My 'Fancy' 5-1-1

DaMonkey007(10b - Miami)February 6, 2012

OK, so I want to start by saying that I'm fully aware that the 5-1-1, doesn't "need" this kind of attention, but I felt like it, so....

A while back I posted a few times about reusing and conserving resources, space, and money. I was looking for ways to consolodate materials and still be able to make great mixes. I found what I was looking for when I started talking more and more with Josh, who by the way rules, and I expanded on his idea. Josh substitutes turface for peat in his 5-1-1, and substitutes perlite for granite in his gritty. Viola! I was shown the light. A way to make a gritty and a 5-1-1 out of the same 3 resources. Shout out to Josh!

My first batch of 5-1-1 I used peat and I didn't screen anything. I figured that I'm in So Fla, and a bit of extra water retention wouldn't hurt...I also didn't have the screening setup just I recently found some great screening bins, at the Container Store of all places, so I figured I'd run some material through the screens. I have 1 that's ~1/8" and another that's ~1/16", they are wire mesh storage bins...the kind that would slide into a shelving tower..anywho..I have to tell you, I was surprised at just how much fine stuff there actually was...way more than what it looked like with the naked eye. I was also surprised to find out how much variance there was from bag to bag, and even scoop to scoop. I got to thinking, why treat the 5-1-1 like a throw away? Why not make it as durable and well aerated as possible? Why rely on just throwing stuff together without knowing what percentages of particle sizes your dealing with? So I set out to make the best 5-1-1 that I could, a "fancy" 5-1-1 if you will, here's what I did:

I screened the bark through the 1/8" mesh, set aside what did not pass. Then screened what did pass the 1/8" through the 1/16", set aside what did not pass, discarded the dust. So I had two piles, one > 1/8", and one between 1/8" and 1/16". I then repeated this process with both perlite and turface.

By the way, the bark that I get doesn't have hardly anything in the > 1/2" range, so I didn't bother screening for the bigger stuff, I just pulled it out or broke it up when I saw it.

My "fancy" 5-1-1 recipe is as follows:

4-1/2 parts bark > 1/8"

1/2 part bark 1/16" - 1/8"

1/2 part perlite > 1/8"

1/2 part perlite 1/16" - 1/8"

1/2 part turface > 1/8"

1/2 part turface 1/16" - 1/8"

Plus Lime, of course.

By separating the materials by size I feel much more in control of the characteristics of my mix. Not to mention the added benefit of really being able to customize my mix, just for me, however I desire. Let me tell you, the difference was noticable! The mix was absolutly beautiful! The turface makes a HUGE difference (again, Shout Out to Josh!), and limiting the finer bark really opens up the mix. It looked and felt great and it's certainly built to last! I was extremely happy with the outcome, and I think that my plants will be as well!

Just thought that I'd share that, and I welcome your commments...good and!

Have a great day, all!


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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Greetings, PJ, you do me great honor!

Let me extend the 'Shout Out' to Al (Tapla) who taught me the principles behind superior mixes.

My initial reflection, given your growing location, is that you *may* need to water a little more often,
until the mix really "binds" together...but that's no problem. I think the added durability and longevity
of the mix will pay out in spades in your long, warm growing season.

I have mixed a variety of modified 5-1-1, and I've always been very pleased with the results.
The only issue - if such it can be called - is that I've had to water more often *at first,* and mostly when
dealing with plants with a lot of foliage in smaller containers (1-gallon or less).

To date, I've planted Ferns in a mix of fir bark, perlite, and lava rock, with extra bark dust instead
of peat moss for "binding" and moisture retention. In fact, I have a fern in just such a mix that will
be three years old in May. It is time to re-pot, due to the growth of the plant, not due to the decomposition
of the bark (which is still discernible and intact).

I've planted many different maple species (for myself and others) in a mix of fir bark, perlite, lava rock,
and occasionally a portion of quartize or aquarium gravel. I've also potted maples in nothing more
than fir bark and perlite (+ Osmcocote) for single-season plantings.

I have a number of trees - Osage, Maples, Conifers, Birch, Pistache, Holly, Peach, Buckeyes, and Oaks -
in mixes of fir bark, perlite, and turface.

Last summer, I grew my superhot peppers in a mix of fir bark, perlite, turface, and Ocean Forest soil.
Instead of the traditional 1-part peat, I opted for half a part turface and half a part peat-based soil.
This produced a very nice mix that, contrary to popular criticism, *did not* need to be watered every
day, nor every other day.

Anyhow, the proof is in the pudding, as they say ;-)
Unlike some folks who gripe about these mixes, I can back up my experiences with pics.

I applaud you, PJ, for jumping in head-first. Bravo ;-)


    Bookmark   February 6, 2012 at 7:04PM
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DaMonkey007(10b - Miami)

Thanks again for your support Josh, it has done wonders for me!

I thought about the possibility of additional watering requirements, I figured that this would be a whole different ball game. For this reason I only transplanted a few of my existing house plants (I stole a few cuttings from a few of them too...shhh) into this batch thus far, until I get a feel for it. I can already see what your talking about though, with the "binding" is a very loose mix, but seems to be coming together more and more with every watering. I'm looking forward to getting some peppers into this stuff, they are gonna love it!

That being said, the stuff in my first batch is thriving too. The only drawback is that I'm wanting to fertigate even when they may not need it...LOL! I'm finding that I REALLY enjoy feeding at every watering. It's a great opportunity to spend some time with my daughter, and I feel good about giving everybody some grub!! I think that a mix that will allow me to do that every day will make me happy!

What a journey! I'm so looking forward to figuring out what every plant wants, what it thrives in, it's all very exciting and rewarding!!

I can't wait to give you all my first full garden update!!

Thanks again!


    Bookmark   February 6, 2012 at 8:18PM
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DaMonkey - I don't want to take your post off-topic, but maybe you or Josh can comment on my question--it's in the spirit of experimentation :) Generally speaking, it seems like the components of the 5-1-1 and gritty mixes provide "average" aeration. By average, I mean the heavier (peat/Turface) and lighter (granite/perlite) ingredients more or less balance out. The "average" in both situations is the pine bark. So, what about a 100% pine bark mix. I know a lot of nurseries use just that. Do you see any potential limitations or drawbacks?

    Bookmark   February 6, 2012 at 10:22PM
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an additional question or two. Coudl you go with a half perlite half granite for the gritty mix to cut down weight?

Josh- i noticed that you use peat based soil for that component instead of peat in the 5-1-1. could you just use miracle grow soil (or similar) to completely replace the peat component or will the size fraction just be too far "off). I am most likely going to use reptibark (due to not having to screen and difficulty obtaining other ingredients), and (coarse?) perlite.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 1:09PM
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DaMonkey007(10b - Miami)

Funny you should ask, I was just part of a conversation about this recently! The greatest drawbacks will likely come from decomposition and compaction. An all bark mix will have no inert component, nothing that will resist decompostion and buffer the bark from it. Compaction, and the resulting loss of aeration, will occur much more quickly under these conditions, although, this will likely vary with the type of bark you use. Pine bark tends to be flat, thus it fits together rather "tightly" a loose sort of It will really benefit from the addition of roundish particulates like perlite and turface. If you were to pursue an all bark medium, the more "chunky" choices would probably serve you better.

Other folks with lightyears more knowledge and experience than I may have a much more interesting and informative analysis to give that's my 2 cents!


    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 1:18PM
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I would think an all pine bark mix would retain too little water and nutrient. The peat in the 5-1-1 is used to help retain some water and nutrients without creating perched water in the bottom. You'd have to screen pine bark fairly fine for it to work by itself well. I think it would leach and dry too fast for the most part.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 3:48PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a


PJ, there's nothin' wrong with spending time with your daughter and your "green children."
You're growing in the right type of mix to fertigate as often as you'd long as you
reduce the nutrient dose appropriately. I'm a "Fertilizer Friday" type of guy, but that's just
because I'm lazy ;-)

Fortyone, I think PJ answered the question pretty well.
It's going to come down to the particular bark - Pine or Fir - the level of decomposition, and the
particle size. A container full of bark will support a perched water table - like peat moss will -
that won't be healthy for roots. Capoman brings up a good point, as well. The upper layer of bark
will probably dry too quickly without a binding ingredient to aid in the transference of moisture.
Dry up top, sodden down low. There was a real good "debate" on this very topic at the
Northwestern Gardening Forum a while back...I can dig it up and provide a link if needed.

When I use pure bark as a growing medium, I only use it for plants like Jungle Cacti -
and, more often than not, I amend the bark with perlite and grit (turface, lava rock, pumice).

Queenskitchen, I can't recall the exact recipe for using Perlite in lieu of granite in the Gritty Mix.
I know that Al has mentioned it several times, but I don't have the ratios at hand.

As for your second question, that I can answer readily. Yes, you can use any peat-based
potting soil as a substitute for the peat fraction in the 5-1-1. You can also substitute coco coir
or compost (as long as it's well composted). Just remember: if your bark is very aged,
you'll want to decrease the amount of fine particulate you add, and perhaps increase the perlite, too.
It comes down to experimenting and tailoring the mix for your particular growing locale.


    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 8:17PM
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