filter into the pump sprayer for fine mist application. (I "rinse" the cheese cloth afterwards and water with the rinse water :wink: )

For larger area like veg garden and trees/shrubs, I use the hose end tree/shrub sprayer with automatic mixing and generally only strain, not bother to filter.

You can also just add to the water as soil drench.
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digitS'
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I am glad to have some idea what AACT is now . . :)

We each have different soil types and different climates. Here, I have to be concerned about water retention. The gardens where I have been there the longest have obvious amounts of perlite & peat in the soil - just from me moving transplants in them, year after year. There also has been almost a religious attention to saving anything compostable and getting it back into the ground.

I have very nearly ruined my entire growing season by using an off-brand for starting seeds. Honestly, I am a little afraid to even venture into using something homemade for seed starting, even with the experience of mixing soil for larger containers/older plants.

The soil I use for the potting mix is probably the best composted that I have. I have to screen out all the rock in it, however. It can be pretty heavy even as it is.

The no-peat makes sense to me. I can understand that it is mined but it isn't as tho' I am burning it. Of course, fossil fuel is being burned getting it here. I have seen peat forming on just a continuous cycle. I know people who have a home near a small creek. Their lower field seldom floods but there must be more peat in that soil than what we might think of as "dirt."

The creek passes thru 3 small ponds close to their home. They must work continually thru the summer to pull the algae out of the water to keep the ponds from filling in. They are elderly and had better be turning over that job to someone else now. I had thought about carrying off that material for composting but it would require a 20 mile round trip with a very heavy load. As it is, they carry it down in a wheelbarrow and dump it behind their barn.

The perlite is burned but it is made from obsidian. The amount of obsidian in eastern Oregon is amazing. It is very much like pumice but, not before it is heated. Pumice & obsidian are of a very similar volcanic origin.

Steve
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rainbowgardener
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I bottom water all my seedlings, by pouring water from a pitcher into the tray the seedling pots are sitting in. So it is easy to just put some AACT in the pitcher and then fill it with de-chlorinated water.
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MB3
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I honestly don't have money to buy much of anything, so I resort to lots of things you don't really want to do, like using garden dirt (with compost) in pots (I do de-worm and pasteurize it). I recently bought some coir for the first time, and I am basically mixing some of it with some of the dirt from outside, and will later add in some worm castings when I have some to pull out of my worming bin.

If I had money for stuff, I would try out and buy things like seen in this list:
Here are some basic recipes for soil mixes to get you started.

SEED STARTING RECIPE
Coconut Coir 2 Parts
Perlite 1 Part
Worm Castings 1/2 Part
Green Sand 1/4 Part
Kelp Meal 1/4 Part

REPLANTED STARTS
Coconut Coir 2 Parts
Perlite 1 Part
Worm Castings 1 Part
Green Sand 1/4 Part
Kelp Meal 1/4 Part
Rock Dust (Optional)

BASIC CONTAINER RECIPE
Coconut Coir 2 Parts
Perlite 2 Parts
Pine Bark 1 Part
Worm Castings 1 Part
Green Sand 1/4 Part
Kelp Meal 1/4 Part
Rock Dust (Optional)
https://www.myvegangarden.com/?p=13

it is all vegan mixes,

I had some other site I found once that made similar ones but I can no longer find it, major difference being that it had basic mixes which avoid peat, vermiculite and perlite for the environmentally-conscious. the above do w/o 2/3 of these.

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

You can substitute leaf mould for the coir. If you do a worm bin, then you have your own worm castings and don't have to buy them.

Once you have pasteurized and de-wormed your dirt, it would be good to add back some AACT for micro-organisms and some earthworms. Soil is much healthier when it is full of life.
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MB3
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I do add the worms back in =)
I don't really have a way to do an actual AACT (no bubbler, nor a large bucket or really anywhere to really set up a bucket.. ), I just have to sort of be happy with the worm castings from the worming bin in the basement, and the compost pile that is really part of the small garden.
this is partly why I pasteurize, and don't sterilize, too.
As I said, this isn't all exactly ideal, but I do what I can with what little I have. I really wish I could entertain making a better mix for seedlings and pots, but it is financially prohibitive for me.

Bobberman
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

MB3 nice link for all those potting mixes. I wonder why one mix has white sand. I think anything white in the soil lets the light reflect to the under leaves making the plants grow better! Green sand and white sand how about river sand!
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rainbowgardener
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

Re my potting mix: I just noticed this morning that a lot of my pots of seedlings have a bunch of little grayish mushrooms sprouting in them. I imagine that is from the mushroom compost, which logically seems like it could have lots of mushroom spores. They are tiny yet, but I may see if I can grow some out. If it is a commercial mushroom growing operation, you wouldn't think they would be growing any poisonous mushrooms. I don't remember that happening last year when I was using mushroom compost. It is a different brand in case that makes any difference. Otherwise conditions are pretty much all the same - except for substituting rice hulls for perlite in the mix, but I don't see what that could have to do with it.

Anyway my mushroom compost now seems to have sprouted a bunch of mushrooms. Anyone else use mushroom compost? Have this experience?
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Bobberman
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

When I got it from the mushroom farm I got lots of mushrooms every 11 days I think that was the time line. Put them in the dark and they may produce but your seedlings need light! Good luck!
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rainbowgardener
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

So I went back and looked last night and couldn't find a single mushroom. Apparently all those mushroom babies spending a day under the lights drying up just disappeared. So maybe I had them other years and just didn't happen to look at the right time.
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applestar
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

You could experiment with pasteurized used coffee grounds :D
Stop by a local Starbucks and ask for some -- they use those pressured machines so fresh used grounds are pre-pasteurized and pre-moistened. Put them in a container, mix in a quantity of your mushroom compost (5:1 would be a good ratio), cover with plastic and put in a warm dim lit corner. (I think that would do it)
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IndyGerdener
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

I enjoy making my own soil, and my kids do too!!! I lay out a tarp and make 3 tubs worth at a time. We mix it with our feet, my kids LOVE getting dirty with dad!!

I start with (1) 5 gallon bucket filled 2/3 with water, 1 cup fish emulsion and 2 cups bone meal. I stir it up and add the coir to fill it to the top of the bucket, and let it sit and hydrate the coir.

Then we pour out 2 bags of the "Pro Mix" potting soil with 2 bags of mushroom compost, 1/2 bag of perlite, and 1-2 bags of sand. Then we add the bucket of the coir mix.

After this is all on the tarp we get in and dance around, kick, and stomp the soil until it is all mixed well. Since it is on a tarp you can lift up on the corners and gather the whole pile up. Then we put them into the 25 gallon tubs and place them in the greenhouse for planting!!!

I have added rock dust, and other nutes, but the basic method works fine.

Bobberman
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Re: Making your own soil mix can be fun!

Watch that bone mill it can cause infections to your feet unless you wear boots! Sounds like a good mix!
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