My Container Mix Trials and Tomato Patch in N. Calif Dec 5 pics

rnewste(8b NorCal)December 5, 2009

Days are in the mid 60s with nights falling to the low 40s. Plant growth has slowed considerably, but vegetables are still ripening.

Here is my Indian Stripe which is beginning to blush:

Tomatoes are quite large (bigger than my Cherokee Purple)

Yolo Wonder Peppers continue to mature:

The Container Mix trials continue on. I am REALLY happy with the 3:2:1 combo of Potting Mix, Bark Fines, and Perlite. The plant (Cherokee Purple) continues to be green from bottom to top:

I continue to be surprised at what small differences in the Container Mix formulation yields. Here are Pepper plants on the right, in a 3:3:2 ratio of Potting Mix, Redwood Compost, and Perlite; and the two plants on the left in the same 3:3:2 ratio but with Potting Mix, Bark Fines, and Perlite:

My Carmello is producing well, even with the cooler weather now. A few of these will be on the dinner table tonight:

Raybo

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rawb(5, Erie shoreline)

Raybo,,, Looking good!

Here on the shore of Lake Erie I am already in preplanning mode. ! Sure do envy you warm all yr folk! LoL

    Bookmark   December 7, 2009 at 1:37AM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

Hey rawb,

I lived in Orchard Park, NY. for several years and endured some brutal Winters there. The Blizzard of '77/'78 was my most memorable. Been out here since 1983 and while nice to visit, I don't want to be driving on I-90 along the shore of Lake Erie in a snow storm ever again!!

Stay warm.

Raybo

    Bookmark   December 7, 2009 at 1:42PM
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mendopete

That is beautiful.I got to get my greenhouse up. Are the bark fines redwood, other conifer or hardwood?

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 1:33AM
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beachplant(9b)

You know, I never thought of using those storage tubs. I've got a couple without lids. I've made vermiculture tubs from them. Think I'll drag them up to the deck next week when I'm off and start some peppers.
Those tomatoes look very tasty!
Tally HO!

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 10:22AM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

I am not sure of the Bark Fines composition. I am sure and conifer type bark will do well. Just try to "age" it a bit for 6 months before using it.

See the pile on the right. About the size of a Nickel, or so:

I get these in 2 cubic ft. bags at Home Depot:

Raybo

Here is a link that might be useful: EarthTainer II WaterMizer Edition Guide

    Bookmark   December 10, 2009 at 8:42PM
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ferretbee(5b)

Hi Raybo,

I was lookng over the latest ET pdf and noticed that your landscape fabric separates your wicking and soil chambers. I can't remember if this was the case in earlier iterations.

I'm mentioning it because I believe that landscape fabric slows down water transfer. I'm not certain how much, but it was enough to cause a 'mini disaster' in 2 of my bucket containers last year. I had taped a small square of 15yr landscape fabric over the inside of the overflow hole to keep out 'skeeters, but the resistance of the fabric allowed the water level to reach the soil bench and supersaturated them. The transplants quickly died before I caught the problem.

I'd always cut a hole in the fabric for the wicking chamber, and also lined the wicking chamber. Your way is a lot easier, and should do a better job of keeping roots out. I don't know if it would make a difference in the wicking between the chambers, but it could be another variable.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 3:53PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

ferretbee,

Putting the landscape fabric over the overflow hole(s) is a formula for disaster. Yes, it will keep mosquitoes out, but it will quickly clog with the residual potting mix that floats in the water reservoir. This will cause the user to over-flood the water reservoir and eventually drown the plant's roots.

Also, it is EXTREMELY important to keep a contiguous junction between the moist potting mix in the wicking basket, and the bulk potting mix in the container above the landscape fabric. As the potting mix will compress over time, it is important to not get an air-gap between the landscape fabric, and the wicking basket's potting mix.

So, like a cupcake top, you need to make a 1 inch dome of potting mix in the wicking basket BEFORE you lay down the landscape fabric to then fill the rest of the SWC. Then, as the potting mix in the wicking basket compresses down over time, the mix above the landscape fabric will maintain a constant seal for constant moisture transfer.

Raybo

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 6:59PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

ferretbee,

Putting the landscape fabric over the overflow hole(s) is a formula for disaster. Yes, it will keep mosquitoes out, but it will quickly clog with the residual potting mix that floats in the water reservoir. This will cause the user to over-flood the water reservoir and eventually drown the plant's roots.

Also, it is EXTREMELY important to keep a contiguous junction between the moist potting mix in the wicking basket, and the bulk potting mix in the container above the landscape fabric. As the potting mix will compress over time, it is important to not get an air-gap between the landscape fabric, and the wicking basket's potting mix.

So, like a cupcake top, you need to make a 1 inch dome of potting mix in the wicking basket BEFORE you lay down the landscape fabric to then fill the rest of the SWC. Then, as the potting mix in the wicking basket compresses down over time, the mix above the landscape fabric will maintain a constant seal for constant moisture transfer.

Raybo

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 7:03PM
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ferretbee(5b)

Putting the landscape fabric over the overflow hole(s) is a formula for disaster.

Most definitely (as I quickly learned). My point is that it didn't even have to clog with dirt, just the new fabric alone was enough to raise the water level above the overflow hole and to the soil bench. When I first realized my mistake I tried to punch holes through the fabric, and even then it kept the water from draining properly. I don't know if landscape fabric has an effect on draining and wicking when buried in soil, but I suspect it does.

I brought it up because I was wondering if you have always installed your landscape fabric this way. If you had some ETs that had openings over the wicking basket, and others with intact fabric, it could skew trial results.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2010 at 9:55PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

ferretbee,

The landscape fabric is water permeable so it does not inhibit water transfer through the fabric. I never cut the fabric as roots would then shoot through the opening and into the water reservoir / wicking basket.

Raybo

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 1:03AM
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donna_h(Zone 4-b)

Great pics and updates Raybo! Your plants are looking fabulous.

Ya know...you set a very high standard for the rest of us...;=)

Donna H.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 7:18PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

Hi Dona,

Thanks. I just try to publish my experiments and findings so that others can draw their on conclusions on what might work better in their own application and climate.

Seedlings for my 2010 tomato crop were started on Dec 22, and are now about 2 inches high. Looking forward to trialing several new potting mix combos and fertilizers this coming Season.

Raybo

    Bookmark   January 5, 2010 at 7:32PM
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donna_h(Zone 4-b)

Hi Ray:

I have been assembling all the information I have 'gleaned' from this forum and I'm getting prepped for the 2010 season also so I have been quite interested in your trials.

From the (ongoing) results of your mixes, I see that you are partial to the 3:2:1 potting mix, bark fines, perlite as well as 3:3:2 potting mix, bark fines, perlite. Based on how well the plants are doing, are you finding any significant difference in the wicking and/or collapsing tendencies between these two thus far? And what about nutrients? Are you supplementing regularly or just depending solely on the 'strip'?

I think it was Al who suggested a 7:2:1:1 combo of bark fines, peat, perlite, vermiculite for SWC's in one of the threads. I had considered trying this combo, but once I saw you were doing trials, I decided to wait. After seeing your photos, I think you may be on to something!

Donna H.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 6:10PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

Donna,

My trials where Bark fines exceeded the ratio of Potting Mix resulted in poor tomato plant development. Perhaps with other vegetables this high ratio of Bark Fines might work, but it didn't produce the kind of results I experienced with the 3:2:1 ratio of Potting Mix, Bark Fines, Perlite in that order.

To be sure, you should experiment on your own to see what ratio works best for your local climate and rain pattern. I will be focusing most of my SWC 2010 Season on the 3:2:1 and 3:3:1 mix combos.

Raybo

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 7:47PM
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donna_h(Zone 4-b)

Thanks for the input Raybo!

Your side-by-side trials confirm what I had already suspected. Having never grown in bark fines, I wasn't sure exactly how I wanted to proceed.

You are correct that I will have to test for my area's specific weather conditions in order to determine what works here in Wisconsin, but I was already leaning toward a mix that was very close to your 3:3:2 since some of my indoor grown veggies are responding very well to a faster draining, more porous mix. Yes...I know that using the mix indoors is not going to be indicative of growing outdoors, but at least it gives me somewhere to start.

I so appreciate your trials and of course, your expertise with SWC's!

Donna H.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 10:19AM
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bdank

Hi Raybo,
I always enjoy your posts and experiments. I've been reading your latest posts about improving the SWC potting mix by adding pine bark fines and perlite. I was wondering what your plans are for reusing this mix. Won't the pine bark fines break down over time?

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 3:28PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

bdank,

You are absolutely correct that the Bark Fines will indeed breakdown over time. In the next Rev of the Guide I am going to recommend making the re-fill mix with a 2:3:1 ratio of Potting Mix, Bark Fines, and Perlite. This should balance out the total Combo Mix to "stabilize" it at a 3:2:1 ratio over several re-use Seasons. More trials to continue this Season...

Raybo

    Bookmark   March 27, 2010 at 9:57PM
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nikken007

Do you think this 3:2:1 formula would work in North Carolina where it is warm and humid? Since it is more humid in the East than in California, would I need to adjust the mix so that it is less absorbent? What do you use for the potting mix? Thanks.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 1:27PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

nik,

All I can do is post what works for me in N. California. Yes, we have a drier climate than you do, but the thing I can say is that the 3:2:1 ratio Combo Mix drains better than my former experience with 100% Potting Mix only. So for North Carolina, I think the 3:2:1 mix is a good place to start. You may also want to trial the "drier" 3:3:2 ratio as well to compare how both perform in your climate.

Raybo

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 2:21PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

nik,

To your question on the Potting Mix I use, Lowes carries Sta-Green which in my area, is about 35% less expensive on a cubic ft. basis than Miracle-Gro.

Works great!

Raybo

    Bookmark   April 8, 2010 at 3:01PM
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robertbay(9)

Raybo, Thanks for the help, I am using the 3:2:1 for my large SWCs, pardon the dumb question, but are all your containers "self watering" with a basket and wicking action, or do you experiment with watering from the top via emitters/by hand? The reason I ask is last year I had prolific but mealy tomatoes due to probably inconsistent moisture levels during every day/night cycle, the large containers would dry out overnight, then when watered in the morning the wicking would saturate the mix (I used HP Pro Mix with no bark fines, big mistake). In other words I think my problem was the mix lacking drainage and structure, and watering via a reservoir in a large container was not the problem, does that make sense? This year I found fir bark fines (sifted to 1/4 inch size) so I am going with your 3:2:1, curious to see if the wicking action is affected by fir bark in the mix, it shouldn't since the reservoir pond basket contains 100% peat/perlite and I have good contact between reservoir and landscape fabric

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 7:32PM
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rnewste(8b NorCal)

Robert,

Wow, this is an old Thread!!

All of my EarthTainers are fed by the EarthBox Automated Watering System, adapted to the depth of the EarthTainer water reservoir. I am now using Sunshine Mix #4 instead of Sta-Green and Miracle-Gro Potting Mix. I am getting excellent growth results to date:

Your addition of the Microbark to make the 3:2:1 Combo Mix should provide you with excellent results this Season.

Raybo

    Bookmark   May 28, 2011 at 7:38PM
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