5-1-1 questions and problems?

queensinfoMarch 13, 2012

Finally started making my 5-1-1 after finding what i thought were suitable pine bark mulch bags this week. My plants are coming the end of this week and i have 5-16 inch and 2-22 inch containers to fill. I was sifting the pine bark through an old window screen and i couldnt believe that much stuff came through it (looking at the holes and a big bag of wet bark it seems like nothing would pass through). Also there appeared to be more sapwood than i thought would be in there but i dont think more than 10-15%% by volume. onto the questions.

what is the best way to sift the perlite? when i tried to wet some, it clupmed. the dust was pretty bad when trying to screen.

Is there an easy way to screen the bark? I was rubbing it around the screen, shaking the screen, etc. but it seemed to never stop producing "dust"

i got through about a half a 2 cu ft bag in around an hour, there has to be a quicker way (and i was only screening out the small stuff not the big stuff)

This took way longer than i thought and i only got 1 3/4 small pots full (and my wife thinks i am out of my mind).

The pine bark was wet so doesnt look like much of what i see in the perfectly made 5-1-1 pictures on here (and also was much tougher to screen).

I pulled out as much of the larger size pieces as possible but i cant imagine how long it would have taken if i tried to screen for larger pieces too. I might have to give up and buy repti-bark for my gritty mix. Although expensive, it seems as though it will take hours for the two really large pots that i plan to use gritty in.

any help would be very much appreciated.

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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I'm confused, too ;-)
Are you screening your bark mulch for 5-1-1?
5-1-1 uses a partially aged/composted bark, whereas the Gritty Mix calls for uncomposted bark.

We'll get it sorted out ;)


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 1:19AM
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yes i was screening the bark mulch for the 5-1-1 ( i think this stuff will be very tough to use for gritty). It looked like it had too much fine material, although i really have no basis for comparison. I wish my phone was working to get a picture. It looked more "soily" than barky when it was done. I was screening over a box and had about 2" of material in a 18x18 box when i was done screening 2/3 of the bag. Thinking back, i probably could have just used that without the peat but i already have a giant bale of peat.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 9:56AM
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DaMonkey007(10b - Miami)

I find that it is MUCH, MUCH easier to screen bark through a larger mesh first, say 1/8". That will go very easily and quickly for you, just set aside what doesn't pass. Everything in that range should be useable, excluding larger bits of sapwood and any bark over 1/2" or so. Just pick that stuff out. Then only screen what does pass the 1/8" mesh through the window screen. This will make your life ALOT easier. Passing a whole bag of mulch through a window screen IS crazy, your wife is right!! LOL!!

I personlly use a "Elfa" brand wire mesh storage shelf from "The Container Store", for this step. I don't have a pic handy, but here is a link:


I dimensions of the one I have is 20-3/4" x 20-3/4" x 3-1/4" h, and it works great!

Also, I would recommend screening the perlite dry, then just give it a rinse when your finished. It WILL make a TON of dust. Go outside and wear a mask, the stuff is very bad for your lungs, keep your kids inside, if applicable of course. I also pass the perlite through the Elfa drawer first, the less you need to pass the window screen, the quicker and easier your task will be.

BTW, you CAN use the bark dust that passes the window screen as the peat fraction of your mix! If you haven't opened the peat already, just return it. If you have, and you are going to use it, I would recommend also passig that through the 1/8 mesh, just so your sure to get the clumps and sticks out of it.

Hope that helps!


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 11:35AM
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aha...that sounds like it will make the fine screening a lot easier. with the mulch being wet, i think i am still getting a lot of the really fine stuff sticking to the other pieces. how long does it take you to screen a 2cuft bag?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 12:35PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

If your bark is composted, which it sounds to be, then it will not be appropriate for the Gritty Mix.
Uncomposted bark, on the other hand, can be made to work for the 5-1-1 and the Gritty Mix.

When screening bark for the 5-1-1, just pass it over a 1/2 inch screen, and keep everything that falls through.
5-1-1 should be the ulimate as far as ease of mixing. If the bark is highly composted, then simply add more
Perlite and less Peat.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 12:46PM
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I need 4.5 cubic feet of Turface Pro League to incorporate into my raised bed mix. I've found the product, but it's only available in the Red or Heritage Red, or Gray.

I read a post by an aquarium guy that any color but the NATURAL had dye issues. The Gray was putting out some scummy foam in his tanks.

So. My TWO questions are:
1. How many bags of the Turface Pro League equals 4.5 cf, and,

2. Since I'll be using it in my Raised Bed formula (PBFs, Pro League, Sharp Sand, Vermiculite and Reed/Sedge Peat), does the color/foam issue matter?

Thanks, in advance, for your replies.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 1:16PM
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DaMonkey007(10b - Miami)

"how long does it take you to screen a 2cuft bag?"

I can generally screen a 2cuft bag through the 1/8" mesh and window screening in maybe 20 or 30 minutes, no problem. Get lots of 5 gallon buckets with tops. It makes all of your screened (and unscreened) resources easy to move, store, separate, and manipulate.

However, Josh is absolutely correct, in that, you really don't have to screen at all for 5-1-1 if you so choose. I do, for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the bark product I use contains a pretty hefty amount of dust. Much more than I would want in my mix. In fact, the first batch of 5-1-1 that I ever made I didn't screen anything, not even the perlite, wayyyyyyyyyy too much retention. Luckily that mix went to a few extra thirsty indeterminate tomatos!! LOL. Also, as I just said in another post, it allows you to customize your mix for your needs. If I'm going to use the dust, I'm going to know exactly how much of it I'm using. Think of it this way, if you don't know how much bark dust is in your mix, AND you are using peat, you may very well be essentially making a 4:1:2, or a 3:1:3 for that matter. And the next batch of bark that you buy will yield a different distribution of fine particles, guaranteed. So, if you don't screen it, then it's nearly impossible to make a similarly composed mix from batch to batch. I'd rather know than not know, that's my preference, but it's totally up to you, and heavily dependent on the composition and consistancy of the bark product that you use.

To screen, or not to screen...that IS the question......



    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 1:56PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Great observations, PJ!
To screen or not to screen...hehehe...


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 2:51PM
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Glad I found this thread! I just started screening bark today for 5-1-1 and this has already answered a couple of my questions.

However, I too found that there were bits of sapwood mixed in. I'd guess it's about 5% or less. Is that anything to worry about? Should I do something to keep it from soaking up too much nitrogen?

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 7:34PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

That's an acceptable amount of sapwood.

I wouldn't do anything, other than fertilizing regularly.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 8:25PM
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Queenskitchen, I'm a newbie and only on my third bag of pine bark, but I think I have found a method that works for me.

About 20% of the bark in the bag I get is way over 1/2 inches and must get screened, so I made a screen using 1/2 inch hardware cloth. I do this step first. For the 5:1:1, I sometimes use everything that falls through the 1/2 inch screen, unless that particular bag looks too "dusty," in which case I also screen it through a window screen to get rid of the small particles.

For the gritty mix, I've been looking for something just a little bit bigger than the window screen. DaMonkey, that Elfa drawer looks perfect!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 9:02AM
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Hi. A couple of bark questions. What's the difference between composted and uncomposted bark (i.e., how do I know what type I'm looking at in the store)? Also, what's the difference between pine and fir bark? Thanks.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 6:21PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Pine bark tends to be flatter, whereas Fir bark tends to be rounder and more fibrous.
Due to the shape, Pine bark can be screened 1/8 to 3/8 of an inch; whereas Fir bark should
be screened 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Pine bark is also slightly more long-lasting than Fir bark.

Composted bark is darker in color (usually) and may appear somewhat dusty or shredded.
Uncomposted bark looks like bark.


    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 7:19PM
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Thanks for the bark info Josh!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2012 at 7:31PM
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