All Natural vs Synthetic Comparison

emgardenerMay 5, 2011

This year I'm comparing an all natural container approach with the synthetic approach for growing peppers and eggplants.

My motivation is just curiosity and to see for myself the differences.

Here's the setup:

Using 6 18-gallon totes from Home Depot.

Three Different soil mixes being tried:

1. Synthetic soil mix is 1/2 composted bark fines, 1/2 turface. Planting 1 pepper tote & 1 eggplant tote in this mix.

2. Newly collected pine needle composted mulch. I collected this from under a large, long needled pine tree. It has a bouncy, peat-like feel to it. It took 12 square feet of surface area to collect enough for 1 tote.

Planting 1 pepper tote with this mix.

3. Rejuvenated, one year old leaf mulch mix. Last year I planted several totes in the new leaf mulch mix. After 1 year it had collapsed to about 2/3rds the volume, into a fine compost. I mixed 1/2 of this compost with 1/2 dried (uncomposted) redwood pine leaves.

In this mix I planted 3 totes: 1 pepper, 1 eggplant, 1 basil.

Each pepper tote has 1 each of green, golden, & red variety peppers.

The eggplants are all Ichaban Japanese variety.

The fertilization regimes are:

Synthetic: added ~1 cup lime to each synthetic tote, and am fertilizing with Foliage Pro.

All Natural: added one #10 can full of wood ashes to the natural mixes. Am fertilizing with all natural human liquid fertilizer (HLF or diluted urine).

I just see how green the plant leaves are to judge how much or how often to fertilize.

Here's a picture of a synthetic tote:

Here's a picture of a natural tote:

Totes ready for planting:

Here they are all planted:

Totes contain: Back left to right: peppers in rejuvenated mix, eggplant in bark/turface, peppers in new leaf mulch.

Front left to right: Peppers in bark/turface, eggplant in rejuvenated mix, basil in rejuvenated mix.

This was all planted about a week ago.

The only difference observed so far is that the peppers are showing dramatically different transplant shock reaction. New leaf mulch mix peppers have no wilting, some wilting in the rejuvenated mix, lots of wilting in the bark/turface mix. I posting pictures in another thread on this.

The basil wilted a lot also.

The eggplants show similar shock wilting.

This will be interesting for me.

Naturally I am hoping the all natural approach does ok.

If it does 80% as well as the synthetic approach, then I will use it in future years.

I plan to weigh the harvest from each tote and compare.

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prestons_garden(9B SZ 22 HZ 6 SoCal)


Thanks for taking the time in this experiment. There still seams to be a lot of people that don't believe an all organic approach will work in containers. I always used organics in containers with great results.


Boysenberry in a 18-Gal

Triplecrown Blackberry in a 18-Gal

    Bookmark   May 7, 2011 at 11:02PM
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I liked your last experiment, though you knew it didn't employ a "rigorous" scientific approach.

I still find these interesting as I would consider doing the same just for fun.

Good luck and thanks for sharing!

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 6:50PM
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Very healthy looking Boysenberry you have there. What kind of yield are you getting from a 18 gal container?

    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 7:03PM
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I look forward to the results, however, what you're calling a "synthetic" mix, has pine bark in it, which is organic. I consider a synthetic mix to be one with no organic ingredients at all, one which contains things like turface, grit, perlite, sand, or other things that don't break down over time. Fully synthetic mixes will literally never break down and lose their structure, where mixes conaining any kind of organic material will eventually break down. For your second mix, you are growing in 100% pine needles?? That's interesting, as I would think there's not enough support for roots, or enough water holding capacity. I'm interested to hear the results. Experimenting is a good thing, and I commend you for taking this on.


    Bookmark   May 11, 2011 at 8:06PM
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The Boysenberry looks quite impressive. How old is it and what do you use for fertilizer?


The mix is using old composted pine needles (or new pine needles mixed with compost), so there is some support. Watering does need to be done every day when hot. An automatic drip system will be added soon.

Last year I did this with good results with peppers and basil. They outdid the SWC system I had been using for over 10 years, mostly because of the better drainage I believe. So this year I wanted to compare 2 systems that have similar drainage.

Yes bark isn't synthetic, but I wanted a one word description, so couldn't be too precise.


    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 12:41AM
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Thanks for posting your experiments here! I'm wanting to grow eggplant and peppers in containers too and this gives me a good model to start.

I noticed that you double-stacked your pots, what is the purpose behind that? (I apologize if there's an obvious answer to that, I'm a complete newb to proper container gardening)

    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 2:44PM
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The double stacking is just for drainage. The setup is on a wooden deck, so I divert the runoff to the ground.
If the setup were on the ground or a stone/brick/concrete patio area I wouldn't care and certainly wouldn't have gone to all the trouble to divert the runoff.

Once my drip system is installed, I'll probably post pictures about it.

Eggplants and peppers are great choices for containers. They seem to like containers better than the ground and they produce a lot.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 11:54AM
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Oh yes, now I notice the little pipes you've got running from the containers. Great idea! I'd love to see pictures of your system once it has been installed.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 1:13PM
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I'm curious to see what happens, too.

I'd think that fertilizing only with human urine would cause problems. Isn't it high in salts, even diluted? And does it have all the nutrients when wood ashes are added? If so, that's pretty cool. Too bad my son is too old to convince him to pee in the garden.... :-)

    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 1:53PM
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Great pictures!

How old is that urine? What doasge do you use?
I am wondering if your urine and the composition of it, basically what you pee out with the kinds of foods and or meds you take has any bearing on what someone else urinates?

Different fertilizers, I suppose made of of different urine, and the different nutrients available in each ones own urine can have a huge baring on what, how another persons plants react to another persons urine, no?

I am just thinking that maybe what works for you, or not, may work differently or give a different outcome for someone else?

I am sorry, just musing.

Looks like your watering system will do you a fine job. I wish I could have the time to figure something out.

Are those containers large enough for a tomato plant?


    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 3:08PM
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I totally missed the pee fertilizer part. I am skeptical, mainly because pee kills things, and contains all the toxins your body flushes out. I'd have to say that draining the weasel in your "pots" couldn't be the best thing......


    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 7:12PM
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prestons_garden(9B SZ 22 HZ 6 SoCal)

I can only estimate the yield I will get. Last year I lived in an area where we didn't get more than 4.5 hours of sun which didn't produce much at all. This year we are in a new location and get 8+ hours and what a difference. The canes keep producing new flowers and is doing very well. As for the berry estimate on the plant, a 450 count with no sign of slowing down.


The boysenberry is 3 years old. I fertilize with liquid fish and seaweed, Grow More vegetable fertilizer and compost.


    Bookmark   May 13, 2011 at 11:03PM
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So you use liquid organic fertilizer. That's what I wondered. I had poor experience with just solid organic fertilizer in the past, although it was in an overly wet SWC.

"How old is that urine? What doasge do you use?"

The age varies from just created to several weeks. Doesn't seem to matter to much. After about 2 days the pH goes above 8, so it is alkaline. Which might be an advantage when using leaves.

I dilute it about 1:5 HLF:water. Don't keep track of dosage. Whenever the leaves look a little yellowish, I add some. Same with the Foliage Pro. Also if the weather is cold, I don't add too much HLF, even if the leaves are yellowish, since when it heats up, much more of the nitrogen becomes available quickly.

It does take a lot of HLF to hurt a plant. As an experiment I kept overdosing a small 1.5' tomato plant in the ground to see what it could take. It took 2 cups of undiluted HLF poured right onto the stem base to kill it.

The tubs are 18 gallons, big enough for a tomato.

"Isn't it high in salts, even diluted?"

It has much less salt in it then Foliage Pro. I spilled a little of each in separate trays and let them evaporate, just to compare the salt concentration.

"I am skeptical, mainly because pee kills things, and contains all the toxins your body flushes out. I'd have to say that draining in your "pots" couldn't be the best thing.."

I had a friend who drained directly in his flower pots. Whenever the neighborhood garden club came over they always exclaimed on how great his flowers were & asked for his secret. He delightfully revealed his secret to their dismay.
My wife now asks me to do the same.

There's a lot of university research that's been done in Sweden on this subject, that was discussed over a year ago here. You can search on urine and my name to find it. They have villages in Sweden where the city collects the urine and gives it to the local farmers.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2011 at 11:46PM
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