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Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Posted by Jessicasgrowincitrus WA State Zone 8 (My Page) on
Thu, Mar 10, 11 at 10:28

I came to this forum a few weeks ago in an attempt to find out why my less than a year-old Meyer Lemon was dropping some of its leaves. The older leaves were turning yellow and falling off. Having never owned any plant other than the house plants you can get at Fred Meyer that dangle down (I am not even sure what they are called!! But I always seemed to have had success with them.) I was very concerned.

Buying a citrus I knew would be a jump for me and I was ready to take on the responsibility of doing it right, but I needed some help figuring out what was wrong. When I bought my tree I researched lighting, watering, fertilizer, temperature and its soil needs but it was still failing. Devastated I was going to loose my tree I turned to this forum.

After reading several forums I was still a bit confused. I was not confident that I had discovered the exact root of my problem, and was not sure how to ask the proper questions on the forums to get this figured out. So I reached out to Meyer Mike for some guidance and possible mentoring me on Meyer Lemon and my new found citrus obsession. He has been such a HUGE help!


After tweaking my lighting situation and evaluating the history of problems I have had with my tree (I won't go into detail about my Gnats, or Spider Mite experiences, but lets just say the next time those things come around -- I will be ready for them!) we discovered my error: I made the biggest rookie move possible. I planted my tree in plain ol' Miracle Grow Potting Soil..... :( Hey-- I get some credit, I did add a ton of Perolite to it. I thought that would be enough to make it "well draining soil".
So the hunt for the proper soil components began. I live in the Washington State and I noticed that most of the people participating on this forum are from the East coast, so I was having a very hard time finding the ingredients needed for Al's 1:1:1 Gritty Mix.

I have decided that seeing how I was so lucky to have so many people generously jump in to assist me and answer my questions (even going as far as personally answering my tons of emails, texts and phone calls on the side!!!!) It is time I pay it forward and put all I have learned into one post for people in Washington State/ the greater Pacific Northwest area to see where they can get the ingredients required for the 1:1:1 Gritty mix and how to put it all together.

Hopefully someday, someone will come along and find all they need right here. :)

Thanks all for helping to ensure I have many more years of successfully citrus growing ahead of me! I am very grateful.

~Jessica's Growin' Citrus

The three components needed for Al's Gritty mix are a 1:1:1 ratio of:
1 part Bark Fines
1 part Turface
1 part Granite

You may also need a bag of "Gypsum - Calcium Sulfate" IF you are NOT using Foliage Pro 9:3:6. If you have chosen to use Foliage Pro as your fertilizer you will not need the calcium. (The Foliage Pro is HIGHLY recommended by several experienced growers on these forums! I had to buy mine on line, it is not available in stores in my area.)
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Now before I go any further I must put out my **disclaimer**: This is the process I went through to create my gritty mix. I am going to list all the alternative ingredients that I came across and where I found the ingredients I decided on. I know others may have additional opinions or suggestions on what worked for them, and I welcome them to voice their opinions here as well so that we all might learn together. Hopefully this mix will work for you too.

This is just my two cents.

Put on your working boots and get to it!
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Bark-
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The bark fines need to be un-composted and between 1/8"-1/4" in size. (1/8-1/4 if using Fir bark & 1/8-3/8 if using Pine bark.)

The goal of this soil is to have a 1:1:1 ratio of partials, with each partial being just about the same size. (The bark is going to be averaging about the same size as your biggest piece of granite and Turface.)
I went with the suggestion to use Repti Bark. It is an un-composted pine bark that is used in reptile tanks. You can buy Repti Bark at Petco or Pets Mart. It comes in two size bags ranging from $8.99ish to $16.99ish here in the Pacific Northwest.

The bark is almost perfect right out of the bag, but some of the partials are a little too big, I would suggest putting the bark in between two sheets, or in a sturdy garbage bag spread about 1 layer thick and pound the larger pieces until they meet the 1/8-1/4 size requirement. I know people have used it as-is right out of the bag, but it was suggested to me that I make the pieces just a little smaller to ensure that they will go in-between all the roots. If you do not, then you run the risk of air pockets in your root ball.

You will then want to sift your bark to get out the very finest partials and dust. I used my Bonsai sieve with the 1/8" screen and insect screen on top of that to filter my pine bark.

You should have very little bark fine waste.

**Be sure to soak your bark for at least an hour before use in your pots! Otherwise you may find you are having to water your newly transplanted plants allot initially.

Granite-
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Granite was harder to find in my area than the bark. Really hard actually.

What you are looking for is "Chicken Grit" (not "Chick" grit that is too small) it is commonly referred to as size #2 or "Growers Size" Grit. The Chicken grit should average 1/8"- 1/4" in size.

I found several feed stores in my area that had Chicken Grit with calcium added and Chicken Grit made out of other types of rock but the grit with calcium was going to throw off the Ph in my soil, and honestly I did not want to play mad scientist all the time trying to get the Ph, just right, so I decided to wait until I found the correct grit. Just straight-crushed granite.

Some people have used other types of grit with success as well. Cherrystone Grit is common too. I am sure that would work just as well if you can not find pure granite grit. I went with pure granite grit.

Sift your granite to remove the smallest partials and dust. You should also rinse your granite to remove even more dust partials.

I ended up finding my granite by happy accident at De Young's Farm and Garden in Woodinville. (They are right next door to Molbaks off NE175th St) Their phone number is: (425) 483-9600. I was going to Molbaks one morning to buy my Mason bees and their reader board read that the chicks were in. Well, chicks need Chicken Grit! So I stopped in and sure enough -- BINGO!-- They had just what I needed!!! They do not have a web site, so I had no idea they were even there! SCORE!

They also carry Turface from time to time. Unfortunately they will not have it this season because they were stuck with a lot of it after last season and are not sure there is enough demand to keep it in stock.... But is worth asking if they happen to have any in stock if you are going all the way up there to get your granite!

On the right is the sifted Granite Grit, on the left are the smaller partials that will not be used.
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Turface-
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Also VERY hard to find. :( I am not sure if it is because of the time of year that I am looking for it or not (late winter/early spring) but I came very close to ordering it on line and having it mailed to me!

Luckily Josh jumped in on the forum and told me that I can get it through Ewing Irrigation here in Washington (Oregon too?)! They have several locations to choose from and carry Turface year round! YAY! Their web site is:
http://www.ewing1.com/index.htm (Roughly $15.00 per bag)
**If you can not find Turface near you a possible alternative is Napa Floor Dry #8822 from Napa Auto Parts. ($8.99 or so) Be sure to wear a long sleeves and a mask when sifting floor dry. There will be a lot of partials in the air.
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You will need to screen your Turface as well. I used my 1/8 screen. Unfortunately you will have a lot of waste with the Turface. About half the bag ended up in my yard. :( It may be worth it to pick up two bags while you are there) I panicked and called Mike to verify that I should be sifting out that much!

On the left is the sifted Turface, on the right are the smaller partials that will not be used.
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This is my Line up:
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This is my Bonsai Sieve. You can find these at Bonsai supply stores and on line. There is only one Bonsai store I could find and it is in Tukwila, but I was impatient and ordered mine on EBay. (The sieve cost roughly $30.00! - But it is the perfect tool for the job!) You could also make your own sieve or use different size strainers from the grocery store.
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I would also recommend picking up some Drywall Tape (or something) to cover the holes in the bottom of your pot so your soil does not slip out the bottom. Drywall tape is the perfect solution.
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My workspace. See all the Turface and granite lost to the yard? Be prepared. I should have put down a tarp to capture it�. And yes, I was working late into the night to get this finished!
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TA DA! My assembled 1:1:1 Gritty Mix!
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I mixed up a bunch of extra and stored it in a bin in my garage in anticipation of getting more citrus in the next few months. :)


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Superb presentation, Jessica!

I wanted to mention that it wasn't I who suggested Ewing...as much as I'd like to take the credit! ;-)
I think (?) it was Mksmith (another Mike). I only suggested a Turf supply (golf course, sporting field).
I'm really glad you found your products, though!

With the Turface, you should use a 1/16 inch insect screen and you will retain much more material.


Josh


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Oh, I should go through my notes again and double check who my Turface Savior was!

I had a feeling I should have used a smaller screen. :( Unfortunately my Bonsai Sieve came with three screens, but not the right three screens. I received one 1/8" screen and two 1/4" screens. The vendor is in the process of shipping me the 1/16" screen now.

I think I am happy with the way my Turface screened out, but it would have been nice to not have lost as much.... I will use the 1/16" for sure next time!

Thanks!

~Jessica


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experience

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 10, 11 at 13:45

You certainly went through a lot of effort, Jessica! Very helpful and nicely presented! Great job!

Al


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Great demo, Jessica! Well done! :-)

This, right here, is what gardening is all about, folks... sharing what we've learned, so the next person can have a positive, successful experience in growing, too!

It might sound cliche', but we do reap what we sow... and Jess has a lot of good karma coming her way! :-)

I'm just so happy that some of the fallacies and old wive's tales about container growing are finally being put to rest... that the truth is gaining ground over the misinformation so common within the realm of growing. If I had learned the basic facts about gardening many years ago, instead of blindly accepting what passes for common knowledge, I'd be so much further ahead in my successes.

Here's to your growing success, Jess! Now that the door has been opened, I hope you continue to expand your knowledge, and find true enjoyment in your growing! And Mike and the rest of us will be here, ready to offer support should you need it! :-)


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Jodik is right!

We will be here for you and good Karma will certainly follow you in my eyes since I have felt it radiating from you. Jodik and many others have been there for me after so many years.

I must say that 'Al' is the one that started me on the same journey as you without ever expecting a thing from me except that I succeed in my growing skills, and to share what I have learned with others.
It was also 'Al' that sent me my 'free' supplies and a bag of the gritty mix itself. He sent me fertilizer to get me started until Foliage Pro came out.

I promised that I would too pay it forward and teach those what I have learned from those that has taught me.

I am ever so grateful to meet people like you are open minded and willing to give something a chance that otherwise many others would criticize.
Trying something new can be difficult for many, and staying with old habits and older views can be easier to stick with and that is why we are here for each other.

There are many more waiting in the wings to grow this way, whether behind the scenes or publically to see their plants grow even better than they could ever imagine.

Thank you Jessica for sharing this wonderful presentation and I hope your plants reward you more than ever for all your hard work!

It's not hard to share when you see and experience something good, and you have already begun that.

Bravo:-)))

Give yourself all the credit for apllying the knowlege you once never knew:-)

Mike


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Thank you so much for this. I copied and pasted the info into a word document and printed it out!


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hello Jessica,

Nicely done!!!

I especially like the boots!!!!

Great way to help the next person who is interested in making the perfect mix...Way to GO!!!

Take care everyone!!!

Laura in VB


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Jessica, what a great post. I too live in the Seattle area, and picked up the same stuff you suggested. I'm only 15min away from De Youngs in fact. I am still looking for a better source for the bark though.

TIP:
I picked up a bag of #3 granite grit as well as #2. I found that I am able to retain WAY more grit this way, within the target range of 1/8 to 1/4

I screened out the 1/4 first, and removed the large chunks. I then sifted using 1/8 screen, and took out all the small particles. There were hardly any smaller particles.

Have a look here!
Grit

The top row of bins is #3 grit. the left is large waste, the right is small waste, the middle is the target range, less than 1/4". MOST of it is useable. The bottom row is #2 grit. The left is the target range of just over 1/8, and the right is smaller waste. MOST of the #2 grit it is waste.

I am thinking I will mix the two results of useful grit together, since some are just over 1/8, and the other pile is just under 1/4. I might even include the larger grit from the #3 pile (top left) because the bark is larger than 1/4"after all, and that only leaves the Turface as a slightly smaller particle over all. Not sure if this is good or bad yet.

As for the bark, I am finding Reptibark to be mostly over 1/4". It will take a lot of work to crush it down. I might just leave it as is, but would love to find yet another source of sub 1/4" non-composted pine or fir bark in this area. The closest thing I found is Greensmix Small Bark, at Lowes, but I think even this is still way too big and I have no idea if it is Pine, Fir, or what.

Off topic: for growing Citrus specifically, I have had fantastically excellent results using CHC-Peat 4-1 for much less cost, but I want to try gritty on some new plants. You have to be careful where you buy CHC, and how it is prepared/soaked.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

A very thorough job with lots of very specific information, for that reason I hesitate to criticize at all. The recommendation of Drywall tape, leaves out the mention, not to use the paper tape most often used for drywall. The mesh fiberglass tape used for drywall jobs with cracks or other problems, is the one to use on your drain holes. Thanks for all the work you did to make such a fine presentation. Al


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

This size difference in ReptiBark has been bothering me for a while now, because I frequently recommend it for people who can't locate another source of fir bark. Though the bags are not marked thus, it would appear that the large bags contain larger fir bark pieces. The medium and small bags seem to contain more appropriate sized pieces for our use in building a better medium.

I've only had occasion to buy the smaller bags, so I was unaware of any difference between the bark size as it pertains to bag size. I'm still wondering, though, why it is that ZooMed hasn't labeled their product by bark size?

As for the mesh to cover drainage holes, plastic needlepoint mesh is a good alternative... if a person didn't want to buy a whole roll of drywall fiberglass tape. I'm not sure what the price difference would be.

Very nice photos and detailed information posted, though... this is so helpful for others just beginning! :-)


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Excellent detail and pics. Thank you.

Hi Jodi!!!:-)))))))


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

I live in the same area as Jessica (western WA Everett area) and wanted to let anyone interested know that John Deere 3409 Everett Avenue Everett,(425) 259-3740 carries Turface. Also, I looked at the large bags of Repti-bark and the chunks were quite large and it was very expensive. I found medium orchid bark in a large bag at Steubers Distributing in Snohomish for much less money.The chunks were about like the Repti-bark and so if you're going to need to bust up bark it may as well be cheaper.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Steubers is awesome. Thanks for the tip! I will check into that when I make my next batch. I also found Orchid bark at McLendons, for those that live near one. I have yet to compare, but will be happy to report when I do.

As for Reptibark, indeed I got the big bag, no idea smaller bags had smaller chips. Either way, this is too expensive IMHO. So the contest for alternative is on...


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

I would love to know if McLendons carries a mini or fine orchid bark. That would save me a whole lotta bark crunching :)


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

I inquired, but they did not.

I ended up using Repti Bark from Petco and not even breaking it down. I just used it as-is out of the bag. But be sure to soak it overnight if you can to lock in some moisture. I just tore open the bag the day before and sprayed the hose into the bag and let it sit in my back yard for a day.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

  • Posted by newgen 9 Central California (My Page) on
    Thu, Apr 21, 11 at 15:09

Fyi, I just picked up a large bag of Repti Bark, 24 qt for $12. That's the sale price, regular price is $18. I'm still looking for other sources, as I think this price is still too expensive. This was at Petsmart.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hi Jessica -

I have exactly the same source for the bark. I am interested to know how well the method you described worked for you. I assume you used a hammer to hit the bark? I did it really quickly by putting a layer on a 2 x 4 piece of pine board and a garbage sack over it. I hit it a few times and noticed breakage mostly on pieces that are fairly thick through the middle. Could you give me an idea of how long you had to hit the bark to get it to break well and what percentage were you able to break -- it seems like some of the long thin pieces will not break? Thanks, Brian


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

  • Posted by jenn 9/19 (My Page) on
    Sun, Apr 24, 11 at 17:25

Jessica, thank you so much for this! I created a document to record the recipes and your comments, suggestions and other notes I collect while reading the posts about these mixes.

I live in SoCal and plan to re-pot a dwarf Nagami Kumquat very soon, as soon as we've gathered all the materials. I'm sure that my first time at this will be like the first day home with a newborn --- afraid of making any mistakes and dooming the poor thing from the start. However, it has survived a large pot of commercial bagged potting mix for about 5 years and still blooms and produces fruit --- so I can only imagine how happy it will be in the Gritty Mix!!!

I found Turface via the Ewing site: Ewing Irrigation and Landscape Products. The 'Branch Locator' menu includes about 22 states where they are located. I found one close to my home, called, and verified they carry it -- YAY!!! Hope this helps someone else who may be reading/lurking in this discussion.

I'm one of those waiting in the wings to experience the joy of creating happier homes for all our potted plants.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hi Brian- Well as it turns out, I gave the bark a few good whacks with the hammer and did not like the results (similar to yours) so I stopped what I was doing and jumped back on the forums and found several posts from people that had not bashed the bark at all. They just used it whole right out of the bag. I decided to go that method. Just be sure to soak your bark at least 24 hours prior to the transplant. That way you will have some moisture in the soil. If you discover a good way of breaking up the bark please share! I just found it to tedious at that point, honestly, it was getting dark and I was ready to be done with it.... But I am happy with the results today.

Hi Jenn- I am glad to be of assistance! I wish you well in your citrus growing endeavors. Sounds like you are already a pro at this though! But I am sure your plants will really enjoy their new home in the gritty mix. Just be sure to keep an eye on watering it. I was caught off guard and lost one of my trees because I did not realize the watering requirements after the transplant. :( This is a very well draining soil, so you will have to water a bit more. But it is totally worth it! I found the dowel method of testing for moisture to be very helpful.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

  • Posted by newgen 9 Central California (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 25, 11 at 19:10

greenman28 wrote:

"With the Turface, you should use a 1/16 inch insect screen and you will retain much more material."

Someone please clarify, Al suggested 1/8" as the smallest particle size, greenman28 is using 1/16". So does it matter which size I get? At the other end, the maximum particle size is 1/4", correct?

Thanks,


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 25, 11 at 20:23

Because the Turface tends to run a little small, I screen it over insect screen & retain what doesn't pass. Since the granite and bark are larger particles, the mix tends to retain the drainage properties of those particles, since they make up 2/3 of the soil.

Al


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Newgen, both Al and I use insect screen for the Turface.

Josh


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Thank you so much Jessica! I am a visual learner, and this was exactly what I needed.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

OMG! You made it so much easier to find all the goodies needed! Thanks big time!


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

A couple of tips when using ReptiBark... the smaller the bag, the smaller the contents. I always opt for buying the 4 quart bags instead of the larger bags. I don't know why the size of the bag should mean a change in bark size, but it apparently does. So, I just get more bags in the smaller size.

When you purchase the smallest bag size of ReptiBark, it's usable right out of the bag. No screening or sifting required. It's dust free and ready to use.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Doesn't her mix look delicious?

I wonder how your trees are doing Jessica,?

I just may e-mail you if you don't return!

Hello Jodik! Thanks for the suggestion.

Mike:-)


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

It does, indeed, Mike... and she doesn't cut corners like I sometimes do! She puts in the extra effort to ensure a more even mix, devoid of the odd sized particles that can be a normal part of the process.

I've actually found the ReptiBark in three different bag sizes at our local PetsMart... a 4 quart, which is the smallest, and then a medium and a larger bag size... though I can't recall how many quarts comprise the larger sizes.

For some reason, the fir bark bits in the medium and large bags are bigger than the contents of the smallest bag offered. I'm guessing it has to do with reptile and aquarium/tank sizes. You'd probably want a finer bedding for smaller reptiles.



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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hi All!

Sorry for the radio silence, life has a way of picking up and carrying you away sometimes!

I am LOVING growing plants indoors, and I think I am ready to venture outdoors with my passion. I have plans to put in a (very) large garden bed in my back yard this spring. Because of the layout and size of our yard I can only put in raised beds. The finished bed will be an "L" shape roughly 21' in length x4' wide and x3' high. I plan to grow various vegetables, herbs and fruit trees.

I have been doing allot of research on grafting and training fruit trees over the last few months. I plan on doing a ton of bud and scion grafting this spring and starting a few Espalier and Cordon apple and pear trees in my new beds. There are not many posts on Espalier fruit trees, so maybe once things are under way I will drop a few posts about what I am learning in case there are others out there looking for starter advise.

I only wish I could fill the beds with Gritty Mix!! I know my plants would thrive in it!

Wishing all of you new container gardeners out there good luck with your gritty mix -- your plants will love you for it!

~Jessica


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hi, Jessica!

There are vast differences between container growing and growing in the ground... in the ground, Mother Nature provides an army of small and microscopic critters, like worms, nematodes, fungi and other things, that work hard at breaking down organic matter into usable nutrition for plants, and they also help keep the soil aerated... plus, there are normally no drainage issues.

We don't have that same environment within containers, and trying to maintain one would be close to impossible, which is why we use a more inorganic approach, utilizing mediums and watering and fertilization regimens that we can tightly control.

In my opinion, organic methods work fine in the garden, but not so well in containers. I save organic growing for the garden, and I opt for more inorganic methods where container growing is concerned.

If you are using raised beds to garden in outdoors, though, you can certainly amend the soil with ingredients that will help maintain a more aerated environment. In fact, I grow some types of vegetables in raised beds, and I dump the used Gritty Mix in them when I'm re-potting some of my container plants.

As long we understand the differences between growing in pots, and growing directly in the ground, we should experience a better level of success!


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Wow... Has my world just completely opened up for me! I started another conversation in the Sansevieria forum, because my poor snake plants are pathetic, when someone mentioned Al's Gritty Mix. After my first oops of thinking this was a comerical product, I started digging around on GW looking in to this miracle mixture. I had no idea!! I cannot WAIT to try it out! Unfortunaltely it is December and not the best month for repotting everything in my life (per Al's advice :-) But I am definitely going to start tracking down the materials to be ready for warm weather and trying the gritty mix out!

Now, to the question... Does this mix apply to EVERYTHING in containers? I rent my house, but plan on buying a home in the somewhat near future. However, because I've been renting, all of my plants, both indoor and out, are potted so I can take them all with me to a new and permanant home someday. So. Inside the house jungle runs the gauntlet from Pothos, spider plants, jade, assorted palms, Ficus benjamina, Ficus bennedijkii, assorted "Holiday" cacti, snake plants, various Euphoribia, and so on. Outside, I have what I call "the orchard". Outside of my potted herb gardens, I've got trees. Lots of trees. (Yes, I want a little bit of land to go with that future house!) Various citrus, apples, cherries, peaches and nectaurines, plums, figs, and blueberries (yes, I know those aren't trees. ;-) THEN there are the non-edibles of roses, gardenia, butterfly plants, geraniums, ferns, peonies, and loads of succulents.

Ok. That's a lotta pots! Does Al's Gritty Mix work for everything under the sun? Or should I be more selective on what plant taxa need the mix and what plants do well in bagged potting soil from Lowe's?

**NOTE: I've only recently discovered a love of plants and gardening in the past five years or so, so I've clearly gone a little insane. I figure I'm in good company, though. However, I don't know much about what I'm doing, and until I found this forum, my gardening mentality was "stick it in the dirt, cross your fingers, see if it lives". So far, semi-good. :-) I'm glad I'm here now, though!!


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hello!

I don't think that *any* plants do well in generic bagged soil from home and garden stores ;-)
The plants may survive, and often even please the owner....but with a better soil, those same plants
could be doing so much more (growing closer to their genetic potential, as Al says).

Al's mix, with minimal modification, will work wonderfully for most plants.
Right off the bat, Al will tell you that Scilla (Squills) do better in the 5-1-1 mix.
Also, blueberries would be better candidates for the 5-1-1, unlimed, due to the lower pH.
Ferns, too, do exceptionally well in the 5-1-1 mix in my climate. I grow Holiday Cacti
in a bark-based mix (closer to the 5-1-1 than the Gritty Mix), although I have no doubt
that they would grow well in the Gritty Mix. Vegetable crops are also grown in the 5-1-1 for convenience,
economy, and moisture retention - however, I start seeds (from peppers to citrus) in the Gritty Mix.

Some succulents with very fine root-systems might require a finer, modified Gritty Mix,
but most other succulents will immediately respond to re-potting in the Gritty Mix.

Let's discuss the Fig. If the Fig is young and growing rapidly, the 5-1-1 will zoom it along
and allow for easy re-potting each season. Once the Fig gains some size, and when you've put it into
an appropriately large container, then you would re-pot to the Gritty Mix and go a year or two
before re-potting again (unless, of course, the Fig becomes pot-bound and shows stress).

So...there is some consideration to be made when choosing the Gritty Mix,
but it mostly has to do with the vigor of the material (plants) one is working with
and the amount of time that the plants will spend in the pot. With peppers, I start seeds
in small containers of Gritty Mix, then I move them to progressively larger containers of 5-1-1 mix -
during the Summer, I use large volumes of soil so I need something inexpensive, and I need that extra moisture
retention on hot days. When Winter comes around, I bare-root my favorite pepper plants, and re-pot them in Gritty Mix
until the following Spring when they go back outside (or into larger containers for the season).


Josh


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hi Josh,

And a huge thank you for that informative response! I'm learning so much so fast! Ok, so the new rule in the Mariah Household is going to be no more bagged potting soil, apparently. ;-) This is going to be an adventure!

I have a few more questions before I dive in. The first is, when you say 5-1-1, you mean the ratios of the recipe, correct? So 5 parts bark:1 turface:1 granite. I just wanted to clarify, to make sure I'm understanding correctly. I'll have to experiment (once I figure out the "traditional" recipe first for my Sans!) but I have a feeling that if I comb the forum enough everyone has done most of the experimentation already!

The second quesion is based upon my most astute observation that you, too, are located in northern California (this made me do a happy dance). Where do you go for your supplies of the gritty mix? :-)

The third is based on figs and when to pot up. Mine are currently in about a 5-gallon pot, but the largest is probably about 6 feet tall at the highest branch. Should I just check for root-boundness to decide on potting up? And would the dormant season (re: now) be ok to re-pot? Or should I wait? Also, I'm planning on keeping my figs in pots long-term. They can grow unruly in the fertile valley soil here, so to keep them from becoming monstors, I'd like to keep them in containers.

Wow, I am really excited to get started on all of this and am bemoaning that it is December and cold and miserable outside and not at all condusive to gardening and repotting my plants.

Thank you again for the guidance!

Mariah


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece -

Oh, wait Josh... Or for the 5-5-1, do you mean the:
5 parts pine bark fines (partially composted fines are best)
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat please)
1-2 parts perlite
garden lime (or gypsum in some cases)
controlled release fertilizer (if preferred)
**(stolen from Al's Container Soils - Water Movement & Retention XIII)


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Exactly! That's the recipe ;-)
Lime for 5-1-1 (Gypsum for the Gritty Mix).
Hey, I'll be back after work to answer the other Q's!

Josh


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

  • Posted by filix z5 maine (My Page) on
    Wed, Dec 7, 11 at 12:51

Nice thread Jessica. I enjoyed reading that. It does take some effort to round up the the right stuff! Al taught all of us here. When we learn how to make our own soils, we learn alot about how stuff works. Why growing in a container is very different from growing in the ground. The diffence between a raised bed and a container. Old habbits die slow. Every once and a while I will hear someone say something like they put in some raised beds on their roof in the city. Now we know they are not raised beds, they are containers. Because the ground is not up there! filix.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Agreed. 5-1-1 has made indoor and outdoor potting easy for me. I also grow under lights indoors, and 5-1-1 is excellent for that as it has less pest and fungal problems indoors. I used to find hydroponic much better then soil, but since I started using 5-1-1, I can't see any real difference. It's really the soil equivalent of hydroponic growing. I used to have humidity issues with hydro due to evaporation, but with the 5-1-1, my humidity is perfect indoors.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Great observations, Capoman!

Mariah, I'm up here in the Sierra Nevada foothills around Auburn (well above Sacramento on I-80).
However, the products available up here should be available in most parts of California.
I purchase Turface at Sierra Pacific Turf Supply in Rocklin, CA. I buy Perlite at a local
hydroponics shop (where I also buy Foliage Pro 9-3-6 fertilizer). For bark, pumice, and quartz,
I go to a local nursery in Auburn, CA.

E.B. Stone is the producer of several products. The "Orchid Bark" in fine-grade can be screened
to make Gritty Mix, as well as 5-1-1. Another product with different packaging is Greenall brand
Micro Bark, which is more cost effective (but also requires screening for optimum results).

I find Black Gold Pumice at various hardware stores and nurseries, and I buy as much as I can
when I find it.


Josh


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hey Josh!

MissMariah!

I can feel the excitement in your postings! Bravo and you will do great by these mixes!

Mike


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hello, I am new to this forum, and have read much from Al and others, many thanks.

I have already began using the Gritty Mix, having found all the ingredients easily. .

The bark products were quite varied, and found one not mentioned yet, as far as I've seen; Kiwi Orchid Bark is available here in San Diego because of the orchid growers, it is very clean and uniform, and is said to last much longer than other fir or pine barks, though it seems to hold less water and dry out quicker. This bark is too expensive for me as it comes from New Zealand, so I use another orchid bark from N. Calif.

I choose to mix red lava cinder with my crushed granite, 2:1 ratio; this is for less weight and maybe it has more air/water capabilities, also it is readily available in L.A., 5/16" minus size. Bonsai uses this rock, scoria, and I learned of a man, Julious Gonsior, who has a mix named after him, Julious' Choice Potting Soil (N. Calif), which uses lava sand and cinders along with bark.

I add to the Turface a little Napa #8822 for more water holding since we get hot and dry weather.

Everything is screened and rinsed, and I'm using Foliage Pro on the indoor plants, and Osmocote Plus outdoors, with gypsum of course.

Along with the 1/8" screen from the hardware store, I ordered 1/16+" stainless steel and 5/16" galvinized screen, this gives me nice sizes. McMaster-Carr will ship, but I did a will call p/u, part no. 85385T381 & 9217T41.

I am a novice, yet I have great results with what I've done in the past several months, and enjoy being successful in the garden. What a difference, I never would have thought I could bring a plant to its full genetic potential.

Thanks again Al and others.

Doug


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Mon, Jan 9, 12 at 7:57

A GREAT story, Doug - and I, for one, am really glad for you. Thanks for taking the time to offer your comments.

What I'm going to say isn't about your knowledge or abilities, it's a general comment. You've created such a perfect opportunity to make this point, that I can't let it slip past. I've often said that if you take an inexperienced grower who is willing to follow a plan, he or she can become a better grower over night, this, as measured by the health/vitality of his/her plants, than growers who have been plodding along for years, following the same recipe for problems.

Good growing is about removing the limitations that prevent a plant from doing what it is programmed to do. Since most limitations we commonly see can ultimately be traced to the soil, it simply makes good sense to do the best we can to eliminate soil as a limitation in and of itself, or as a contributor to other limitations.

Good job, Doug - and very well thought through.

Al


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hi All!

I have a Gritty Mix storage question.

I was planning on repotting my newest Meyer into the Gritty Mix, but was advised to wait a few months to do so. Unfortunately I was all gun-ho and put a bunch of mix in a bucket with some water to hydrate it prior to the transplant. (I believe that someone, Josh maybe? Had suggested soaking the mix for 24 hours or so to get more moisture into the mix prior to transplant. Sounds like a great idea to me!)

Since I have decided to wait to transplant, I now have a bucket of wet mix. We are having quite the snow/ice storm here in Seattle, so setting it out to dry really is not an option...

Will I damage the mix, or possibly hurt my plant if that mix sits wet for a few months before I use it? I would really hate to have to throw it out!

Thanks for your help!
~Jessica


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

That mix will keep just fine ;-)

Josh


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Well I wish I've seen this post sooner! I managed to track down gritty mix supplies in the Seattle area as well in the last year since this thread was posted.

Turface:
*Any John Deere landscaping store should carry it. I got mine in Issaquah, where I work, but they have a number of stores in the Puget Sound area.
*Horizon in Renton carries it (not the Bellevue store, though, they directed me to the Renton/Tukwila store when I called)

Grit:
I found that the Issaquah grange carries a quartzite pigeon grit in bulk that is about 50/50 above and below 1/8 in size, and all less than 1/4 in. Very easy to screen! I just have to figure out what to do with the smaller part (I'm tempted to see if they'll let me sell or trade it back, as it looks the same as the smaller grit they sell after screening).

Bark:
I was getting orchid bark at the indoor sun shoppe in Fremont (in Seattle--who also carry pumice I'd used before I picked up any Turface) but it was relatively expensive and very little was a usable size.
Instead now, I've gone with Swanson's brand bark fines. The price is about $6 for a bag, which I think is 5 cubic feet. I haven't screen or used this stuff yet (still building an improved soil sifter, halfway there!), but particle size looks pretty good. I've seen it available at a number of garden and hardware stores, in Seattle proper, including City People, Stone way hardware, and Swanson's nursery (I think no affiliation with the bark brand).


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Just an update to my post above--went back to Issaquah Grange and found the pigeon grit they sell is now mixed about 50/50 with crushed shells. Going to check out Seattle Farm Supply--this page suggests they have #2 size grit for chickens: http://www.seattlefarmsupply.com/?wpsc-product=grit
Seems to be the right stuff, looks a lot like the quartzite grit I mentioned before. Otherwise I'll have to try De Young's.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

For those on the south end of Seattle, you can get #2 Cherrystone grit at Country Farm and Feed in Enumclaw.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Just returned from the Lowe's in Federal Way. They have what looks to be quite nice pine bark. They have three different sizes, medium nuggets, small nuggets and mulch.

I had gotten a bag of the much previously, after screening and removing some of the sap wood, it yielded about 50% useable nuggets. The small nuggets looks to be almost entirely useable. A small amount of dust and a little sap wood, but at only $4 for 2 cubic feet it beats the reptibark.


Photo of the bag of small nuggets.


Reptibark on top, small nuggets on right, mulch on left.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Sat, May 19, 12 at 4:26

Good info!!

Al


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Does anyone have suggestions for suppliers in South Florida for the ingredients of the mix? I can get floor dry at the Napa store close by but not sure about the grower grit or the right sized bark.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Marinfla,

I don't live in fl, but any place that sells live chickens would have the grit, which I imagine there should be quite a few down there. Look in the yellowpages for agricultural supply stores, like Agway and such. I'm not sure if Agway has any locations down there but you could go to their website and check.

If you cant find an alternative and less expensive bark solution, the repti-bark brand reptile bedding can be found at any petco or pet-smart type of chain store.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Well thanks to this thread I got my materials to make my first batch of gritty mix, about 9 quarts. I used the Greensmix mulch and a couple of different soil screens to get the bark, Chicken grit from a feed store was the most expensive ingredient as they did not have large bags of it, and Turface from a Ewings store, screened once. I used it all up already to fill two 12" containers and pot up two curry tree plants (Murraya koenigii) that I keep indoors in my office under fluorescent tube lights. These I expect to stay indoors and are already getting somewhat woody, so it seemed perfect for this mix.

My question now is about watering. I'm guessing it won't be the same with this soil-less, very rapidly draining medium. How often to do it, and is there a different technique? Should I soak the whole container instead of pouring over the top surface? The mix was nice and soaked when I filled the containers last Friday afternoon, but now it is only Monday morning and the mix not only looks dry but feels dry down to about 2", and that's about as far as I want to disturb things.

One other thing, anyone got a good suggestion as to what I could best do with the small particles of Turface that went through the screen?


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Cooperph,

It is great for starting seeds... I always keep my finds when i screen my Turface for this..

Just an idea..

Hope this helps..

Laura


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Seed starting, thats a good idea, I will try that.

So how often do you water and how do you do it? This morning I watered one of them, just conventionally by pouring slowly over the top, and it seemed as though over half the water came out the bottom. To me this would suggest I might be better off soaking the whole thing for a while, maybe if I did this once a week? I already do that with a bunch of orchids so it would fit the routine.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hmm, should've kept a closer eye on this thread, the greensmix nuggets look much better than the mulch I bought and cheaper than repti-bark--although I've decided to only use bark as filler for larger plantings, in any case. Rept-bark will be super easy to prepare, if nothing else (which was the idea).

I bought several different options for grit last weekend to try and analyze price, haven't processed them but when I do I'll post here with details and where to buy in Seattle =)

[My current grit source is Portage Bay Grange on Roosevelt in the U-district. I'll be comparing that with some coarse sand I found at Lowe's and Black Gold gravel I found at a local garden store. I want to know what's easiest and what's cheapest per unit *usable* grit.]

Turface fines look great for seeds, will be trying that soon myself. Currently using them to keep more moisture at the top of the pots for some Passiflora and Guayabana seedlings I moved out of peat/perlite/bark fines.

Cooper, as far as watering, in moderate to warm indoor temperatures, I tend to water every ~5 days or so, for some things more like once a week. In arid, hot places I've heard every day or every other day at times for gritty mix (for outside plants at least), so it depends on conditions.

My first gritty mix substituted 1/8 in screened pumice for Turface, and that dries out more quickly but I'm still watering maybe every 3-4 days (for my thirsty Actinida [kiwifruit], two are sharing a pot that's too small, but they still go at least 3 days before drying out too much).

Absolutely test for moisture with a wick or a stick though, to get an idea of how long it takes to dry for your setup. The nice thing is that it's still hard to over water with something that has that kind of aeration and drainage!

Of course you can adjust the amount of turface in the mix to increase water retention. I actually use 2 grades (screened to 1/8 inch and only screened through insect mesh) depending on plant preferences. In my testing the smaller grade stuff actually held slightly less water (may have been a measuring problem due to air bubbles), but it dries more slowly and seems to hold slightly less air than the larger stuff (which I use for succulents, tubers, bulbs, etc). For this reason and due to slower drainage, if I use turface screened through insect mesh only I'm starting to use wicks more.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Hello everyone, it is an honor to be here and I am excited to learn as much as I can about gardening.
A week ago I bought a small Mexican Lime - Semi Dwarf tree from the nursery and want to put it in a container on my patio, on the side of the house. I know that the best is morning sun, but since the only place I have is the north facing side of the house, the tree will be getting sum between 9-10am and 3-4 pm.
I've had problems with an existing Valencia Orange (planted in regular potting soil from the nursery) and started researching what would be the best planting media to use. That is how I found about it and today I am making my Gritty Mix with Napa's Floor Dry, Repti Bark and granite in 1/4" minus size. The plan is to go buy a window screen from Home Depot and sift the floor dry and the granite and mix them with the bark.
Since this is my very 1st Gritty Mix, and I live in Las Vegas, my question is what ratio should I use?
The summer here is SUPER hot and most of the time windy. Right now it is 100 degrees and the wind is 20-30 mph.
I want to make sure I do this right, because I already have a Valencia Orange that I have over-watered twice in the past resulting in loss of all flowers. With the Lime tree I want to do everything right. I also have to learn how to fertilize it since it will not be in regular potting soil like the Valencia Orange.

Please if you have a recommendation about the ratio and the fertilization share it with me, so I can finally get some fruit next year.

Thank you,

Vlad


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Is there a problem using perlite in the mixture?

I made a mistake and added Perlite to my mixture and now am worried if this will still work in the gritty mixture for my potted plants.

I am anxious to find out from anyone here if this will work for me.
Thanks in advance.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Thu, Nov 8, 12 at 21:18

A shortlist of ingredients might be combined in such a way that they yield a soil which assures an excellent opportunity for your plants to grow at very close to their potential; but unfortunately, it's possible that the same list of ingredients combined in a different way might yield a soil that assures significantly diminished potential. For example, a soil of 3/4 pine bark of appropriate size and 1/8 each of peat and perlite is certain to yield a soil that most commonly grown plants will respond very well to. If you reverse the peat and bark fractions so the mix is 3/4 peat and 1/8 each of perlite and pine bark, the soil would be very water-retentive and more difficult to manage.

When it comes to the gritty mix or to applying the concept that the gritty mix embodies, it's a requirement that the size and physical characteristics of the ingredients be taken into consideration. For instance, simply using equal portions of pine bark, grit, and Turface won't necessarily yield a soil that can really be called the gritty mix. At the same time, a soil made of pine or fir bark + calcined DE + silica could be, if the size and physical characteristics of the ingredients are taken into account. If you don't take these things into account, you may as well just use or make a soil that's easier or less expensive, because the value inherent in the gritty mix lies in the fact that almost ALL the water it holds is held INSIDE of or on the surface of the soil particles. Virtually no water is held in between the soil particles, which means even when the soil as at container capacity (as saturated as it can possibly be), it is still very well-aerated from the top of the soil to the bottom of the pot.

So, perlite can be used best as a substitute for crushed granite on a size for size basis, IOW, if you screen it so it's in that approx 3/32-3/16 size range. This means you should start with a coarse grade of hort perlite. I'm not offering this because I have any interest at all in seeing you jump through a bunch of hoops. I just like to be clear that if you want to offer your plants all the potential that well-aerated soils CAN offer, some attention to detail and an understanding of how to implement the concept behind the soils you're making is a very good idea. Following the recipe by rote will assuredly yield a very fine soil, but understanding the concept behind the soil allows much greater flexibility and opportunity to improvise.

Don't be discouraged by what I said; and if there is anything you're not clear on or want more help with, be sure to ask. We don't care how much you know or don't know - all we're interested in is helping you get as much as you can from your growing experience ..... and there is a goodly number here that can help with that.

Al


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

In case it hasn't been said before, the most important things to remember are:

Understanding the concept of Al's mixes is very important... understanding how and why they work... and understanding that no two growers will deal with the exact same climate and/or micro-environment to grow in.

Once we understand the concept of the mixes, and we carefully observe the environment we have to work with, we can then adjust the ingredients and ratios to suit our own personal uses.

As an example, I have a very dry indoor growing area, with very low humidity and fluctuating temperatures due to the heating and cooling elements of our upper floor, one room apartment. So, I'm in need of a little more moisture retention than another grower might need. I also have to take care in choosing plants that can acclimate to this situation.

But I have the necessary knowledge to help me in custom mixing mediums that work for my growing area, and through trial and error, I've learned which plants grow better for me.

Al designed his mixes to help minimize the margin of error in growing healthy plants with healthy root systems, and they certainly work as intended! After a person uses them for a little bit, they can then see where any slight adjustment may be in order to help match the medium in a more personalized way to the micro-environment they're growing in.

There's definitely something to be said for science and physics basics when it comes to growing. I wish I'd paid a little more attention in science class! ;-)

Happy Growing!


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

I know Al's against medium for drainage but I was wondering if I could use packing peanuts to fill space in lg containers while using the gritty mix. Also, can I use the gritty mix for all plants ? Would be cheaper than to make both gritty and the 5:1:1. I need to plant a money tree, ficus tree, ponytail palm, Christmas cactus and succulents. And last question, any ideas for gnat control? I don't want the pests to take over the new gritty mix once I repot everything.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

You can use peanuts, but they're a PITA if you go to repot later after the roots have all grown into and around them.

Yes, you can use Gritty for all potted plants.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Tue, Nov 5, 13 at 20:54

I think it's not so much that I'm against one thing or another; rather, I think I have a pretty fair idea of how to order ideas. In other words, I can visualize and explain why A works better than B. I'm interested in seeing that you get reliable information on which you can base decisions, but beyond that, it doesn't matter much to me what someone chooses to do. I will enter a debate though, about what practices are more likely to optimize results when someone suggests one way is better than another, when in truth it isn't.

Since the gritty mix won't hold (significant amounts of) perched water, there wouldn't be an advantage in using any sort of drainage layer, but you can if you like. If you're interested in reducing the amount of soil it takes to fill a container, or making a container lighter, you can also simply fill the bottom of the pot with empty soda bottles (with the caps on) - it's a lot cleaner than packing peanuts, and you'll appreciate not having to deal with the peanuts at repot/root-pruning time.

You can use the gritty mix for all the plants you listed. I use it for everything except short term plantings (one season stuff), like the mixed display containers in the gardens & on the decks, or for veggies. Also, since the upper part of the gritty mix dries down fairly quickly, and there should be little in the way of organic decomposition going on, gnats should be a non-issue with the gritty mix.

I grow indoors under lights all winter, and I rarely see a gnat. If I do, it's usually because I have a plant or 2 I didn't get around to repotting, so it would be in the original soil, which would be a haven for the gnats.

Al


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Thanks for the info Al. I've recently discovered a passion for plants but have had poor success keeping them alive and/or thriving. I've read a bunch of posts from you and I'm looking forward to the gritty mix. As for the peanuts, it was to fill a large pot so I could save on some of the gritty mix. I'm just trying to follow your suggestions and I want to get it right. I will try the water bottles. Thx!

Oxboy555--- thanks for your input as well!


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

Yay! I finally found this post! I've been looking all over for a location to buy or a recipe to make Al's Gritty Mix since I joined the forum. Yikes! It seems like quite an undertaking, rather involved with all the meshing and components to source out and purchase. I think I'll have to wait until I can do this outside my working studio when the weather is much warmer. I don't think, living in a second floor apartment, my neighbor below would like a nice dusting of granite on her balcony... although she has been asking for it....

^_^ Thanks for the step by step photos and advice.


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RE: Al's Gritty Mix -- A Learning Experinece

  • Posted by tapla z5b-6a mid-MI (My Page) on
    Wed, Jan 29, 14 at 14:32

It does take some effort to make, but it's really forgiving of grower error and easy to grow in. Let me know if you need help. There's a thread over at container gardening where we've been talking about soils for I think 9 years now.

Here's a link if you're interested.

Al


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