Open Top SWC with Raybo's 3:2:1 Mix

suburbangardenMD(7)February 1, 2012

In my obsessive build up to the 2012 gardening season...go ahead you can admit you are chomping at the bit as well...I have really learned a lot, I mean a heck of a lot. With learning however, comes questions, and even after reading thread after thread some specific questions don't get answered, so lets hear your thoughts.

Last year, I used MG Potting Mix in my SWC's. I used a double bucket, with one lid acting as the "mulch" with holes cut for the plants. The Earthtainer recommends plastic mulch ( garbage bag ). I have also noticed some folks just going open top in their SWC's. The question is, outside of potential water saving and weeds finding their way in, is there an advantage to a closed top to the SWC?

In a well draining mix like the 3:2:1, would the open top be a negative? Would it potentially dry things out?

I am getting into probably almost meaningless details now, but it was a concern I had, so I wanted to see what all you internet-land folks thought.

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rnewste(8b NorCal)

I find the plastic mulch covered with a 1/2" layer of bark fines is ideal. The black plastic enhances warming of the Mix during the early Spring, then about June 1, I layer on the bark fines to sort of do the reverse- the fines insulate the plastic mulch from the Sun's direct rays.

Depending on your rainfall pattern, if you get fairly steady amounts of rain, you can leave off the plastic mulch (I still would recommend a layer of bark fines). If you are in a dry climate, then I would definitely use the plastic mulch, as it traps in moisture which otherwise would evaporate, drying out the upper layer of your Mix. Make sense?


    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 11:48AM
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Makes sense to me, it sounds like its more an issue of water conservation than the proper functioning of the system.

I had considered using the bark fines or wood chips as my mulch once the warm weather hit. The plastic would definitely warm the soil faster, earlier though.

Just to confirm than, the wicking, fertilizer breakdown, the mulch shouldn't directly effect the functioning of the system?

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 12:11PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

Correct, you should be good to go.


    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 12:40PM
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I kind of figured that, but its always good to hear from an expert on the system.

I am going to try out Larrys(minnesotakid) rain gutter trough system this year. Even with only a few buckets last year it was alot to keep things watered in July.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   February 2, 2012 at 1:14PM
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Follow up question about open top.

For those who are using the fertilizer strip method, would
the trying of the top layer of mix interfere with the leaching of fertilizer?

If yes, then open top gardeners might want to switch to liquid fertilization.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2012 at 1:58PM
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I meant "drying of the top layer of mix".

    Bookmark   May 25, 2012 at 2:56PM
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I grow in Earthboxes and have for several years. That system is referred to as "closed" and depends on the upward movement of moisture from the water resevoir below to the plant roots and solid ferts above. Reversing that by allowing rain from the top to enter the system and flush the ferts downward is not recommended in their literature or by their loyal followers. It is said that it turns a SWC into a regular (if expensive) top watered container.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 12:43AM
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I should have started a progress thread with pictures...but, like everyone time is limited.

A closed system would definitely seem to be easier, and work more efficiently. I mostly went with open tops because I was unsure how my wicks would work. So far so good, but its also not 95 degrees out there yet.

Right now, as I said, everything is working. However, I did notice that the containers that I applied a fertilizer ring or semi-circle around the edge were doing better. So, I added some fertilizer to all but one container. I also finally began my application of liquid fertilizer. I am giving "organic" a shot in the containers, so we will see.

My in ground plants were looking much better than the containers until I added additional fertilizer. Now everything in the containers is catching up. Nothing was dying but the maters were lagging their cousins in the ground and some of the peppers were getting a light green. Looks like everything is back on track now.

I am using Dr. Earth 3-3-3, fish fertilizer, big bloom, micro blast, seaweed, epsom salt ( in the foliar spray ) and a compost tea brewed from worm castings/compost from my indoor bins and compost from a local compost business.

Growing in containers seems to be an excellent back up if you dont have the soil space( which I dont ). I am interested to see how emgardener's "zero cost" containers work out this year, I hope he/she keeps us posted.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2012 at 8:24AM
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