Organic Potting Mix

TheMasterGardener1(5B)December 6, 2011

Hi everyone. First off if anyone has some good ingrediants for a good mix please tell me. Ok, Here is the question, when using store bought bags of compost in a potting mix how long does it need to sit after I mix it with the other ingredients. 1 week 2 week? Should I have got a bag in fall before they were gone to let stablize in the mix overwinter? I believe I heard that somwhere, being unexperienced in organic container gardening I am not sure how long it needs to sit. Please any info would be great ;) Thanks

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Many decades ago when I first began gardening, I wish someone had told me how very different containerized growing is from growing in the ground or garden. I wish someone had explained the huge differences to me, and told me about the "how & why" of soils and the basics of science and physics, as they pertain to growing in pots.

The short version is... within the organic environment of the garden, Mother Nature keeps an entire army of worms, insects, micro-organisms, nematodes, bacterias, fungi, and other creatures all diligently working in harmony to break down organic matter into usable nutrition for uptake by a plant' roots. Everything works together to maintain aeration, drainage, structure, and a balance of other things, like PH, etc...

Within the confined space of a container, that same living work force is not present... and it's next to impossible to maintain the same environment to keep everything structurally intact and favorably balanced.

And so, it's much easier and more workable to save the more organic methods for the garden, and rely a little more on an inorganic approach for growing within the confined space of containers.

One of the first things we need to know about growing in containers, if we want optimal results, is that the medium we choose makes up the foundation of our planting. And knowing what the actual purposes a medium serves helps us determine the best foundation, or medium.

All the information needed is contained here, within this forum, in a thread called "Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIV", linked below.

Some will say that organic methods work fine in pots, but that has not been my experience, not does what I've learned support that idea... there are simply too many factors at play that negate adequately maintaining a balanced organic environment.

Here is a link that might be useful: Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIV

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 4:35AM
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Very well said Jodi. Unfortunately gardeners are not good at shifting gears when going from the garden soil to the potting soil in a container, but we TRY. Al

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 9:35AM
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I think you may be looking a little too deep into it. I have used store bought organic potting mix's, I used no fertilizer,no additional inoculants, it preformed very well?. (I just need to know some hints on a good mix)

I understand synthetic fertilizers are instantly available to the plant not requiring microbes to break down organic material thus allowing one to have more consistant, better drainage mixs than organic mix's which need organisms to break it down. I like in-organics in that you can have a small container with a huge plant in it and water/fertilize every day, were if it was organic you would need a much larger container that could not be watered as frequently. For the most part I always have used in-organic fertilizer in containers for the simple reason stated above. This year I want to grow organic greens in containers.

Also, if any has any information about biochar and how much to use and what wood is best, I am still unfamiliar with it and want to use it to replace perlite. Thanks.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 4:21PM
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I always thought organic was natural materials of the earth undulterated such as volcanic pumice, perlite, fired clay pieces, peat, bark, crushed stones and so on.

If so then that is easy. Jodi has explained it well why we use products as so and why plants have a much higher success rate with products like these as my plants now do.

I always wonder what a person really means when they say 'organic'?

Could you mean organics such as in, worm compost, leaf mold, cow manure, bat gwamo, fish emulsion, rotted foods and things like that that rot then breakdown even further in within a container without all the beneficials that one would have to constantly inject and hope survive?

If so then Jodi has done very well explaining how everything works in the confines of a container and whay its better in the ground and has hooked you up to a great article out of the kindness of her heart and to see you see great results!

Or you could do this.......That is if you mean stuff that decomposes and rots.

Make a compost pile starting now with everything but the kitchen sink and meats until it all decomposes until the following summer. I would say to make a pile of waste fruit scraps, peels, egg shells, fish left overs, coffee grinds, vegi scraps, grass, leaves and the like, then scoop that stuff up alive with all the stuff Jodi says needed to make it work in a garden when it's fluffy and black, and hope they live organisms live long, and the compost along with soil holds its structure long enough to do the job in your pots;-)
Warning: You might be shoveling more worms than you want into your pots and have an abundant of fungus gnats with time.
I have a friend that tries this route with his houseplants and it works for the very short term, then fails, but can grow vegi's in a pot no longer than one season, that is a month or so before the soil collasps and fails his plants.

That's my info:-)


    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 5:13PM
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Thank you everyone for taking the time to respond, it is greatly aprreciated.

The big question is how long should I let my mix sit before I plant in it? Can I mix the compost with the bark/peat/ect... then plant right away or should it sit. I see mix's that are ready to use and some that need to be wetted then left to sit for a week or so before planting.

Again, this wont be for long term planting, only for a season.

Also, a question about bagged store bought poultry manure. Anyone know why they dont list any micronutrients on the lable only the NPK exampl 3-2-2. I looked up the elements that are in poultry manure composted and there are every micro nutrient that a plant needs. Why is it not on the lable, any reason? Is it that there is not alot, I see there is a good amount of Ca and others in poultry compost, why are they not listed?

Thanks everyone for the info

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 7:41PM
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I believe fertilizer labeling is regulated by the government. Manufacturers are only required to list NPK. They are not required to list secondary macros (e.g. calcium) or micronutrients-though many choose to include these on the label as well.

Poultry manure is not a significant source of calcium UNLESS it comes from layer hens - their diets are supplemented with calcium. Unless you're procuring the manure locally, there's probably no way to know for sure *what* you're getting.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 9:48AM
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There is a lot more to know than the little bit of basic information I supplied above. Those bits of information are just a few of the building blocks needed to apply to container growing, but the idea was to pique your interest so you would do the reading and research necessary to learn the rest.

For our purposes, "organic" means able to decompose in a timely fashion. Inorganic would apply more to items that do not decompose, or take a long time to break down... things that hold their structure, like fir bark. Within the Gritty Mix, the most organic ingredient would be the fir bark... in the 511, it would be the peat.

Just throwing a handful of worms into your pot of bagged, peat based soil will not give you the environment necessary. There's a rather complicated, interdependent relationship of things and actions that goes on within soil, or in the ground... all factors working together to turn decomposing organic matter into usable food that is available for immediate uptake by plant roots.

I would not add compost to a container, so I can't answer any questions related.

There are four little words many "gardeners" use on an all too frequent basis... and they are "it works for me". While that may be true to a certain extent, that does not tell anyone else how well it worked, what that person's expectations are or were, and what they are willing to settle for when it comes to "optimal results".

When I say optimal results, I'm talking about the genetic and environmental best that a plant can possibly be grown to... not what the average grower considers to be his or her personal best.

That being said, there's no such thing as looking too deeply into the mechanics of container growing... IF a grower wants optimal results. It's really not that complicated from a knowledge/learning standpoint. It's all written in black and white within the article I originally linked to, already broken down into layman's terms.

If you're happy with the average results that a bagged, silty soil gives you, then I can be of no further assistance. You've already decided that you know enough about growing to proceed without reading further.

Happy Gardening.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 4:01PM
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So you are saying there is no way to grow organically in containers? I undersand it is ideal to use in-organics in containers, like I stated above. Just want to do an organic salad garden in a small section of my container garden, nothing long term.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 5:24PM
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Jodi did not say there is no way.

What she did say is that if you want 'Optimal Results', organic mixes are not the way to go.

If you want just 'Average' results, then feel free to use any mix you think is best for your needs.

If you should choose to want 'optimal' results, then I would read those articles that she speaks of by Al.

Good luck


    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 6:47PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Organics may take up to six months before certain nutrients become available to the plants.
Thus, organic feeding is difficult, unpredictable, and generally requires more material to make up
for the unreliable nutrients and nutrient ratios generated.

So you see, the question of how long to let the mixture sit is quite impossible to answer.
When it comes to organic nutrient availability, it's simply unknowable in this case.

Can you place your containers directly on the earth to make them, in effect, mini raised beds?
That would be one method to mitigate the excess moisture from the fine particulate.

Can you shade the containers so that the sun/heat won't cook your microbial populations
necessary for making nutrients available?

Try it, take copious notes, and lots of pictures. Then you can compare the growth of plants
in your various media.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 6:53PM
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"Try it, take copious notes, and lots of pictures. Then you can compare the growth of plants
in your various media."
I found this a very inersting point, Thanks.

I look at a bag of MG organic potting mix and I see it gets its nutrients from poultry litter, I just wonder what would be a good time to let the mix settle using standerd quality bagged poultry manure compost.

jodik, I am on the in-organic side when it comes to container growing, maybe I will see the results are not the best in my organic mix.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 7:23PM
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mastergardener - it absolutely is possible to grow organically in containers. I've been doing it for years and it can work quite well. I've also used synthetic ferts and had success with them. I've included a link to an article that argues for moderation when considering the benefits of "organic." It's quite good and, IMO, a well-balanced discussion.

In my humble opinion, the many well-meaning and extremely beneficial posts in the container forum (specifically the ones promoting the 5-1-1- and/or gritty mixes) are marginalized by the advocation for one specific method to the exclusion of all other forms and methods of container gardening. Do you really believe that true gardeners use your methods while "gardeners" (your quotes, not mine) use other methods? Or that everyone who doesn't use these mixes only aspires to be "average?" I agree wholeheartedly that these mixes are, in most situations, excellent. If they're too finicky for some--or if others simply prefer a different approach--does that make them "gardeners" instead of gardeners?

Last year I grew many of my container tomatoes and peppers in modified 5-1-1. Half were set-up with drip irrigation using Dyna-Gro FP. The other half were fed strictly organic ingredients. You know what? The "organically" fed plants out-performed the "in-organic" plants - not by a long shot, but there was a clear difference in vigor and fruit production. Call me a "gardener" if you like, but I'm enough of a gardener to be open-minded about the different methods and materials available to me and will continue to experiment using different types of mixes and ferts.

Here is a link that might be useful: organic agriculture

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 10:52AM
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ykerzner(9 TX)

So did you buy bagged compost or organic potting mix? That potting mix is only organic in the sense that it probably doesn't have any synthetic fertilizers at very low amounts. Most bagged composts can be used right away. If you see that the compost is not thoroughly broken down (and smells like humus) then you should return it.

You should know that the bagged compost will compact fairly quickly in a container.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 12:29PM
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I read that article and saw nothing about container gardening in there?
Did I miss something?
I did learn alot about 'humus' and how it helps garden soils/agriculture, and now I am going to use the gallon jug I have next spring for sure.

Thanks for that.

Also, in all the years I have been growing plants in containers, the majority of people I know have lousy results using organic soils in their pots.

For those that do, they are rare and have no concrete ways of guiding those that don't how to be successful doing it the 'organic' way.


    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 1:34PM
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Mike -

I didn't intend for the article to be pertinent specifically to container gardening. However, it's instructive for folks who are considering "organic" - whether it's in a container or field situation.

To clarify my earlier post, I'm not promoting the use of compost or manure in a container situation (I rarely use them even in the garden plot, simply because I believe there are better sources of organic matter and nutrients). My point is more about fertility. I disagree that organic fertilizers cannot be used successfully in containers. FP may work and work very well for many people--as I mentioned, I use it myself--but it is inaccurate and misleading to say that other approaches are invalid.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 1:57PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I use all organic methods in-ground gardening, and all synthetic in container gardening.

Fortyonenorth, I think you should keep in mind that Al's recipes are "starting points."
Insofar as "all gardening is local," each of us must necessarily tailor the mix to his and her unique situation.
For example, I use uncomposted bark always, and I screen my bark. I don't use peat moss, either -
prefering instead Turface, Pumice, Perlite, and even additional bark fines from the screening process.

Anyhow, I mentioned that the original poster ought to document the process in order to arrive
at his own conclusions (with evidence).


    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 7:15PM
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fortyonenorth, I thank you for the info, I will check that link out. You lost me with the "gardeners" thing. ;)

Thanks again everyone.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 9:45PM
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