Potting mix for Earthtainers?

Mrs.GreeneJune 15, 2012

hello. Please forgive if I am asking a question asked a million times. I am new to self-watering container gardening.

After several years of dismal tomato growing, I am attempting earthtainers for the first time. My dear husband has built me one, and plans to build three more for me tomorrow. I would like to fill them and get my tomatoes planted as soon as possible, as they are in pots that are too small!

I am very confused about the ideal potting mix. I know from poking around here that "Raybo"(who I assume is Ray Newstead?) recommends Sunshine Mix #4, peat and perlite, and as an alternative, Miracle grow or Sta-green.

I can't seem to find Sunshine mix here, and would prefer to use an organic fertilizer so not thrilled with the idea of the MG or Sta-green.

I have also read about the 5-1-1 mix recommended by someone named Al. (I feel like a total newb, feeling I should know who Al is but am clueless)It seems pretty simple

We do have a well-regarded producer of organic compost in my area, Eko-Compost. (ekocompost.com) They do use pine trees in their mix. They have straight compost, a lawn top dressing (screened compost), claybuster formula (with 10% pumice), a potting mix (compost, Canadian sphagnum peat moss, and perlite), and outdoor planting mix (compost, Canadian Sphagnum peat moss, and pumice rock.)

I have used eko with very good results in the past.

So, could the eko be used in a 511 potting mix? Maybe instead of the bark fines? Or would the compost be too rich?If I used compost would I perhaps use less fertilizer?

I was also looking at the organic replacement recipe for the cornell mix.

Many regards, and thanks in advance.


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dancinglemons(7B VA)

Hello Linette,

As I do not know what exactly is in the mix your local supplier sells I will only suggest what I do know. Your supplier may tell you "this is what all the growers use" and that is probably true but is he talking about growers who use SELF-WATERING and/or SUB-IRRIGATED planters?? I learned the hard way that our SWC mixes must be soil free - and around here that means free of compost.

Any mix that contains soil/dirt/sand will not work in a self-watering container because it will stay too wet and not 'wick' properly.

If you can not find Sunshine look for ProMix BX or make your own mix with bark fines/perlite/peat - be sure to add the fertilizers and dolomite if making your own mix. There are lots of recipes on this forum. Be cautious when making a potting mix recipe choice because you want a mix for self-watering containers.

Hope that helps a bit.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 5:03PM
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Thanks for your reply. I have seen a number of the recipes, and can certainly make my own mix. The compost make by Eko is soil free. From their website:

"What is it made of? EKO Compost is made from green and brown wood products (leaves, limbs, lawn clippings, wood chips, Christmas trees) and biosolids. They're composted over a 9 to 12 month process decomposing these feedstocks into a cured compost with an earthy aroma."

I was wondering if it was suitable instead of bark fines, which are, surprisingly enough, very difficult to find in Montana! I was wondering about the biosolids, which are a byproduct from the sewage treatment plant. I have used Eko compost in the past in my regular garden, lawn, etc, with very good success.

The majority of Eko is composed of ground limbs and christmas trees, which is what made me think of it. I can get the Eko in bulk for $26 a cubic yard. I am having a truck load brought in for my flowerbeds and garden area, which I use for lasagna style gardening to great effect.

I suppose I could experiment and do one of my four containers with the Eko this year and compare. I really don't like the idea of using petroleum based fertilizers as in most soils like Miracle Gro.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 8:32PM
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dancinglemons(7B VA)

We have biosolids here also from the sewage treatment in a compost product. I do not use it for food crops. The literature says it is safe but I do not use it. You can get bark fines from Home Depot in a bag labeled "Earthgro Ground Cover Bark" -- just make sure it is pine and not hardwood. When looking at the "Earthgro Ground Cover Bark" -- check to make sure the current stock is not all large chunks. I poke a hole in a bag and check for size - the guys who work there say most folks looking for fines also poke holes in their bags.

For self-watering containers (EarthTainer) the EKO might be a problem. The green wood might cause a problem with the wicking. You can get Miracle Gro Organic Potting Mix (not Miracle Gro Organic Garden Soil)which does not have petroleum ferts. The EKO compost is from sewage and other ingredients - it surely has petroleum products in it.

I wish one of the SWC experts would chime in here. I really think the EKO of which you speak is going to be trouble.

I'm not an expert and I only speak of things which have worked for me. I grow in 25 EarthBoxes and several EarthTainers. Been using the EarthBoxes for 4 (or 5) years and the EarthTainers for 2 years.


    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 3:11AM
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for the eko stuff can you post a picture too see what it looks like. if they are composted and the right size they should work.

for the biosolds, i would stay away.

i cant get promix and other stuff like it, so i have too make my own. which is a 3-3-2. and as of yesterday i made about 1500 gals of it :(. i have 3 different styles of swc's. from eb's to 100gal and it works fine. a ph test and adjusting the lime. i've changed out my ferts and a couple of other things but everything looks great.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 10:24AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Mrs. Greene,
no, the compost will not be a substitute for the bark fines.
Bark is durable, rich in Lignin and Suberin, and so it won't break down as quickly
as other components in the soil. The entire purpose of a bark-based mix is aeration,
drainage, and durability. Using compost as a base-filler would negate all the benefits.


    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 1:56PM
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Thanks. THere is a Lowe's about an hour from here. I can check for both the bark fines and the miracle gro organic. I live in a tiny little town of about 2000 folks on the Flathead Indian reservation. We have very limited shopping available here. The seed store is closed on Sundays so I can't even go look--pretty sure they had only garden soil, not mix. Ace does have happy frog--I think someone mentioned that? It is kind of pricy, about $12 c.f.

We are a timber state and in a timber region, so it is interesting to me that bark fines are difficult to find! It seems what there is is shipped out from other states...I guess pine bark produced here is used in other products or something. What I have come across is very fresh still, and mixed with sawdust.

Sounds like the eko is not suitable for swc. Thanks for explaining.

Terrybull, when you say you are doing 3-2-2, what are you mixing? Bark fines, perlite and peat? We also have a peat producer near here and I can get truckloads cheap! Yes, sphaghum peat. I am having a truckload of peat and a truckload of eko for my lasagna gardens soon. it has been raining raining raining here, bah. My garden is not in at all, so my tomatoes in the swc might be the extent of vegetable gardens this year.

I appreciate all of your assistance.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 6:13PM
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Looks like I could have promix shipped to my local Ace store, but would take 3-10 days. I won't be able to get to Lowe's until Tuesday at the earliest...

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 7:31PM
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3 parts peat moss
3 parts bark fines. the stuff i get has been composted. its not green.
2 parts perlite

the ph of it is about 4.7 and i raise it to a 6.5 with lime.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 10:08AM
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texasjack(Houston Tx)

Dear Mrs Greene,

A really dumb question....What is Lasagna Gardening ??

Texas Jack

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 5:39PM
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Texas Jack, lasagna gardening is a way of layering nutrients and compost to make gardening beds without having to till or dig....it is a nutrient dense method of growing and recycling things like leaves, newpaper/cardboard, grass clippings, etc. http://organicgardening.about.com/od/startinganorganicgarden/a/lasagnagarden.htm I have found it a very effective way of gardening in my area.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2012 at 11:49PM
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Peat is the magic ingredient for SWC gardening. Infact I grew in straight Peat moss when I was new. Bark chips and perlite are good for aeration but peat moss is what makes the thing work. I grow in Earth Boxes and I think they suggest a growing medium that is 70% peat.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 1:01AM
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uscgardener(USDA 9 Sunset 20/21)

Dancinglemons, if the SWC mix must be soil-free and contain no compost, does that mean you will need to depend on fertilizer (i.e. fertilizer strip like Raybo suggests)? Does this also mean no worm castings?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2012 at 5:58PM
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Update--got my maters started way late last year but had quite good luck with them using the 3-3-2 mix terrybull cited. Finally found pine bark fines under the name soil prep at our local Ace.

Am getting started earlier this year, planting maters this weekend!

I plan to replace 1/3 of the old mixture with the new.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 5:33PM
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Hi, I have an IBC tote with dimensions of 38' x 46" x 19 1/2" deep. What would be the best dimensions for the water reservoir ( 7, 8, or 9" ) verses the grow area ( 10 1/2 to 12 1/2". I am planning on using a potting mix of approx. 60% peat, 20% vermiculite, and 20% perlite.
I would like a deeper grow area will this mix allow for enough wicking capillary action?
Many thanks, Tonz

    Bookmark   February 11, 2014 at 7:00PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

You only need a minimal volume for the water reservoir. Better to give the the upper grow area more room for potting mix. The only downside is a more frequent watering cycle.


    Bookmark   February 11, 2014 at 7:05PM
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Hi, thanks, I'll be heading up the mountains to work on the beds tomorrow. This is greatly appreciate.
I'll be using a 27 gallon sump with a float to refill the reservoir, so I should be good with the watering cycle.

Excellent, my concern was weather the grow mix would be able to wick moisture up to the top of the grow media. Based on your reply I will increase the grow area to 15" with a 5" reservoir. This will allow me to grow more root veggies.

Thank you so much, I am really looking forward to this.
Be well, Tony

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 12:13AM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

The EarthTainer uses a 4" water reservoir, for reference. See Final Construction Guide below.


Here is a link that might be useful: Final EarthTainer Guide

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 1:25AM
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Raybo, great tutorial. I will be building incorporating your extensive info starting today. Time to head to Home Depot, thanks.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 8:59AM
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