All Natural vs Synthetic Comparison: Update Sep 20 2011

emgardenerOctober 16, 2011

Here' an end of the year update to my All Natural versus Synthetic container growing experiment.

The pictures below were taken on Sept 20, 2011

The previous posts are at:

http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/contain/msg06185055362.html

http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/contain/msg0518184613195.html

Overall this proved quite instructive for me with the following conclusions:

1. Forest mix prevents transplant shock wilting. Totally unexpected result.

2. Compost mix wilted some when transplanted, but not as much as the gritty mix.

3. The gritty mix needed to be fertilized and watered much more frequently then the organic mixes. Ultimately I gave up on the gritty mix containers. Since I watered with a drip system, I could not easily adjust them to water one container more than another. And if I watered a lot more the organic mixes would have been too wet.

4. One gritty mix container I dumped out and put in a 50:50 mix of peat and bark. Then fertilized with FP. This one did well, but since it had such a late start the pepper planted didn't get big.

5. The compost mix and forest mix pepper containers, ended up producing about the same amount of peppers. They did quite well and produced a lot. Even though the compost mix peppers wilted at the start of the season and basically didn't start growing until 3 weeks after the forest mix peppers, the compost mix pepper plants ended up bigger. But the forest mix pepper plants were stocker and stronger. The leaves were much tougher than the compost mix pepper plants. And the forest mix peppers were easier to keep fertilzed, didn't have to add the HLF as often to keep the leaves green. But since it is easier to prepare the compost mix and it produced the same amount of fruit, I'll use this one in the future for all my peppers.

6. The eggplant in the gritty mix was doing horribly, so I dumped it and made it into another pepper container with 50:50 peat:bark mixture, fed it FP and it did fine, but due to late start didn't produce much.

7. The eggplant in the compost mix didn't do so well. Another surprise. Last year the eggplant in the organic mix did well. But last year I purposely put the drainage hole 4" up the side of the pot. This meant that after watering, the bottom of the pot was in 4" of sitting water (just the opposite of a good drainage system). The pot this year, it had normal good drainage. However whenever I stuck my fingers into the mix after a complete soaking with a hose for over a minute, the mix about 4" deep would be completely dry! And this is in just a compost mix which doesn't get hydrophobic. I believe that the extensive and thick eggplant root system allowed the water to flow down the pot without wetting the mix. Next year I'll add some clay soil to the mix to see if this helps.

I'll post pictures of this problem in a different post.

Overall I came to realize that the gritty mix can be useful, but it probably shines most in wet climates, not as much in dry hot ones. Unless as some posters have indicated, you water a lot and fertilize regularly.

Because of the watering problems of trying to combine a gritty mix and compost mix containers in the same drip system, I couldn't get a good comparison between which fertilizer system did better. The organic fertilizer (ashes and HLF) buckets, 2 peppers, 1 basil did great.

Next year I'll just add one bucket with 50:50 peat & bark mix and use FP for that one. So I can see what difference the fertilizer makes.

End of year, 6 containers.

Front row left to right:

1. peppers in gritty mix. What happens when you aren't willing to water and fertilizer regularly as gritty mix requires.

2. Eggplant in compost mix, did ok, but not so good. Mix would not wet below about 3-4" from top no matter how much watered.

3. Basil in compost, did great as usual. Mix did wet ok, much better than eggplant pot.

Back row left to right:

1. Peppers in compost mix, did well, lots of peppers.

2. Was eggplant in gritty mix, but dumped half way through and replanted with peppers in peat:bark mix, fertilized with FP. Did good, but too late for good harvest.

3. Peppers in forest mix. Did great, no transplant shock. Plants stocky and tougher than compost mix pepper. Harvest about the same.

Peppers in forest mix.

Pepper in compost mix.

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