Organic fertilizers for containers?

kristimamaApril 4, 2008

Hi all,

I just potted 4 blueberries using a variation of Al's mix: about 6 parts composted redwood, 2 parts of an organic potting mix from the nursery, and 1 part perlite. I didn't use a CRF becuase I want to grow organically, so I threw in the recommended dosage of EB Stone Camilia Azalea acid-lovin' fertilizer that the nursery recommended and planned to read up on the longer-term requirements of fertilization.

I have done some pokin' around here and the organic form, and it's becoming increasingly clear that there are few---if any---viable options for organic fertilizers for containers. SERIOUSLY? R-E-A-L-L-Y? I'm in complete denial about this. LOL

What about EB Stone? What about Garden's Alive? Fish Emulsion?

And if someone DOES use one of these organic options in lieu of the CRF and chemical fertilizers, is it a matter of the plant not producing to its full "genetic potential" as Al likes to say. Or are we talking, like, no fruit at all or, worse, complete plant death.

A few of the posters on the organic board have even gone so far to say that that if you really want organic you should abandon your plans for pots, and just put it in ground?

And just for clarity sake, I'll say that my main concern with growing organic is the chemical residue IN THE FOOD and less so the politics of being organic or green. I'm not opposed to synthetic ferts for things like camilia's or shrubs or flowering plants. But not my food!

And I guess as a new gardener, I don't really even have a reference point or understanding of whether products like Miracle Gro and the other synthetic fertilizers enter the food cells? My intuition says yes, and that's why I don't want to use them. (I realize most people here won't share that philosophy... but I'm hoping someone, maybe Al, can at least explain the cellular stuff to me without it getting on a political issue.)

And are there fertilizers that are synthetic that are still relatively safe, natural, etc. Or are the two mutually exclusive?

I always thought of the "miracle gros" of the world were nothing but straight chemical. My neighbor would douse his entire yard with the stuff but I'd never want it in my food.

Oh, man... a few weeks ago I had this vision of my drab concrete patio being transformed by terra cotta pots filled with citrus and herbs and blueberries. But I'm not willing to use synthetics... so hope I don't have to abandon my plans after all this effort, not to mention the small fortune I've already spent in citrus and blueberries. Errrrgh.

Greatly looking forward to all your input.


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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The cellular stuff is easy: Plants do not care from where their elemental nutrition comes. Chemical forms of fertilizer are no better than organic are no better than chemical ..... with qualifications. Any organic molecule (basically - something containing carbon and that was once alive) will have its nutrients locked in hydrocarbon chains that will require the aid of biotic soil populations to cleave (unlock). So, organic fertilizers depend on the population densities of soil microorganisms.

By nature, organic nutrient supplementation programs in container culture are unreliable and erratic in their ability to deliver nutrients. The reason why is simple: as noted, delivery of nutrients depends on the organic molecules being broken down in the gut of micro-organisms, and micro-organism populations are boom/bust, varying widely in container culture. Some of the things affecting the populations are container soil pH, moisture levels, nutrient levels, soil composition, compaction/aeration levels ..... of particular importance is soil temperatures. When container temperatures rise too high, microbial populations diminish. Temps much under 55* will slow soil biotic activity substantially, reducing or halting delivery of nutrients and possibly inducing ammonium toxicity issues.

Chemical fertilizers, on the other hand, are extremely reliable & immediately available for uptake in elemental form. I offer this information from a physiological perspective only. You'll need to work out the organic/inorganic issue for yourself. I want to avoid that argument & adopt a 'to each his own' attitude about it, but it is much easier for me to help/guide those who use chemical forms of fertilizer because their problems are usually much easier to pinpoint.

About the "genetic potential" phrase. I use it because vigor speaks of genetics and is encoded in the genes of plants. Vitality is cultural and describes how effective the plant is at working with the cultural conditions under which it grows. You must supply the best of cultural conditions and it must be growing with top vitality if you wish a plant to perform at anywhere near its genetic potential vigor. Got that? ;o)

I don't really even have a reference point or understanding of whether products like Miracle Gro and the other synthetic fertilizers enter the food cells?

In order for nutrients to enter plant cells, they must be dissolved in water. Then they enter cells by a process called osmosis. Search that word and plant cells for a thorough understanding of the process. MG and organic nutrients enter plant cells in exactly the same way. Detractors of chemical fertilizers (I hope) have no fear issues with the elements necessary for plants to function, only the 'other' elements that may be present in fertilizers.

That's all for now - I'm sure you'll have more questions, though. ;o)

Good luck.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 10:38AM
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And just for clarity sake, I'll say that my main concern with growing organic is the chemical residue IN THE FOOD and less so the politics of being organic or green. I'm not opposed to synthetic ferts for things like camilia's or shrubs or flowering plants. But not my food!

Hi Kristimama,

It sounds like you have done your reading and I am not going to reinvent the wheel in explaining why using organic material as a large part of a potting mix has serious drawbacks. Tapla's posts on water movement in containers already offers a better explanation than I could here.

I wanted to take a moment to help you understand the main difference between a synthetic and organic source of nutrients as it is clear this is a point of concern for you.

It may surprise you to learn that no plant on earth can use organic nutrients. Plants only use inorganic nutrients. A synthetic fertilizer is nothing more than plant nutrients in an inorganic form which is readily usable by the plants.

Organic matter has to be processed by living organisms. They eat the OM and their waste product is the inorganic minerals left behind. The plants then have them available for use. Can organic fertilizers be used in containers? Yes. Just understand that they are dependent upon worms, bugs, fungi, bacteria, nematode and other soil dwelling critters consuming them and liberating the inorganic nutrients the plants require. Of these desirable soil organisms the only ones you are likely to have in any number in a container are bacteria due to their ability to go into a kind of dormancy when conditions are poor for them and 'wake up' as soon as they are acceptable. Their astounding reproduction rate helps as well.

There is no concern over 'residue' from synthetic fertilizers in containers getting into your food. The plant is just taking up the nutrients it needs as inorganic minerals. That is what the plants take up from processed organic matter as well. The only difference is that synthetic fertilizers bypass the need for soil organisms to process them before our plants can use them. Thus, in a container setting, synthetics are much more efficient as the main part of your nutrient program.

Chemically speaking it makes no difference to the plant or our health whether the plant gets it's nutrients from Miracle Grow or the remains of what passed through the gut of some organism. The end result, the part the plant uses, is *always* an inorganic nutrient.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 10:52AM
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Al, what I meant by bringing up the "genetic potential" reference is:

On the issue of organic vs. synthetic fertilizers ---IN CONTAINERS, and more specifically my new citrus --- is it a matter of plant survival vs. death?

Or is it less dire, perhaps the choice between huge yields vs. modest production.

And then again, if---using an organic fertilizer program---the plant would survive but not fruit at all, then that is something I will need to understand before I head down this path.

I understand the physics of your soilless mix and have chosen to use it so my citrus trees have long term soil stability and drainage and root health. I had assumed--in my naivete--that all fertilizers worked about the same.

And just to confirm, are you saying that even the "organic" powders like EB Stone citrus food simply won't work? Or they won't work AS WELL as a synthetic methods of delivery?

I guess what I'm hoping to discover is if there's a way to do an organic fertilizer with your soil mix? Is there some compromise that delivers nutrients organically even if it means SOME soil compaction or faster breakdown? I don't care if I have the biggest, lushest citrus bush as long as it's reasonably healthy and produces fruit.

Can you top dress with compost, or worm poop (LOL) or fish emulsion.

I also wouldn't mind repotting every couple years (using your soil, or course) if that could reintroduce some organic material to the soil.

And the other thing to consider is that I am in a fairly moderate climate here in northern california except for about 4 weeks during our late summer. I wonder if the concerns about container fluctuation are mitigated or lessened in a mild climate.

I don't mean to be so stubborn on this point, but I have spent a small fortune on these citrus and hope I haven't made a huge mistake in my planning.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 12:24PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

I can tell you that organic program works much better IN THE GROUND than synthetic program. The container growing is a bit more tricky as I've found out. You certainly can try organic but you need to understand the concept of growing plants in the container that Al is trying to explain to you. The fine particles will clog up air. You want a lot of air in the container and free flowing through the mix when you water plants in the container. So that means avoiding DRY organic fertilizer and using liquid organic that has nutrients ready to be taken up by the plant roots.

Try alfalfa tea, kelp (seaweed)liquid, and fish emulsion (i thought it had to be digested by microbes first but i guess not) and use Al's mix. You may want to add more Turface (or similar product) and less barks as using the liquid organic fertilizer may promote faster breakdown of organic matter. Just a thought.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 1:06PM
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AL--by the way, it looks like when I cut/pasted to do some editing on my last post, I deleted the great big THANK YOU for helping me understand all of this. I feel like I've gained some vocational degree credits here... the level of information you're providing has been so thorough. You're very kind to share all this with us.

JUSTAGUY--thank you for this part of the answer I was so concerned about. I didn't realize that the difference is in the vehicle and not in what the plant takes IN. Makes me more open to the non-organic forms.

LOU, do you use all those liquids together or just one. Which brands do you prefer? How often? If there's a slow release fert in there (EB Stone) should I wait a month or so before applying the fish emulsion?

And AL, will the liquid ferts Lou recommends (like alfalfa tea, kelp liquid, and fish emulsions)actually WORK using your soil mix? Just last night, my husband and I decided to use the Peat/bark/perlite mix (We're worried the turface mix would require just too much watering, if we had to go away a couple days)... but if the Turface mix will help more effectively using these organic liquid ferts, then I'd consider using the Turface.

And it's funny, my husband asked me why I was freaking out over this issue and I said, "Because it looks like we may need to use Miracle Grow on our citrus." (Imagine, my face, all contorted as if Mircacle Grow were some toxic poison.) And he said, doesn't everyone use miracle grow on food? I'm sure it's safe." So I may be fearing an issue when there is none.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 1:29PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

You're welcome, Kristi. I know I'm happy to help, as I'm sure are many of the others on the forum who regularly offer advice/comment. It's nice of you to offer a thank you. ;o)

And AL, will the liquid ferts Lou recommends (like alfalfa tea, kelp liquid, and fish emulsions)actually WORK using your soil mix?

The mix I recommend really isn't very unique except that it uses conifer bark instead of peat as the primary component, and it stays well-aerated long after peaty soils will have collapsed. I'm not going to or can't tell you definitively that those things will work well, because of the fact that nutrient delivery is dependent of such a variable microorganism population, but they will work as well in the soils I use as they would in a bagged soil. I use some organic products, mainly fish/seaweed emulsions when temps are favorable, but they are always a secondary part of my nutritional supplementation.

Just last night, my husband and I decided to use the Peat/bark/perlite mix (We're worried the turface mix would require just too much watering, if we had to go away a couple days)... but if the Turface mix will help more effectively using these organic liquid ferts, then I'd consider using the Turface.

Any advantage would be so minor as to be insignificant. It's (almost) all about structure.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 2:19PM
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Thanks again, Al. Hmmm... are you deliberately avoiding my questions about the organic fertilizers? ;-)

IF I were to use only the EB Stone organic fertilizers in my containers, would you say the plants will
A) Survive, but not fruit
B) Survive, fruit some but not to their full potential
C) Die

If the answer is A or C, I need to rethink my plans before I head down this patsh.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 3:24PM
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The question is unanswerable. Too many variables with one of the biggest ones being that you would be providing nutrients to plants in a form they cannot use without the action of 'soil critters'.

With a suitable synthetic in a container there is no question it will 'work'. With organics there is some question. As such it might work for one person and not another.

If you want my best guess I would say A or B would be the most likely result.

I base this upon using fish/seaweed fertilizers for veggies in containers. I found the results were better combining it with a synthetic. Together they supplied all essential nutrients and I only relied on the fish fert for the minors and the synthetic for the majors.

This year I am giving a synthetic that has all nutrients in it a try with no organic supplementation. In other words between the two there is no question that if I could choose just 1 for containers it would be synthetic.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 3:52PM
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I will answer...
C. Die if you do not know what you are doing?
I lost a many plant doing the organic way. In fact 7 trees from last summer, and all were fed with just organic fertilizer for years. What Al says is true. If you keep stacking up "organics" in your potted plants, in your soiless media you will find it will eventually kill the soil composition and your plants if it is not getting the nutrients under the perfect conditions. You need alot of stuff in your soiless media to break down all the organics, or it will eventually muck up your soil and even starve your plants. How are your plants suppose to get nitrogyn in a soiless media or any container soil if the soil is not just right for microrganisms to break it down, so plant can utilize it? Maybe it will thrive for a while,on it's own, especially if you start with a healthy plant, such as mine did, then eventually, rapidly decline, and I mean rapidly!!,,,,,UNLESS,,, of course you know exactly how to make the perfect enviroment in your soil that utilizes the organics.. I guess if plants were meant to grow in pots like the ground, GOD would of made potted plants too..:-) There are some on this site that probably are pro's at it, but as for me not so. That is why I left that way of thinking behind. Did you know that even lightning has nutrients in it too?
Have a great weekend...
Mike...P.S. I think you know how Al feels about "organic fertilizers", based on his knowledge and experience... Maybe failures too. Listen to your heart and conscience..:-).If you find anyone on this site that is a pro at growing organicly, ask them how they do it. I havn't found anyone yet that can telll me how to make the perfect enviroment in my potted soils to utilize organic perfectly.
My heart tells me that Al's way of feeding is the best, and so far my plants are more healthier than ever before...That is of course if your in search of a plants vitality.... Not the effects the non-organic has on the fruit you eat to your body..As for me I just grow them for fun, not to eat. So I have no worries at all>> lol
Have a great weekend

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 4:08PM
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Sorry , one more thing,
P.S. Listen to justaguy and lou too. They know what they are talking about :-). Who knows, maybe someone will hop on this thread that totally disagrees, and can teach us how to do organics in containers..:-) Shoosh....The It would have to be someone who lives in the same area as me ,and uses the same exact watering skills, soil, temps,ingrediants and so on...Someone I can be able to copy exactly..HUM...
Your questions are good, and the answers are very enlightning kristi. I love seeing people who reach out for knowledge, and that have passion for what they want to do,,,the right way... Bravo
Have a great weekend.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 4:27PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'm not avoiding your question, but I was trying to be diplomatic, leave plenty of room for those who wish to make a go of an all organic approach for their plants in containers, and not poison your well. My honest opinion is that the EB Stone fertilizer product will be a poor choice as the sole source of nutritional supplementation for your containers. I say that even before I know the analysis because it will definitely be very slow acting and erratic in delivery of nutrients. I also believe that EB Stone acknowledges this postulation by their own omission. It is normal for almost any product provider to cover all the bases when they offer a product for sale, yet there is no mention of using the fertilizer products in containers. If I was offering a fertilizer product for sale & had any confidence it had even marginal intrinsic value (for use in containers), I'd find a way to mention that prospect while singing its other praises.

I agree with JaG's assessment that A or B would be the most likely pair of choices, but I would expect B to be much more likely than A. I've been around container culture for a long time, and I've tried most of what there is to be tried. I've gone the compost/manure/peat/perlite/topsoil in containers route as well as the organic fertilizers (blood/bone/cottonseed meal) and have never had anything better than fair to middling results with any of the combinations.

I'm very 'results' oriented and I believe, a careful scientific observer. Once I got on the trail of the well-aerated soils and a reliable nutrient delivery plan, I never looked back on the soils and fertilizers that bound me (personally) to frequent frustration, and limited my container gardening experience to what I felt was mediocrity.

I'm not mentioning this to brag, but my garden(s) have won awards from different gardening organizations for the last several years. As I look at my garden, I realize there is not that much about it that is all that special. I really believe that what really makes the garden and yard fun to look at are the containers. They remain full, healthy and attractive, generally pest/disease-free, bloom well ... all season long. Oh - and the tomatoes are soo good. ;o) It's not that I'm a genius grower or just lucky, either. It's the soil that makes it easy, & a considered approach to nutrition also helps with insuring containers remain reliably attractive.

That covers the 'pretty stuff'; and I know it doesn't help much with your organic/inorganic/edibles trilemma, but at least you got an answer on the ABC's question. ;o)

Take care, K.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 6:59PM
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Thanks, Mr. Ambassador. ;-)

Yes, my question is answered. I have hope that although my yard may not win any awards, I may yet get some fruit from my trees using only organic methods.

So Al, I have a couple follow up questions. (You knew I would, right?)

1) In your Bark/Peat/Perlite mix, what happens if you substitute Compost for the Peat portion? I realize compost, in your mind, is unnecessary. But would it actually mess up the formula? I realize it will compact, but I'm willing to live with a little compaction if it added the necessary organic stuff to make the organic fertilizers more effective. Besides, that composted redwood bark and perlite moves FAST man. Fast!

2) IF I choose to use the EB Stone Fertilizer for my pots (which, by the way, IS printed on their box as an option)and you say it won't get the complete nutritional picture, do the liquid fish emulsions/kelp teas etc fill in the rest of the nutritional needs? Or would you rather just not discuss this one.


By the way, I just had a visit with my mom who is an avid and EXCELLENT organic gardener in El Cerrito, CA. She told me she planted her potted citruses straight into 100% compost about 7-8 years ago, and they're still doing great and producing lots of fruit in the SAME pot. The same pot. She said they've "shrunk" over the years (which I, the new citrus "expert" told her is the soils compacting and choking her roots) and she said she just top dresses a couple times a year with more compost. She also fertilizes with the EB Stones.

So, I guess, like you say, every one has their own experience of what works. And there are exceptions to every rule. She also reminded me we're in the relatively mild climate of northern california... so that may be working in our favor.

I also think I need to worry less about doing it perfectly and just get these things started. I need to find what will work best for me, and for me it's the absence of chemical products in my food. So hey, it is what it is, right?

Peace. :-)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 7:45PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

1) Not much - a little more N immobilization perhaps - depending on how 'finished' the compost is . . . maybe a little difference in the water-holding curve over time. Note that the peat is around 15% of the mix. I hold it to under 10% when I make my own soils, but that's just my personal preference.

2) I went to their website to look at the fertilizer products & their content/make-up. I looked carefully for the suggestion that it was appropriate in containers before I commented, but I didn't find it there. That they recommend it on the box doesn't impact my opinion, which was based on the ingredients, but I won't belabor that point.

I never spoke to a lack of 'complete nutritional picture' that I remember, and the nutrients may well be in the fertilizer products, but they STILL depend on microbial activity as the key to unlocking the nutrients. You can use a wide array of organic fertilizer products in containers, but there is still no way to determine the rate of delivery or when delivery will occur.

Growing trees in containers is the primary focus of my growing endeavors. I have around 200 and lecture regularly on the care, culture, and maintenance techniques of containerized trees. Re your mom's: The roots have pretty much become the soil, or more accurately, the greater part of the structure of the soil that still remains in the container. Once this occurs and the container becomes a solid mass of roots, the soil structure is pretty unimportant except that it must hold enough water (and nutrients) to carry the plant from one irrigating to the next.

Estimating the health/vitality of a tree is a very subjective thing, and what one grower feels is a healthy plant may not be another's idea of the same. Examining the branches for decreasing distances between leaf bundle scars will tell the tale of an accelerating decrease in vitality of the plant you refer to. It cannot be other than so, and if what you relate is accurate, I guarantee this point. What separates the bonsai trees that, first of all remain viable, but also retain superb vitality over often hundreds of years from the common containerized tree is nothing more than attention to rootage, soil condition, and nutrition.

Good luck, K.


    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 8:58PM
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Al, in the immortal words of the turtle from "Finding Nemo"... you so totally rock, dude. A little blonde/californian/mom of a toddler humor.

Thanks for all your helpful information. It certainly makes me feel like I can make an informed decision, which is how I'm wired.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 9:03PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Your quote reminds me of a recently made story. My apologies to all for going off topic. Stop now if you are wanting to learn something! ;o)

My grandson turned 6 a week ago, and has been reading difficult words like reflection, important, equipment ..., since he was 4. Last month, we were watching the St. Pat's parade pass by and there was an ambulance with sirens blaring, lights flashing - you get the picture ....
He read the side of the ambulance, which displayed 'Bay Medical Care Facility'. He got all excited and shouted (as if they could hear him), "HEY!! HEY!!! Remember me!!? You guys are the ones who borned me!!!"

OK - it reminded me of TWO stories.

Another grandson, a couple of years ago at 7 years old was nearly beside himself with excitement at opening his Christmas presents. A sensitive kid, all eyes were on him as he opened a gift. He paused and looked up from what he was doing, looked at me and said in such a serious little voice, "Grandpa, my feelings are all filled up."

See what you have to look forward to in your own? Good luck with all, K.

So - do I catch heck for going off-topic? :o)


    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 10:16PM
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I learned about Al's potting soil recipe this winter and use organic feeds, etc. The plants are doing very well.

Al's soil recipe is good for organic feeding IMHO.

I think Al is discounting his soil mix too much when he says using organic feeds is "tricky".

His recipe is very good and can handle organics VERY well from my experience.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 9:17AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'm very glad you find it suitable, but I'm only being honest. If I was self-promoting and pushing "My Soil", I'd probably say it works very well with an all-organic nutritional supplementation program, but I've tried all organics in the mixes I use, and even 'back when', in the soils I was using out of the bag. I still have to say, after trying all kinds of organic fertilizers, that from a performance perspective, I find them lacking. They are erratic in their delivery rates and just so unreliable, which always goes back to the cyclic boom/bust cycle of microorganisms in containers that is inevitable. It's very difficult to know when to add fertilizers or hold up because there are adequate levels of nutrients already in the soil that are just not available because you're waiting on the soil biota to act on the nutrients. The specific results of your efforts are extremely difficult to assess or quantify.

Remember too, that although I often get involved in more technical conversations with the more experienced growers, much of what I write is designed to help beginners and growers with intermediate skills that are asking for it, so I try to keep things as simple for them as I can. There's no wish on my part to force anything I say on anyone, and I'm perfectly happy to allow those that find ways to grow that suit them better than my suggestions to enjoy a lack of my interference. ;o)

I guess to boil the whole thing down, I'd have to say: "I never said you couldn't grow in the soils I use using an all organic nutrition regimen, but from both a facilitative and a results oriented perspective, by a wide margin the chemical, water soluble fertilizers get the nod from me."

I say this even though I DO use fish and seaweed emulsions. I completely respect anyone's wishes to grow organically in containers, but I feel pretty obligated to offer my observations and comparisons, not to change your mind, or the other organic-minded growers, but for the people who don't have a preference and are looking for the best results with the least amount of frustration.

This was more along the line of my own musings than a direct reply to you, Rdak, even though your post prompted it. I want to sincerely thank you for the kind words. Thank-yous are always soo appreciated. Take care and I wish you great success in all your growing endeavors. ;o)


Thanks for letting us talk on your dime, Kristi. ;o)

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 12:24PM
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hitexplanter(8 a)

Off Topic Al:
Off topic once in a while just helps illustrate your humanity all the more and we all as gardeners of earth and parts of the earth should willingly and gratefully show our humanity once in a while. You Al are a shining example of a humane person. I am happy to know you even if from afar. Yes you shall receive 50 lashs with a wet noodle as Ann Landers used to say for being off-topic. LOL

Kristi: another product worthy of trying in your organic program IMHO is bat guano. It is expensive but no more so than fish emulsion relatively speaking. It is a very hot for an organic fertilizer. (off the top of my head) I remember it being a 10-3-4 macro and plenty of micronutrients as well. It is used at a 1 cup per 5 gallon of water ratio for in the ground but I would use it more like AL says "weakly weekly". So based on that I would consider using it more in the range of 1/8 the of cup per 5 gallons of water (maybe a little more during the best growing time and a little less during the coldest growing time).
There will be multiple challenges to the organic growing of your citrus tree and AL, as usual has covered the bases extremely well. I would add one more thought overall to the discussions above and this would be to find the best way you can find to keep the containers you grow organically in in a cool or warmer range than most of us experience. The heat and cold being a problem for the microbes hence to your organic regime has needs that need to be addressed to maximize your results. This problem is faced by non-organic growers but with out as many challenges to the nutritional aspects because of the relative availability of nutrients regardless of microbe activity.
A pot inside another pot is one such method. Consider the pot size so as to be able to layer mulch all around the "growing pot" so as to keep the hot sun from being such a problem. During colder weather it will insulate the container from some of the extremes of temperature but you may lose the benefit of the sun warming the pot so there is some trade offs to consider for this method during moderately cooler weather in the 40's at night and 60's in the day it may be better with the pot exposed so as to warm the microbe activity (perhaps).
I am simplifying the concept but I do hope it is of some use for your citrus and other organically growing experiences in containers. I use a lot of organic materials in growing in pots and in the ground but still find for myself the combination of both to suit my growing needs the best. We all need to find what is "right" for us so we can be happy growing whatever it is and however it is that we choose to grow.
All the best and Happy Planting David

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 5:53PM
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wormgirl(z8 WA)

Hi all, I used to read this forum waaaay back, and have not visited for many years. Blueberry plant research brought me back, and I spent most of last night devouring the PWT/Al's Mix threads! I just came home with several bark products to try in my mixes. I have always doctored my potting soil with extra drainage material, and am eager to try the bark mix. Al, I have always thought "there must be something better out there," so thanks for pointing the way!

I do have a different opinion (probably a very simplistic one) of using organic fertilizers in containers. I have had tremendous success using liquid ones, and I've never harmed a plant with a dry one -- except once when I burned some tomato starts using too much dry fert containing chicken manure and blood meal. I avoid those ingredients now.

My favorite products are: PlantTea (brews in teabags, great for houseplants) and the Neptune's Harvest hydrolyzed fish and kelp products. Both are available to order from the manufacturer's websites. If you live in a place where they sell Ed Hume seeds, look on the seed rack for a small PlantTea 3-teabag package meant for seedlings. This is not very economical, but is a great way to sample the product.

At one point I got into brewing aerated compost tea and used this on my container plants -- but I had a lot of success with the liquids even before that. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, my houseplants respond gorgeously, and I have never used compost tea on them at all. Undoubtedly, though, the use of tea will enable the plants to have better soil life without adding the actual organic materials to the pot. Additionally, just being outside actually exposes the soil in containers to all kinds of soil life. Even the worms love to live underneath them!

My houseplants' response most surprised me when I first started using organic ferts on my containers (used to use Miracle Gro). I, too, assumed that the plant would at least have to be OUTSIDE to benefit much from organic fertilizer. No way - I think the houseplants actually benefit MORE than outside plants! I have often revitalized totally hard, dead, hydrophobic soil by breaking open the brewed PlantTea teabag and depositing the contents on top of a houseplant. Water it in, come back in a week and the bacteria have completely "tilled" the soil! It is really almost unbelievable.

Now I don't know that the plant is able to grow to its "full potential" this way, or absorb every nutrient in the soil. Obviously there isn't the same variety of soil life in a houseplant as there is in an outside pottted plant, which is exposed to nematodes, worms, arthropods, etc. But the bacteria and fungi available inside the house alone seem to go a long way towards a healthier plant. I have much better, lusher plants now that I feed the houseplants primarily with PlantTea, than I did before with Miracle-Gro. Your mileage may vary!!! However, I wouldn't be afraid to try.

As far as the fish and seaweed, I use these primarily outside, although you CAN use them on the houseplants too - they do NOT stink up the house for more than a few minutes. They smell much less bad than traditional fish emulsion.

I don't recommend Alaska Fish Fertilizer, the only fish emulsion widely available at retail stores in my area. It might be okay if you are feeding foliage plants -- because it's something like 5-1-1. DON'T use it on houseplants though, because it STINKS. For a LONG time!

When I mix a dry fert into a pot, I tend to go really light - like 1/3 the recommended amount. We're talking a few tablespoons or something, so I hadn't considered that to be a serious particle size problem. It seems akin to adding lime powder.

Kristimama (if you have bothered to read this far!) I just want to encourage you to realize that there may be many ways of having success. Al himself stresses he doesn't want anyone to take his suggestions blindly, and encourages us to experiment! I love the science behind soil life, and I don't doubt it works BEST in the ground, but that doesn't mean it won't work in containers as well!

Also, I bet if you wander over to the organic forum, there will be lots more ideas about how best to use organic ferts in containers. I'm sure I'll be reading it myself this spring!

Here is a link that might be useful: Neptune's Harvest - menhaiden-free hydrolyzed fish emulsion

    Bookmark   April 6, 2008 at 6:36PM
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Hello all:

I thought I'd chime in on this, as I've just recently switched to organics myself. A lot of people don't like to read long posts, so I'll provide the bullet points here at the beginning -- but if you have the time give the whole thing a perusing. Keep in mind, I'm focusing on container gardening in this post, and thus much of what I'm saying is geared toward that fact. But before I get into anything, I have to say this: the biggest advantage to going organic is associated with the "peace of mind" feeling one gets when growing sustainably. Although there are other potential benefits, such as a biologically active root zone, the aforementioned is the most significant.

That having been said, the crucial component with any method of culture, whether it be organic or inorganic, is the grower, and his or her experience. The reason why a lot of advanced members won't endorse one way or the other is because there are so many factors that come into play above and beyond one's choice of fertilizer/medium, and thus it's practically impossible to offer in-depth advice beyond the very basics without the risk of misleading someone. This is pretty much a period, end of sentence type of buts. In order to get great results with container organics, or any advanced method of culture for that matter, one needs to really know what they're doing -- and even that isn't enough sometimes.

Addressing organics directly, they can work quite well in [large] containers. I won't debate the 20 or 30% potential difference in yield with inorganic vs. organic culture, because I don't grow for quantity, but in my experience the difference in yeild/quality is negligible when growing on a smallish scale. I'll have to qualify that last statement by saying I never push my systems to the absolute max, and certainly don't have the facilities of the professional members.

Regardless, if you want the bottom line, this is it: if you're new to gardening in general, or consider yourself a casual gardener, then stick to the tried and true (ie: a good potting mix and conventional, proven, inorganic fertilizers applied as per the directions). However, if you really plan to throw yourself at organics, and/or have a strong environmental streak, read on.

I was originally as artificial as it gets: 100% "chemical" fertilizer (ie: inorganic) in deep water culture hydroponics, which is quite literally roots suspended in a highly aerated fertilizer solution...nothing from what we'd traditionally associate with nature save for the plant itself and the water it was growing in. I'm very methodical and scientific, and my growing technique reflected it.

The yields were quite respectable, and the produce top quality. But then a nasty outbreak of pythium (root rot) hit, and made me reconsider my position as an inorganic, hydroponic grower. After all, there was quite a lot of effort involved on my part in monitoring TDS, Ph, temps, etc etc etc. In retrospect, too much effort.

So rather than occupy a middle ground with an inorganic soil culture, I brewed up an organic mix of my own to test out, which basically consisted of Miracle Gro organic choice potting mix cut with hydroton pellets and large chunk perlite -- no brain surgery this time, I kept it as simple and stress-free as possible. To my surprise, yields were comparable to the deep water culture, and I felt much better about myself due to the whole sustainable aspect. Perhaps the biggest functional benefit is the fact that organics seem to have a much bigger margin for error when compared to "chemical" systems, a buffer, if you will. Granted, that buffer is more of a cushion for the intermediate/advanced grower, but I digress.

One thing I should mention here, is that with organics, I paid very, very careful attention to the water I was putting into the mix -- and I think this is too, too often disregarded. This was a carry over from hydro, and I think anyone that's serious about containers should be mindful of it. With organics, you're culturing the soil as much as you're culturing the plants. Thus, loading your containers up constantly with high PPM water direct from the hose is bound to eventually, if not quite quickly, offset the balance of your mini-eco system.

One needs to remember that organics, in nature, in the soil, are diluted constantly with low TDS rainwater. Plus, and perhaps more importantly, you have a HUGE buffer with an in-ground garden. With containers, this is not the case. Thus, I always use pure, reverse osmosis water, either alone for standard waterings, or in conjunction with a high quality liquid-organic fert. Again, though, one must watch not to overdo it with RO water, or you'll have the exact opposite problem: leached, anemic soil. Gardening in general, and especially with containers, is all about knowing, on-the-fly, the proper balance of the various elements that go into the system.

Thus, this year, after my positive experiences with the small scale soil "experiment," I am giving the organics a try again, with a 1/3 sphagnum, 1/3 organic potting mix (half "organics" and half bark/pearlite), and 1/3 premium manure/humus/topsoil (NOT the cheap $1-a-bag sewage sludge that a lot of places pass off as compost). In total, well over 200 gallons. Some might consider this a little peat/organic heavy, but calling on my past experience with proper soil texture, this mix seems to fit the bill. However, if I were to do it over again, I would have probably bypassed the potting mix all together in favor of pearlite/bark (ie: 1/3 peat, 1/3 pearlite/bark, 1/3 organics).

Regardless, the above was very well mixed, and cut with a balanced 4-4-4 top quality [granular] organic fertilizer, bone meal, and a heavy culture of beneficial soil microbes, all in appropriate measures. The crucial tid bit is that this was brewed up a week ago, and is being given 6 weeks of "pre-breakdown" time so that the cultures can get started. This window does two things: provides a cache of available nutrients, and increases microbe/endospore counts to ideal levels.

...I could go on and on and still not scratch the surface. Indeed, I could write a book on the topic and still not touch on every nuance required for a successful crop. It all boils down to your experience, and/or your dedication. Organics, despite the placid veneer often associated with the term, is a method of advanced culture, requiring a solid knowledge of horticulture to pull off satisfactorily. This isn't to say you need a PhD to do it well, but it's not as simple as, for example, throwing a few sunflower seeds in the ground and walking away.

If you take anything from this admittedly long post, it's that there is no substitute for experience. I learned a lot from reading books, and then from forums, but you can't beat what you learn in the field. With every print medium on the subject, for example, there are divergent viewpoints. This isn't to say that there's not a lot of good information out there, because there is. You just have to sift through it all, weight the varying perspectives, and do your own little experiments. Once you find something that works, stick with it. Most importantly, enjoy what you're doing, and feel good about it after the day is done.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 5:00AM
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Well explained jjblanche!!!!
That is why I said C ....Die.. "If you don't know what your doing" in Krities post.
Have a great day all....

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 9:24AM
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wormgirl(z8 WA)

Nice thoughts on the issues of using organics in containers, jjblanche.

I read later that Al also uses fish and kelp liquids in his containers in addition to his other ferts. IMO, these aren't that difficult to use in containers - but YMMV. Dry ferts are much trickier, as you point out.

I also think soil is way more forgiving than hydroponics in any case. Not that hydro isn't incredibly cool!

I agree container soil, especially if you're including dry organic fertilizer, is better when it's premixed and allowed to "cure" a bit. Just an observation on your soil mixes: don't forget that peat and bark ARE the organic materials. If I were you, and it's still curing, I'd at least throw a good bit of perlite in it, and maybe some bark -- it sounds peat-heavy. Just a thought. Will be eager to hear your results!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 12:07PM
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To clarify the use of granulars: I only use them when first creating the mix, and then from there only use liquid fertilizers, with maybe an occasional top dress of bone meal, etc. Regarding the mix: I do realize now that it is a bit heavy in peat, and if I were to go back and mix it again, I would have cut in more bark and pearlite, and probably a good measure of hydroton. In fact, I think I might take out about 2 gallons of mix from each container and replace it with hydroton, and see how that works out.

When I said organics, I suppose I should have said compost, or heavy organics.

However, all told, I'm still experimenting with various mixes. The 1 to 1 to 1 mix cited above is pretty common place, and well tested, so I figure I'll give it a go as is. I used only top quality moss/compost/etc, so we'll see if the added buck makes any difference. And hopefully that culture time will improve soil tilth.

If anything, I can use the water retention, as pumping out tens of gallons of RO water each day and applying it would occupy much of my time -- and I have to keep telling myself that this is just a hobby.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 3:54PM
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What purpose does the hydroton serve in your mix? I am familiar with the product since I use it for houseplants in hydroculture, but never considered it as part of an outdoor planting mix.

Why do you use it as part of your mix?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 4:02PM
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All the properties that make it ideal for hydroculture also make it a superior replacement for pearlite and other media that are used for aeration. The link below explains it more fully (scroll down to "Aeration"). As an added benefit, the structure and nature of hydroton provides an ideal environment for microbes. I've seen it used in so called "living machines" for just this purpose.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hydroton

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 4:07PM
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All the properties that make it ideal for hydroculture also make it a superior replacement for pearlite and other media that are used for aeration.

One of the factors that makes a substance ideal for aeration is particle size. It has to be able to maintain external air spaces in the mix. Internal pores are terrific, but if the particle size/shape is out of whack then little to no external air spaces will be maintained.

I am not going to say hydroton mixed in a 1 to 9 ratio with potting mix (as your link advises) does nothing for aeration, but I am having a hard time visualizing it. I know hydroton comes in various sizes, but the stuff I have is 1/4-1/2 inches in diameter. I would regard this as too large to be worthwhile with the rest of the ingredients in the mix which are much smaller and would just fill in around the hydroton.

Have you looked into Turface MVP at all? It's smaller size (1/2BB-BB size) seems more appropriate and does much the same thing as hydroton being a porous, fired clay product.

I would like to learn more about the use of hydroton in container soils since I have tons of the stuff on hand, but really don't see how it would benefit outdoor plantings at this point.

I am not criticizing your mix as I don't know enough to do so and I am sure you are getting the results you expect from it, I am just trying to understand how hydroton is doing anything beyond what Turface MVP would do since in my area Hydroton is much more expensive and it's size seems less than ideal.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 5:15PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

"You can take ingredients that may make a perfectly good soil on their own, combine them, and end up with something unusable."

In the case of the round clay balls, they will do very little (close to nothing) for soil aeration that a long list of other amendments won't do better.

Particulates of dissimilar sizes tend to be counterproductive when increasing drainage or or aeration is the goal. I'll illustrate with an imaginary example: Imagine a clear container of sand, which represents the soil - or use soil if you like. Fill the jar with water & let it set until saturated. Let it drain and note the height of the PWT. Now, mix the soil so 1/3 of it are the round balls and repeat. The soil will not drain any faster (this is a function of rate, not the volume of water that drains because the balls will have reduced the water holding capacity of the soil proper) and the PWT will be exactly the same height.

Now, take the same soil and add 1/3 perlite, Turface, pine bark, . . . or other similarly sized particles. The soil will drain faster and the PWT will be diminished. Adding large particulates to a soil of predominately small particulates is an exercise in futility when improving drainage and aeration is the goal.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 6:10PM
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The main problems with pearlite and bark are that they compact over time. If you've ever held a piece of pearlite between your fingers, or a waterlogged piece of bark for that matter, and squeezed, you know what I mean. Hydroton does not compact, and maintains its structure over time.

I have no experience with the MVP product, and thus cannot comment on it, but from a cursory glance it seems like a valid addition to a soil regimen.

The only thing I can say for certain is that I have used a 1/3 peat, 1/3 bark, 1/3 compost mix in containers organically with 1:9 ratio of hydroton to soil, and had fantastic results. I think the hydroton is such a boon because the roots and root hairs grow into it, as opposed to around it. Inside each ball is a tiny, self-regulating, organic-hydroponic environment. Roots are attracted to this, and will seek out, surround, and penetrate the hydroton pellets within the mix. I think the larger pellet size of the hydroton provides a greater reserve of air/water/nutrients/microbes for the surrounding roots than a comparable MVP particle, and thus a more stable environment.

But I digress. I'm no expert when it comes to organic, container culture. I've tried it, had fantastic results, and am trying it again. Given that this will be essentially the same mix, but on a larger scale, we'll just have to see how it pans out.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 6:21PM
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You had roots growing into the hydroton?

Wow. I have never seen such a thing in hydroculture. Given it's porous nature I can kind of see it happening with some roots, but overall find it hard to believe. Not questioning your results, just looking at my own experience with it.

I think there are a zillion ways to do the same thing and we as gardeners are fortunate that what we grow is usually so adaptable to our quirks.

I am still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of hydroton adding anything to a potting mix though due to it's large size.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 6:40PM
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If you've ever pulled a plant growing hydroponically out of it's hydroton medium, the roots don't come out cleanly. Rather, you have a root ball that has totally integrated itself with the hydroton. I'm not talking coarse roots entering and splitting hydroton balls, I'm talking small roots, and the associated root hairs, entering the hydroton ball, which subsequently feed the larger roots, and the plant itself. When I removed my plants from the soil mix highlighted above, and investigated the root ball, I found the exact same thing occurring.

Large, coarse roots are primarily a conduit for nutrients, etc. It is the root hairs, and their microscopic structures, that do all the assimilating. Which is why I'm of the opinion that hydroton balls are a valuable addition to the soil. I don't add them for aeration alone. They are part of an entire organic system.

I think the main aversion people have to hydroton is the fact that they look at them as big clay chunks, which is far from the case.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 7:00PM
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If you've ever pulled a plant growing hydroponically out of it's hydroton medium, the roots don't come out cleanly. Rather, you have a root ball that has totally integrated itself with the hydroton.

I grew hydroponically indoors for a couple years before giving it up. I didn't use Hydroton so can't comment on how the roots grew there. Large, coarse roots are primarily a conduit for nutrients, etc. It is the root hairs, and their microscopic structures, that do all the assimilating.

The large roots, in my learning and experience, primarily serve to anchor the plant and do little nutrient/water uptake. Rather it is, as you say, the finer roots that do all the heavy lifting in terms of nutrients and water delivery.

I just took a plant that has been in hydroculture for over 2 years and pulled it from the hydroton. None of the roots were in the hydroton balls. The plant was a spider plant that my wife snagged a baby off of from a restaurant that appeared to know nothing about caring for them. Still, 2 years in hydroton, good growth and no roots embedded in the media at all. The few balls that came up when I pulled the plant were simply squeezed between the roots rather than having roots growing into them.

Perhaps your experience is different than mine, but at this point I am still not seeing the value in using hydroton as a potting mix ingredient and I encourage you to look into Turface MVP as it is very similar, but much more appropriately sized.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 7:54PM
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The main problems with pearlite and bark are that they compact over time.

I wanted to take a minute to indicate how much I agree with this statement of yours. Perlite does compact over time and in my experience much too quickly. I have noted that fresh out of the bag I can crush it with little exertion from my thumb and finger and after a season even easier.

Perlite is often viewed as a more or less permanent soil/mix amendment when, at least in our experience, it isn't.

I have 100% replaced my use of perlite with Turface MVP. Yes it is heavier and costs more, but it is permanent unlike perlite which is unnaturally white, so light it floats and brittle enough that it crushes without much force. Turface also holds more water and has a much better CEC for nutrient retention.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2008 at 8:33PM
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wormgirl(z8 WA)

I also agree the perlite and bark compact over time. Some advise to repot this type of mix yearly. One school of thought says peat, compost and manure compact even *more* quickly - because of the fine particle size. This particle size also allows much less air to the roots, which becomes the limiting factor in plant growth.

I had previously noticed when I used the "organic" or "natural" potting mixes, which tend to be bark-based, results were better than with peat-heavy mixes. Now I understand why, since I read the drainage thread.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2008 at 9:07PM
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What if you take a hammer to the Hydroton? I just bought a bag as I haven't been able to find Turface or anything else in the small town I live in.... I thought it looked ideal, but too large so I was going to break it into smaller pieces. I am on this thread as I was going to do some "research" first!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 9:07PM
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Hydroton and Turface have a lot in common, but particle size matters too.

Smashing it with a hammer is unlikely to yield an appropriate particle size unless you screen it in which case a lot goes to waste.

Do you have house plants? If so use the hydroton for them and grow them in hydroculture (google the term if you aren't familiar with it), but find Turface or the same product under a different name for out of doors.

Does the name 'John Deer' ring a bell for you in your area? If so they sell Turface although the packaging is different.

If you have serious difficulty finding it call 1.800.207.6457 and ask them where you can get it under whatever name. I can pretty much guarantee if you are willing to drive 1 hour from your location almost anyone can get it under some name.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 9:30PM
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YES! We have a John Deere dealer, but I assumed he just sold expensive tractors! I'll also check out the hydroculture, as that's the type of shop I bought the hydroton from. If I can't return the stuff I'll just throw it at the deer and the rock chucks!

Thanks so much - I want to stick with the tried-and-true formula so I can get good results. This forum has been so helpful!!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2008 at 10:01PM
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recluse(6b/7 NE TN)

Any organic molecule (basically - something containing carbon and that was once alive) will have its nutrients locked in hydrocarbon chains that will require the aid of biotic soil populations to cleave (unlock).

Since the organic components in vermicastings have already been unlocked by micro-organisms and by passing through the gut of the worm - would vermicastings not be an effective organic fertilizer/amendment to add to container "soils"?

Here is a link that might be useful: Worm Castings (Vermicompost) Fertilizer Value

    Bookmark   May 1, 2008 at 9:20AM
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Since the organic components in vermicastings have already been unlocked by micro-organisms and by passing through the gut of the worm - would vermicastings not be an effective organic fertilizer/amendment to add to container "soils"?

In my opinion they aren't worth adding to a container. Do I think they can "work"? Sure. But what does "work" mean?

If you have ever held wet vermicompost in your hand you have noticed that it has a clay like consistency. Maybe not as bad as clay, but mucky nonetheless. This isn't something I would want in a container myself.

Still, if you start with a free draining mix and you limit yourself to a small amount (less than 10% of the total) of something 'mucky' it is unlikely to hurt anything. If you have any ground based gardens though I think that vermicompost will give you a better value there.

While there are some folks who have developed an entirely organic method of growing in containers that they appear happy with you will find many more saying they just couldn't do it without adding some synthetic fertilizer along the way (among other problems). I think that if one is going to use synthetics anyway, why not get the nutrients from that rather than add something mucky to the container?

Just my way of looking at it.

BTW, if you are purchasing the worm poop rather than having a worm farm of your own be careful what you buy. There are many sources offering vermicompost that simply fill a bucket with mostly wood shavings and such, dump in some worms and a month or so later call it vermicompost. Commercial outfits I am talking about. This stuff isn't the same as vermicompost made by allowing the worms to process and reprocess the material multiple times until there is no trace of the original material left.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 8:45AM
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Just wanted to throw out that if you're looking for a pre-made simple-to-use fertilizer that's 100% organic and great for containers you should check out the stuff Advanced Nutrients makes.

I've used their Iguana Juice myself. It grew me some fantastic tomatoes.

Here is a link that might be useful: Advanced Nutrients Organic Line

    Bookmark   August 1, 2008 at 8:03PM
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This might be worth a try, but it seems to go against the notion of plants not being able to use organic nutrients. Someone told us that alfalfa pellets diluted into a tea are a great fertilizer for orchids and roses. I can say that it definitely makes them grow like crazy, so there must be soemthing to it. We tried it on some of the houseplants, and they like it too. The problem is the solution ferments and smells terrible if allowed to collect in drainage trays, etc.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 5:21PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I've been to a lot of fertilizer/nutrient/supplement websites, and the Advanced Nutrients website reminded me of something the makers of Superthrive or Eleanor's might put up - lots of fluff and vague 'guarantees', but little substantive information.

I'm also not sure why it's thought that "it's worth a try" and "it seems to go against the notion of plants not being able to use organic nutrients". The implication in this statement is that they can. The leap is a reasoning flaw, which even has a name - it's called 'appeal to authority', which takes the following form:

Party A (fertilizer seller) poses as an authority on fertilizer (to sell a product). A makes a claim (C) about fertilizer. Therefore, C is assumed true.

When the claimant in question is not a legitimate, unbiased authority on the subject, we tend to reject the claim. We really cannot make this leap either, as we must allow the possibility that even though the claimant is not an unbiased expert, the claim may still be true.

This reasoning is fallacious when the claimant is not an expert. The reasoning is flawed simply because the fact that a biased and possibly unqualified person makes a claim w/o provision of concrete justification for the claim. The claim could be true, but the fact that an unqualified or biased person made the claim does not provide any rational reason to accept the claim as true.

When a person falls prey to this fallacy, they are accepting a claim as true without there being adequate evidence to do so. More specifically, the person is accepting the claim because they erroneously believe that the person making the claim is a legitimate expert and hence that the claim is reasonable to accept.


    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 7:28PM
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liz_h(7/8 DFW Texas)

Assuming I ever get my worm bin up and going, would home brewed "tea" from the castings be a good liquid fertilizer for containers? Would this still have the same problems as other organic fertilizers, or has the worm already broken down the material into an accessible, i.e. inorganic form?

One reason I ask this is that many people have said that worm castings seem to strengthen plants better than other means in ground gardening.

Growing in the ground, I loved growing organically. But I'm learning that much of the good practices I knew no longer apply for containers. For food that I'm going to eat, I'm much more worried about the use of pesticides than chemical fertilizers. I'm still feeling my way through this!

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 12:58AM
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Assuming I ever get my worm bin up and going, would home brewed "tea" from the castings be a good liquid fertilizer for containers?

It certainly won't hurt, but your results will be variable. Worms don't really 'digest' anything. Instead they consume organic matter and the bacteria in their digestive tract does all the work. What they excrete, the castings, are rich in bacteria. Those bacteria then get consumed by nematodes and protozoa releasing the nutrients in plant usable forms.

To make a tea from anything and get a nutrient value depends on the percentage of the organic matter that has nutrients already in plant usable form or that can be quickly converted to such in a container application.

In other words it will likely have some value, but it will be impossible to predict what nutrients or how much of any nutrient will be in the tea.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 1:50AM
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angelady777 (was angelady on GW) - Zone 6(6)

Liz, I was wondering the same thing. Worm casting seem like the perfect way to do what soil outside of a container would normally do. It's incredible for the plant nutrition-wise, right? I can't wait to see what all the experienced people have to say on this, but I'm really glad you brought this up!


    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 2:35AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

My take on the castings is they don't add any where near enough benefit to container soils make me want to rush to suffer their clogging effect (soil porosity). Liz was careful to note that she was talking about worm castings 'tea', not the castings themselves, which makes my point moot to her.

If I was making worm castings tea, I would surely want to use my own castings & not something commercially available that may only be a very small % of actual castings.


    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 9:24AM
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angelady777 (was angelady on GW) - Zone 6(6)

Thanks for the advice, Al. I did not know that about commercial castings, either! I guess I need to more seriously consider my own worm bin.


    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 12:27PM
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gardenerme(z9/21 inland socal)

Hey justaguy, thanks for the 800# for John Deere (1.800.207.6457). I called and they find 2 locations within 30 minutes of me. I'll be checking it out for turface.

Note on worm castings: I tried to make a tea and ended up with a small amount of tea and a huge amount of sludge. Don't know why, but suspect there is a lot of inorganic filler in there, however, if you want to try it and just use the liquid, keep in mind that most of it will be sludge, not liquid. If you put it straight into the pot as a top dressing, which I also tried, you get the same sludge material clogging up the pot. Yeeks!

    Bookmark   August 6, 2008 at 4:56PM
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The quality (purity) of commercial worm castings depends a lot on who makes them. Some companies are more reputable than others (though I couldn't name any off the top of my head).

You can probably find a local worm wrangler who sells castings at a competitive price, but how pure they are would depend on how trustworthy the wrangler is. In my experience most small scale guys are pretty above-board.

I just raise my own worms and get my own castings that way.

I've never heard of anyone getting a lot of sludge making tea, though. I'd guess that either the bag was too coarse and let solid material through or it wasn't aerated enough and you got some nasty microbial colonies going.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 10:55PM
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This was a good topic and I was wandering, what are people choosing to use as fertilizers for inorganic and organic gardening. Just miracle grow for inorganic or seaweed/fish emulsion for organic?

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 10:35AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The list of choices on both sides of the question is as long and varied as the list of perspectives and philosophies. There are many fertilizers similar to MG on the market, and a wide variety of fertilizers that are organic/semi-organic.

My opinion is: If you're results oriented, a beginner, or are looking for simplicity - the chemical, water soluble fertilizers by myriad companies are by far the best choice.

If you feel that plants somehow prefer their chemicals from an organic source, or your wish is to remain as organic as possible in your approach to container culture, you'll need to do the research to decide what to use as fertilizers, how much to use, and when to use it.


    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 3:10PM
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While reading this thread, i read your words about your tomatoes being very good.
Are you using basic 5-1-1 mix for tomatoes?
What fertilizer you are using for tomatoes?

Thank you a lot, Al, for the time that you contribute to help people like I, for your desire to help.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2009 at 2:14PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Yes - I use the 5:1:1 soil mix for tomatoes, other veggies, and most flowery/foliage display containers - all the short term stuff.

For tomatoes: I fertilized last year with regular recommended dosages of 9-3-6 until the plants were well established. I then cut way back on the dosage and added ProTeKt to the solution. I rather like to envision that I used the added K (and got the benefit of the added silicon) to change the fertilizer ratio to 3:1:3 from a 3:1:2. This allowed me to considerably reduce the overall dosage strength, the primary purpose of which was to reduce the supply of N, to slow vegetative growth, while still supplying adequate P and K. It worked the way I wanted it to, but I had a less than stellar tomato year last year. Our nights were absolutely chilly for most of late June, July, and August. I remember JaG over in the frozen northland of Wisconsin complaining (ok then - mentioning) he had the same weather obstacle last year. I had lots of fruit set, but it just would NOT ripen.


    Bookmark   March 10, 2009 at 2:27PM
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