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How to revitalize old soil?

I have 4 raised beds and a *lot* of containers that have been sitting dormant since last season. Pretty much all of them were used for tomatoes, with a few peppers and cucumbers. I know you’re not supposed to reuse them for nightshades year after year but I don’t have room for crop rotations.

So the current question is what to do to revitalize my old soil, much of which has weeds growing on top for months.

Current plans:

Raised Beds – Mix existing soil with compost, and perhaps some “raised bed plant food” (10-2-8)
Compost: ... od11340020
Fertilizer: ... od11860021

Containers – Mix existing soil with fresh potting soil, compost, and perhaps some “organic and natural vegetable, fruit and flower food” (
Compost: ... od11340020
Fertilizer: ... od11050012 (3-4-2)

Also of note is when I transplant the little plants into the containers and beds I usually use some Espoma “Bio-tone Starter-Plus plant food” (4-3-3)

So I don’t want to over fertilize, but I also want to ensure my soil is as best prepared as I can make it at this point. Another option is I can get some compost by the yard from my local garden center by the yard, but I’m not sure how much better that is than the bagged stuff, but it sure is cheaper. I bought 10 bags of the stuff above, but I’m not sure if it’s gonna be enough.

Thanks for any advice!

john gault
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Re: How to revitalize old soil?

Look at how soil renews itself in nature. By things falling to the ground, i.e leaves, sticks, fallen trees/plants, dead animals and countless other ingredients. Then all the soil organisms feed off that stuff and take a crap. And you have soil. That's what I do, heavily mulch and the soil organisms keep my soil alive.

Or you could just buy some "organic" fertilizer LMFAO and spread it.

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ID jit
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Re: How to revitalize old soil?

Am kind of interested in this. Will be facing a similar problem either this fall or next spring with containers of strawberries.

Per usual the interwebz is full of contradicting information that is hard for the inexperienced to parse through. Have ruled out the youtube-cowboys that state my mix is good for 3 to 5 year.
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Re: How to revitalize old soil?

I can't say "this is how I do it and it works", but my feeling is good compost and biotone should help a lot, especially if you dump the containers out, mix, and fluff (I think this is key for containers), re-fill, then let age/microbes do their stuff for 2-4 weeks before planting.

I would add fertilizer in the bottom of the planting hole and side dress.

Compost -- home made is best because you know what's in it, and high quality if you you made it that way, plus and more than anything else -- fresh, active, live microbes and enzymes -- bagged stuff and bulk entirely depends on how they made them, bagged stuff are typically pasteurized before bagging and shipping, then who knows what kind of shipping and storage conditions. Are they old from last year?... etc. Bulk gets bulldozed around so all kinds of stuff can get added and mixed in, and open to elements so nutrients leach and gas out and weed seeds and harmful microbes blow in.

If you can, process the contents of the containers separately between the solanacea and others, and alternate growing -- cukes and last year's tomato containers, etc.
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Re: How to revitalize old soil?

I have not had much luck growing things in old potting soil. I just put the old potting soil in the in ground garden and start with new. I have not figured out what nutrients to replace in the pots to keep it balanced enough. I don't have a lot of potting soil to make it worth while for me to have it tested. Compost might work for some people, it is too heavy for my pots. I also have nasty weeds in my pots so I take the soil to be sterilized first. I put the sterilized mix in the garden or it will be used mixed with new potting soil 50/50. The old mix needs to be sorted out to get rid of the roots. The decaying roots block drainage and compact the soil in the pots as well as steal nutrients as they decay. The potting soil in the garden is only a small amount compared to the volume in the garden so it doesn't change its chemistry all that much.

A large raised bed is similar to a container garden but when the volume is larger, then organics work better. You will have a much larger soil web established to keep things in balance and as long as you don't add more than 20% by volume of good multisourced compost. In small containers, changes in pH and nutrients can vary greatly and there are few soil organisms even though I often have a lot of earthworms in the pots compared to the volume in open ground. It is worthwhile for me to have the garden tested every three years or so to tweak my fertility and pH but it is not worth doing that for the small volumes in pots.
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Re: How to revitalize old soil?

The trick is to put more on than you take off.
Have grass clippings? Spread them on the garden, any time.
Have leaves? Spread them on the garden and till them in.
Corn husks, any plant remains, it all goes back on the plot and gets tilled in or the earthworms dig it in.
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Re: How to revitalize old soil?

Compost is great for raised beds. I agree with imafan, that in my experience, compost doesn't work well in containers; it's too dense and tends to pack down. I only use potting soil, either bought or home made, in pots. What I do for the containers is what applestar suggested. Dump the container out in a wheelbarrow, add equal amount of fresh potting soil, mix and fluff and put it back in. As long as nothing is diseased, I may dump several containers together for the renewing process.

For the raised beds, just keep adding lots of compost and mulch.
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Re: How to revitalize old soil?

Stuff is bags is over priced and often not worth bring home. The last bag of composted cow manure that I bought looked like 90% saw dust mixed with enough manure to make the saw dust turn black. Potting soil is over priced for what you get. For years I have used peat mass it is very dense and goes a long way and excellent compost material and pepper plants love it. I shopped around this year TSC = Tractor Supply Co has 3 cu ft bags of peat moss $9.95 each I bought 3 bags and I will probably buy more. I bump my flower pot soil in the garden and scatter it all over the place. I till 1 bag of peat moss in the garden to get a 50/50 mix of soil and peat then refill my pots. I have about 15 pots 2 gallons each this year. I spread 1 bag of peat moss in a 30 ft row tilled it in and planted, potatoes, chard, beats, lettuce, broccoli, kale, onions, garlic, bok choy, all in a 3 ft wide row a month ago. I had a 20'x20' pile of tree leaves 3' deep 6 months ago now it is 1' deep I'm not sure it has composted enough yet to put it on the garden it will probably suck all the nitrogen from the soil I will wait and put that on the garden about September. I have 60 gallons of saw dust in the work shop I have beep sprinkling that on the soil very very thin on the 30'x40' garden I know too much of this will take all the nitrogen out of the soil. I am going to put a whole bag of peat moss in a 30 ft row for bell peppers and squash. Peat moss is not good for corn plants gets too tall wind blows it over too easy. Tomatoes like peat moss too especially if the soil is hard 1 bag in the 30 ft row will be good. I am going to put 1 bag of peat moss in the water melons patch and 1 bag of peat moss in the Sweet potato patch and 1 bag of peat moss in the 3' wide x 30' long bush bean row. I tilled my garden today the peat moss I put in the soil last year sure does make the soil look black and easy to till. Next year I won't need much peat moss maybe 2 bags for the whole garden. When I till in the peat moss I till in fertilizer too, Urea for corn, 15/15/15 for the rest of the garden except potatoes. Potatoes need very low nitrogen fertilizer.

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