newb on Al's 5.1.1 mix

nugardnrinncMarch 9, 2011

Hello all. I'm new to the garden and the GH which I recently built, and am planning on using pots in my GH. It will be all vege's right now except a banana and orange I will use the gritty mix on. I've read extensively on the forums and the information is never-ending. Still I have a few questions that I need help with. I'm planning on using the 5.1.1 mix but with some changes.

First I think I saw somewhere that Al said the peat could be substituted with compost. Now that could be wrong hence the question. I understand the problems with using compost in containers and have read the retention posts, just to clarify, but figured with the ratio it wouldn't be a problem.

I had also been contemplating using compost as a mulch on all plants, pros v cons(I am sure there are lots of both).

Lastly, you can laugh, but as a newcomer what is perlite? I here talk of toxic dust and also talks of replacing it with turface for more moisture. I don't think I'll need the moisture, but what about other alternatives, maybe like the crushed granite.

Thanks to you all and Al for all you do for others here. Your help and time is greatly appreciated.

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As a note I just started composting as well and it won't be ready this year, so I was planning on using a good potting soil to fill in the mix. And I live a ways from civilization except for the small garden center and rock quarry down the street (hence substitutions). The garden center just opened for season and I haven't been to see what they have yet but I know for the most they have stuff for landscaping not so much for gardens.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 4:32PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Hi, NuG. ;o) Thanks for the confidence & kindness. I appreciate both.

I don't think anyone will laugh at you. If they do, we'll remind them that it wasn't long ago they weren't exactly experts either - and may not be now. ;-) Perlite is a silicaceous rock that contains water. When it id heated it pops like popcorn into a closed-cell particle that is useful for reducing the water retention in soils. The dust can be an irritant, but so can most other types of dust. I usually wear a paper mask like a painter or drywaller might use when handling any dusty materials, and that seems to work quite well.

Essentially, when you make the 5:1:1 mix, you should be thinking, "I'm going to measure out this large bark fraction and then add enough peat and perlite to adjust the water retention to something that suits me. How much of either you add will depend mostly on the size of the bark particles you're using. The finer the bark the less peat (or compost) you'll need. For my purposes, I try to always limit the o/a % of fine particulates in the 5:1:1 mix to under 1/6 (17%) of the whole. IOW, anything fine, peat coir, compost, meals, manures ....... the SUM of all these products will be less than 1/6 of the whole.

Turface can be used in place of perlite, but it holds a lot more moisture than perlite, so if you do use it, you can reduce the volume of fine particulates like peat/compost and still have the same amount of water retention while increasing aeration.

I hope that helps, but if that's not all you need, there are a lot of growers familiar with the mixes you asked after to help.

Do take good care.


    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 4:45PM
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Thanks alot Al. All the information you have out there is kind of overwhelming for a beginner like me and you help explain it so well, its just a matter of info retention! The potting soil I'll use this year already has some bark in it so I will adjust a little, but I'm heading the right direction now.

I think I understand the perlite now. I assume that's what I see in potting soil, I actually thought was some sort of styrofoam. So it basically serves the same purpose as the bark except it probably sheds water better because of "silicaceous" (silicone based I assume) properties. If I used something else such as granite would I then need to reduce fines slightly to compensate? Assuming I wanted same retention as the usual mix. Or do you consider the perlite as part of the fines(the 17%), I would think not.
While I'm here, I am also planning on using 5 gallon buckets for my tomatoes as I have them in abundance and the white should help with summer heat in the GH. I had planned on drilling 5/8" or 3/4" holes(like I usually see), but had been reconsidering to possibly 1/4" or 3/8" to help retain soil. I figured I could just drill more, say 15 versus the six I was gonna drill for the previous. I'm not sure if this logic applies here because of hole surface area and the cohesion of water. But if I used screen I would think it would have more of an affect on drainage than the smaller hole. This was probably in the extensive Tapla threads, but I didn't see it, I assume it's not a common question as pots normally have holes already. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 6:21PM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Hi NuGardner!
Yes, the perlite is the stuff that looks like Styrofoam in the potting mixes. That's what I thought it was for the longest time! LOL!

Everyone has to learn what perlite is sooner of later. ;-) so no worries.

Al has said it doesn't matter if it's a dozen holes or just one. But I don't recall the size he suggested.. so someone will pitch in with that. ;-)

Alot of us use cloth/fiberglass screen to cover the holes and a plastic needle point mesh found at craft stores.

It's good to see your on your way!
There are many here to help, so never hesitate to ask questions!

Best whishes,

    Bookmark   March 9, 2011 at 6:28PM
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Thanks JoJo. I guess if number of holes doesn't make a difference, than size wouldn't make a whole lot of difference as long as they're larger than the 1/8" for the water cohesion. I think I'll prob go with 5/8" and use screen since that seems to be the norm.

I made it to the garden center today. They do have the perlite, but in small 2 gallon bags at $8 a piece. So I made my first big batch of the 511 mix. I used Mini pine bark nuggets and chopped em up with the mower, which worked well, maybe even to well. Since I was using a good potting soil with perlite and bark already I left out a little perlite and added a quart or so of composted manure. I also threw in some unchopped pine bark to help make up for the previous over processing. I put it all in a 55 gallon drum and rolled it around and it mixed up nicely. Can't wait til I get to put it to use. Thanks again for the help.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 7:21PM
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Loveplants2 8b Virginia Beach, Virginia

Hello NG InNC..

I am a newbie to this side as well..let me tell you that everyonne will offer advise to you...they are the best group of people that you will find....not only will they offer advise..they will follow up with you to make sure that you are on your way...

Congratulation on finding this great forum..and for wanting to change up your potting mix to make your plants the happiest that they can will be amazed at the change that you will see..

Welcome to this bright side of the will enjoy being here with these great people!!

Take care everyone... : )

Laura in VB

    Bookmark   March 11, 2011 at 2:38AM
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Welcome, NuGardnr! We all began somewhere, wanting to learn more and be successful... and the only pity would be closing ourselves off to that learning. It can seem a little overwhelming at first, but once we have a basic understanding of plants, soil, and container growing, we're well on our way to success and enjoyment!

Al does, indeed, make it all so easy to grasp... and it really is. Once you understand the concept of the 511 and Gritty Mix, and you become familiar with the ingredients in each, it all comes together quite nicely!

Like JoJo, I had originally though Perlite and Styrofoam were closely related. They do look the same! And it's not like there's a block of general wisdom floating around the gardening world that doesn't contain some misinformation and fairy tales. We simply have to be willing to dive into that world and separate fallacy from logic, using our common sense and a rather large grain of salt!

It all begins at the link below. As a 30 year veteran of growing, I can vouch for this much. To help myself further, I copied and pasted the article and soil recipes to my desktop, and I refer to it whenever I need a refresher.

There's a ton of excellent followup information here, too... and a great support group to help! So, once again, welcome... to a better way of container growing! :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention 12

    Bookmark   March 11, 2011 at 4:26AM
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