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Old August 31, 2013   #1
nolabelle
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Default Is There A Difinitive Mix for Self-Watering Buckets?

I am about to embark on a new gardening journey with the SWC, and I've read mixed suggestions about the potting mix. This is what I am thinking:

Equal parts of sphagnum, perlite and compost. OR

70% sphagnum and 30% perlite/vermiculite and NO compost.

Also, with sphagnum, there is the need for dolomite lime. And what about epsom salt? I be confused.

I have all of the above and will be manufacturing a couple of self watering bucket systems this weekend. I've had issues before with soil mixes in containers. Does anyone have a solution that might work for a total newbie? Please advise. And thank you in advance!
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Old August 31, 2013   #2
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Nolabelle,
In my humble opinion, Go with Raybo's 3-2-1 mix, and add some lime. Simple and done. The harder part is getting your watering evened out and the proper fertilization. Get that worked out and you will do fine.

I believe this is the latest version - see pages 17 and 18
http://www.tomatofest.com/pdfs/Earth...tion-Guide.pdf

3 -peat moss
2-bark fines
1-perlite
So as not to confuse anyone else who might read this - This recommendation is for self watering, sub irrigated only. Top watered containers that utilize drainage are a different animal and need to be treated as such.
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Old August 31, 2013   #3
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Second the recommendation for Raybo's mix, it works superbly in SWCs/SIPs.

Miracle Gro also works, but ran really wet for me (and clogged and got stinky).

I use a big plastic tote (in a wagon) to mix up reasonable-sized batches. I use a 32 oz cup to scoop and then stir with gloved hands. Oh, and stir until you think you're done, then stir some more.

If you heat the water a little before adding it to the peat, it will absorb more readily.

What are you planning on planting? Peppers?
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Old September 1, 2013   #4
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I plan on planting tomatoes in the self watering buckets. And if those work out, maybe some other stuff. The peppers are growing well in the ground so far, lol.

I am not sure what bark fines are. Can someone please explain. Thanks.
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Old September 1, 2013   #5
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I don't see anything about a 3-2-1 mix in Raybo's PDF. This is what I've read:

I recommend Premier Pro-Mix
BX for optimum wicking and
plant vigor. If economy is of
prime importance, Miracle-Gro
Potting Mix (WITHOUT Moisture C
ontrol) can be substituted.
Never use Potting “Soil” as this will compress too much,
negatively affecting root aeration.

That says nothing about spaghnum nor bark fines. It does mention perlite and lime. I remain confused. Miracle-Gro, I can deal with, but would rather not.
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Old September 1, 2013   #6
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Bark fines are basically very fine, possibly slightly decomposed mulch. What you get if you screen out all the big chunks from mulch. Sometimes sold by itself as "decorative container mulch" or "soil conditoner". Home Depot sells a Nature's Way Soil Conditoner that I use, but the quality here has been meh this year. Others have better success with the decorative mulch.

I thought the recipe was in there too, it's posted on the forums too?

Found it, it's under "tweaks for advanced usage", near the end of this document (the inside version).

http://earthtainer.tomatofest.com/pd...tion-Guide.pdf

MG or other good potting mix plus perlite is satisfactory. I wold see what Ace has, since you only have a few buckets to fill. ProMix is not available near me or I would use that!

Tl

Last edited by tlintx; September 1, 2013 at 12:29 AM.
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Old September 2, 2013   #7
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Thanks, tl, for pointing me in the right direction. Why in the world would *I* need to read tweaks for experts. I am certainly no expert, lol. But, duh, it did tell me what I needed to know.

So if I use a 5:1 mixture of Pro Mix and perlite, I should be good to go? Or 5:2 mixture of Miracle Grow and perlite.

I think that among Home Depot, Lowes and the couple of feed and garden stores around here, I ought to find what I need. Though I've never seen the probiotic soil treatment stuff anywhere. If anyone has it , it will be the feed store. They have a more extensive gardening supply center than either Home Depot or Lowes. I hesitate to order anything from online because of shipping costs. Sheesh!

Thanks again everyone for for all your help. I haven't built anything yet. I want to make sure all my ducks are in a row before we go swimming!

Now I have to go read about fertilizers and such.
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Old September 2, 2013   #8
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I think you'd do fine with Raybo's suggested mix or even Miracle-Gro potting mix, as long as you water evenly and fertilize sufficiently with variations depending upon the growth stage of the plant.

I made a huge mistake when I first potted my plants, using top soil instead of potting mix. I'd unfortunately read that tomato plants are "very hearty and can grow in almost anything" and thought I'd found a bargain with the top soil (with it being fertilized, sounded like it had everything the plants would need). If I'd spent $10 more and got myself a decent potting mix, I'd have saved myself so much more in aggravation and anemic production. I rooted a sucker and planted it in a Miracle-Gro potting mix and the plant is doing stellar in comparison to the parent. Lush healthy leaves, earlier fruit production, and larger fruit size.

I've put together a list of tomato growing resources that you may want to check out (scroll to the bottom for my plans next year).
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Old September 2, 2013   #9
ArthurDent004
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Here's an article I collected on soil mixes. You may also want to check out this link.

http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/...580016564.html

I'm using Myco Madness for my container plants.

http://www.plantlightinghydroponics....oz-p-2638.html

I agree that shipping costs can be high for online stores but I find the store above has reasonable prices, especially if I order multiple items, and quick delivery.

I also bought 4 cubic foot bags of coarse vermiculite and perlite from a local garden store. They carried the brand shown below. I sifted the perlite using the pond basket below to remove the sand-size particles.

http://www.greenhousemegastore.com/p.../seed-starting

http://www.greenhousemegastore.com/p...-soil-handling

http://www.homedepot.com/p/Beckett-1...0#.UiVbjz9czwI

If you have a Lowes nearby you can use this for pine bark fines.

http://www.lowes.com/pd_97675-66882-...ner&facetInfo=

http://www.lowes.com/ProductDisplay?...llow&cId=PDIO1
Attached Files
File Type: txt Potting Mixes for Certified Organic Production.txt (98.5 KB, 14 views)

Last edited by ArthurDent004; September 3, 2013 at 12:02 AM.
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Old September 6, 2013   #10
nolabelle
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Wow, thank you all for being so helpful! I may be beginning to understand some of this.

@cythaenopsis, your plans for next year raises questions in my mind. I hope you don't mind the following deluge of questions. My comments/questions are in parentheses and italics below the bullet points.

My Tomato Growing Plan for Next Year

  • Use an Earthtainer construction for one or more pots (PDF).

    (I plan to begin small with 5 gal. SW buckets to see if I can do this before going on a larger scale, thus spending more money.)
  • Use a well regarded potting mix. Something like Premier Pro-Mix HP and/or Raybo's 3:2:1.

    (Either of these mixes is something I can do. The ingredients are readily available through numerous local sources.)
  • Combine potting mix with composted cow manure, about 50/50.

    (You mean, as in adding composted cow manure such as Black Kow to the Pro-Mix or 3:2:1 mix? Like 50% Black Kow and 50% Pro-Mix for the growing medium?)
  • Combine potting mix with trusted fertilizer, like Ferti-Lome Tomato and Vegetable Food.

    (I have two different kinds of Miracle Grow fertilizers for tomatoes and both have different rates of NPK. I suppose this would be considered a fertilizer NOT to trust? I also have fish emulsion. Where does this come in?)
  • Mix in Azomite powder in the lower half of the container, for a wide array of trace nutrients.

    (I plan on looking around for this stuff or something similar. The local feed and garden center carries many kinds of soil amendments. I may find it there.)
  • Add pulverized eggshells in the root bed for long term calcium release into the potting mix.

    (I already have (and still saving) a plastic bag of egg shells in the freezer for when I finally do start my SWCs with tomatoes.)
  • After a few weeks of solid sun exposure, cover top with organic natural wood chip mulch.

    (I'm sure I can find this somewhere local.)
  • If compost is available, make a compost tea and feed to the plant once weekly. Otherwise, use a periodic fertilizer regimen that contains micro-nutrients (like Food For Everyone micro-nutrients).

    (Would bagged compost be acceptable for this? I saw a video about making compost tea using an air stone in the mix. Along with the compost, they also added fish emulsion and molasses. I'll check into the "Food For Everyone" item.)

    (I also think a soil test kit would be a good learning tool for me. I recently found a new garden center in my area and plan to check them out in the near future.)


    (I also am of the opinion that all this sterile potting mix can use some organisms as stated in the post below yours. I will be researching the use of this as well.)
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Old September 6, 2013   #11
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@ArthurDent004,

Thank you for the Myco Madness link. I will be checking into this along with the Biota Max and Myco Grow that is mentioned in Raybo's PDF. I believe this may be the first and foremost issue in the trouble I'm having with tomatoes and/or any container grown vegetable that is in an organic mix.

I mean, the soil is porous, the fertilizers can't be that far off, they were getting plenty of sun. Aside from starting very late, I believe a too sterile soil may have been part of the problem. I say this because although the tomatoes that were planted in the ground did not excel, they did flower and fruit.

Thanks again for your help.
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Old September 6, 2013   #12
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Hi NoLaBelle,

Glad you found my potting plans for next year useful.

To answer your responses:

[Combine potting mix with composted cow manure, about 50/50.]
(You mean, as in adding composted cow manure such as Black Kow to the Pro-Mix or 3:2:1 mix? Like 50% Black Kow and 50% Pro-Mix for the growing medium?)

--> I'd read about this from a couple of sources, how cow manure provides such a great resource of nutrients. It's generally suggested to use 50% mixed with whatever else you're using. I might start off with 30%, just because I may not end up purchasing quite that much of it.

[Combine potting mix with trusted fertilizer, like Ferti-Lome Tomato and Vegetable Food.]
(I have two different kinds of Miracle Grow fertilizers for tomatoes and both have different rates of NPK. I suppose this would be considered a fertilizer NOT to trust? I also have fish emulsion. Where does this come in?)

--> I've heard mixed opinions about Miracle-Gro fertilizers, but generally I think they're OK. If you're looking to really optimize, then I'd go for something a little less commercial. If you do use what you've got on-hand, apply the higher nitrogen blend in the early part of the season and then transition to the lower nitrogen one in the latter half. As for fish emulsion, I've heard it's supposed to be a terrific source of calcium.

[Add pulverized eggshells in the root bed for long term calcium release into the potting mix.]
(I already have (and still saving) a plastic bag of egg shells in the freezer for when I finally do start my SWCs with tomatoes.)

--> One word of caution I have to make. Only use this mixed in with the potting medium as a "virtually free" very slow release source of calcium. Sprinkling it on top of the soil won't do much, and putting it in the reservoir will only stink it up (it doesn't break down very easily--definitely won't dissolve in water).

[If compost is available, make a compost tea and feed to the plant once weekly. Otherwise, use a periodic fertilizer regimen that contains micro-nutrients (like Food For Everyone micro-nutrients).]
(Would bagged compost be acceptable for this? I saw a video about making compost tea using an air stone in the mix. Along with the compost, they also added fish emulsion and molasses. I'll check into the "Food For Everyone" item.)

--> As long as it's good quality compost, it'll be acceptable for making tea. But from what I'm seeing, it only makes sense to do this if you're not going to buy a commercially available fertilizer.


I hope you find this info helpful. I've sure learned a lot having just "jumped in" to tomato growing this year. There are a lot of nuances to tomato growing that you just don't get until you do it yourself. However, the more well read you are before hand, the better. For instance, if I'd found Tomatoville prior to starting, I'd definitely not have used a top soil. I'd have gone with a potting mix and avoided a number of problems (including late BER).

Cheers,
~Gary
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Last edited by cythaenopsis; September 6, 2013 at 06:44 PM.
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Old September 20, 2013   #13
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Can I please step in and ask a question?
I have noted through this thread a reliance on 'Pine Bark fines', sounds good, until you cannot find this product, even though we live in the software capital of the world!!! I can get a mini nugget, but they're still too big.
I can access well rotted sawdust.
Could this be substituted for PBfs?
Looking at the stuff, it looks like soil, dark but you can still see the structure which I believe is the major reason to use PBfs.
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Old September 20, 2013   #14
Sun City Linda
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You can mix about 80% sphagnum peat with any potting mix. Sometimes I make my own mix, 70 sphagnum peat, 20 perlite 10 vermiculite is fairly typical but not cast in stone. As long as you don't add sand, manure, and/or compost as they will all impede wicking. Before I knew there were "recipes" I grew my tomatoes in straight sphagnum peat and they did fine.
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Old October 6, 2013   #15
nolabelle
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sun City Linda View Post
You can mix about 80% sphagnum peat with any potting mix. Sometimes I make my own mix, 70 sphagnum peat, 20 perlite 10 vermiculite is fairly typical but not cast in stone. As long as you don't add sand, manure, and/or compost as they will all impede wicking. Before I knew there were "recipes" I grew my tomatoes in straight sphagnum peat and they did fine.
Thanks for the input, Linda. Simple is something I can understand.

Another question regarding soil amendments.

I bought some Great White mycorrhizae: beneficial bacteria and trichoderma for use in the self watering buckets for tomatoes.

I read that it is best to dechlorinate the water before using because it could harm the bacteria. How crucial is this? It wouldn't be difficult to let containers of water sit for 24 hrs to dissipate chlorination, but might be a pain if I forgot to do that. The dilution rate is 1 tsp. per 2 gallons of water every 2-3 weeks. It mentions nothing about chlorine. But for watering in between, should i dissipate the chlorine as to not harm the bacteria?

Your input is greatly appreciated. Thanks everyone!

P.S. I've been out of the loop due to a stray dog I adopted with medical issues. We've found a happy medium now.

One last note. These mystery peppers did NOTHING all summer long, and suddenly fruited. I can't resist showing a picture to see if anybody knows what this is. Stepson said the label called them "Spicy Bells". They look like habanero to me. I'm scared to taste them, lol.

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