homemade potting soil inquiry

sgullFebruary 5, 2014

I have plenty of horse manure which I can compost. When it's "well-rotted" (composted) I was considering following the instructions/ingredients on this youtube video (link included below) to make me a big batch of potting soil for containers growing flowers this spring. I'd have to buy some stuff, the perlite, the peat moss, etc. I have 12 half-barrel size containers that hold about 8 inches of dirt in each, plus a planter box on a deck that measures about 3 feet wide and 6 feet long and has a depth of about 8 inches for dirt. Seems like that might add up money-wise pretty quickly. I haven't priced peat moss but I'll bet its not cheap. Plus, what about instead of the perlite I maybe use pine bark fines if I can get them? Would that be better or not necessarily? Any comments appreciated.

Here is a link that might be useful: homemade potting soil youtube video

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Oxboy555(Las Vegas)

I don't think you will find too many advocates of compost as a base (or even supplement) for container gardening mixes here. That stuff would be better for your garden, raised beds, ornamentals or turf IMHO. Your 3'x 6' planter may function more like a small raised planter than container at the end of the day, so compost may not be too bad to use in there.

If you are determined to use it in containers, I would use the bark fines instead of the peat moss. Bark fines, perlite and a little screened compost certainly wouldn't be the worst mix one could make.

If you would like to know what most folks on this forum advocate, you may want to check out the numerous links regarding the homemade mixes of 5-1-1 and Gritty.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 7:31PM
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Thanks Oxboy555. I'm still new to the forum and hadn't yet some across links regarding Al's 5-1-1 until you mentioned it in your reply, and I'm looking/searching. Found at least one extensive/helpful thread here (link below) so far: Interesting, the mix is:
5 parts pine bark fines
1 part sphagnum peat
1-2 parts perlite
garden lime
controlled release fertilizer (not really necessary)
a micro-nutrient source (seaweed emulsion, Earthjuice, Micro-max, STEM, etc,)
and as you mentioned no compost for a base or even a supplement for containers. Thanks for the advice on that!

Here is a link that might be useful: taplas container mix in more detail

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 8:25PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I'm impressed that you already found that thread and are open to different ideas. You've come to the right place to learn more. I've used the 5-1-1 mix for my container vegetables for three years, and found it not only very easy to succeed with, but also significantly less expensive than store bought mixes.

I watched the YouTube video in which he suggests using a mix of two parts peat to one part composted horse manure with small amounts of perlite, lime and Epsom salts in a self watering rain gutter system. One problem with manure is that it has so much nitrogen that plants like tomatoes can grow huge but produce very few fruits. I notice that the video shows a lot of lush green plants and root vegetables, but I didn't see any fruiting vegetables.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 10:00PM
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Ohiofem, in response to that last post, and in regard to that YouTube video as well, as I mentioned my plan is to be growing flowers in the containers, and probably not vegetables of any kind. So I'm not sure how much difference that might make insofar as considering giving the 5-1-1 mix a try, or the YouTube mix, for just flowers as opposed to vegetables.
Also, I came across the thread linked below in regard to the 5-1-1, which describes/discusses an issue(s) and then all kinds of apparent complicating factors and variables to be aware of. Sheesh.
Further, I haven't looked yet, and don't want to be pessimistic, but I'll betcha I run into the apparenly common problem of not being able to acquire the proper "pine bark fines" anywhere around where I live (small town in rural SE Alaska).

Here is a link that might be useful: complications! :(

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 10:42PM
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Oxboy555(Las Vegas)

I think at last count there were 768,000,000,000 pine trees in Alaska. You don't think you can find pine bark and somebody with a chipper/shredder? :)

Just locate the bark fines, perlite and peat, then mix up the small batch and give it a go on a test plant. It's not as complicated as you think and I can all but guarantee you will never go back to store bought peat pudding.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 12:24AM
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Yes I'm definitely wanting to avoid going the store bought peat pudding route ever again. Yeah you're right I suppose if I really tried maybe I could find somebody with a chipper/shredder who might be willing to chip up some pine bark into 3/8" to 1/2" size "fines" for me. Thanks for the suggestion and encouragement.

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 12:46AM
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I'm wondering if this particular chipper/shredder (link below) would be a decent choice to chip up large pieces/chunks of bark down to adequate/appropriate size for the 5-1-1 mix? Specs say it'll chip down to 1/2" size; however, I think the recommendation for the size of the bark fines for the 5-1-1 mix is 3/8".

Here is a link that might be useful: considering this chipper

    Bookmark   February 6, 2014 at 8:20PM
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Oxboy555(Las Vegas)

You can have a few chunks of 1/2" for 5-1-1, but you really want the bulk of the mix around 1/8 to 1/4". The benefit of this is if you want to mix up a batch of Gritty, it's already the right size.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 1:23PM
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Well I wasn't really intending/needing/planning on mixing up the Gritty mix, just the regular 5-1-1 probably. Really hoping the mostly 1/2" chunks will be okay. Seems like I'm not coming across any consumer grade chipper/shredders that specify they'll chunk down below that. They usually say how big of pieces you can insert into the hopper or feeder but don't really mention how big the pieces are that come out.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2014 at 1:37PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I think there is no way to get an all uniform size/shape out of any chipper/shredder. If you feed in some dry chunks of pine bark, chances are that you will get a mixture from dust to unknown size. You have to experiment. And probably you will have to do some screening/sifting to do.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 3:32AM
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As an aside, just be aware that most horse manure (at least down here) contains antibiotics, steroids, and other various and sundry horse meds. In containers you can't go wrong with the 5-1-1 mix. Pine bark fines are rarely listed as such, look for pine bark mulch if you can get to a big box store in Anchorage, and while you're there, pick up a couple of feet of 1/2 inch hardware cloth to screen it with.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 9:05AM
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seysonn, I agree with your opinion about the results of the chunk size mixture I would probably get from any chipper/shredder. I'd have to do sifting if I wanted uniform size pieces.
Beach_bums, I figure I need at least 26.6 cubic feet of the proper size bark fines for all my containers, that's the reason I'd like to avoid having to purchase it in bags (because of the expense) and would want to try to chip it up then I suppose sift it on my own. If I could get set up with a chipper and then figure out how to do the sifting/sorting halfway efficiently it would be worth doing I'm thinking. Maybe not though.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 11:52AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

What you want is about a cubic yard of pine bark. In Ohio, I can have a cubic yard delivered to my house for under $40. I suggest you look for landscaping companies that sell mulch in bulk quantities. Maybe check with the forestry service, sawmills, tree trimmers or extension service for sources. You want to be careful not to include wood chips, which seems like a risk if you chip your own. Pine or fir bark is what you should look for.

I grow about 50 flowering plants from petunias and pansies to roses and bougainvilleas in hanging baskets, wood tubs and large pots in 5-1-1 each summer, and they do very well. The complications described in the thread you linked to were mostly caused by the use of shredded bark with sapwood. I posted a photo of some of my flowering plants there.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 1:43PM
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In my area/town unfortunately there is no local source that has on hand or delivers bulk amounts of pine bark. I can check around with such other sources as you mentioned, although I think it unlikely that I'll come up with bark that doesn't include wood chips. In the local woods/forest around here I found an abundant source of pine/fir bark, often nice big substantial slabs that pull relatively easily off big downed trees. I figure if I had a chipper and chipped up the bark as I mentioned, I could probably end up with a good quantity fairly easy instead of having to buy bags of it. Just not sure about the amount of work it might take to reasonably efficiently try to screen the chipped bark into approximately "uniform size" proper size for the mix, which I understand should be 3/8" inch.

This post was edited by sgull on Sat, Feb 8, 14 at 16:51

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 4:49PM
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