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Recycling old potting soil

 
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Apologies if this has been done to death, I haven't been able to find anything in my searches.

Do any of you with small backyard gardens have suggestions for recycling used potting soil? I have several pots worth of what was good soil that's used up, and my thought was to add chicken or steer manure along with other compost and use it on my beds as topsoil/mulch. Any issues with that or other suggestions?

Thanks!
 
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Kali,

Either manure will give it a recharge.  It will be temporary, but it will work.

Do you plan to keep this in containers?  But if so, then it will likely run dry sometime down the road.  You could try planting legumes as they fix N which is most likely the nutrient most lacking at the moment.

If you plan on dumping this into a garden bed on the soil, excellent!  I would strive to get microbes in the soil.  They will take care of most of your fertility needs indefinitely once established.

Eric
 
Kali Hermitage
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Eric Hanson wrote:Kali,

Either manure will give it a recharge.  It will be temporary, but it will work.

If you plan on dumping this into a garden bed on the soil, excellent!  I would strive to get microbes in the soil.  They will take care of most of your fertility needs indefinitely once established.

Eric



Thanks Eric!

Yes, that was my plan, basically mix in a bunch of chicken manure (that's mixed with bedding) from my friends pile, and dump it on top of my larger beds and 3x8 small hugel bed. I thought maybe it would add some soil, work as mulch and dilute the chicken manure?

I'm very new to this gardening stuff, but after a couple years I just can't throw out any soil! It's too much work getting it in here in the first place, not to mention the plastic bag waste buying new stuff. :)
 
Eric Hanson
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Kali,

Your plan is great!  You have hugel beds.  Fantastic!  I don’t have any hugel beds and I don’t know if I ever will, so in that sense you are ahead of me.  

Over the last year and especially the last 6 months, I have become a convert to a different manner of looking at soil fertility.  Typically, what I call the soil analysis approach will try to predict fertility by looking at highly accurate measurements of soil NPK nutrients.  These are important, but I am finding not as important as the soil biology that will provide NPK, even if only present in modest amounts.

Last spring I converted a garden bed into a woodchip bed inoculated with wine caps to break down the wood.  I grew tomatoes in fertile holes in the chip beds.  Tomatoes are notoriously heavy feeders.  My mushrooms did well and I planted summer squash in the exact same fertile holes.  I did not expect much as the holes had already been “mined” by tomatoes and summer squash are another heavy feeder.  I gave no supplemental chemical fertility of any type.  It was the best summer squash I ever grew and they grew huge and fast!

I attribute the excellent growth this year to the presence of all the strands of fungi that wrapped around roots of the squash.  From what I have been informed, proper soil biology will provide plenty of nutrients even when nutrient levels are low.

The great news for you is that the manure will provide both nutrients and biology so this should make an awesome addition to your hugel bed, which probably has a healthy dose of biology already.

Eric
 
Kali Hermitage
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Thanks for the tip on the Wine Caps, lucky me to have a yard full of wood chips too :) I've had zero luck with oyster/shiitake mushrooms in logs...but Wine Caps in wood chips sounds much easier!
 
Eric Hanson
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Kali,

I consider wine caps to be mushrooms on training wheels.  They don’t need dark shade, and even like dappled sunlight.  They tolerate some degree of dryness.  They thrive on neglect (maybe why they worked for me.  I really did not baby them, but I did try to set them off to a good start.

So this is my approach, and please, this is only what I did.  This is not a “best practices” set of instructions.  I made my woodchips about 1 foot thick.  Wine caps like soil contact some moisture and dappled shade (they actually prefer some sunlight as opposed to total darkness).  I dug 8 fertile holes in a 2x4 grid pattern and filled with a 50:50 mix of bagged manure and topsoil.  The chips from the holes I kept aside for the moment.  I then dug little 5” holes around the bed and connected them with 2 inch deep trenches.  

I then broke open the first of two 5.5 lb pound packages of mushroom spawn. I crumbled spawn sawdust into little pieces and spread liberally into the holes, covered a little and added more in the holes.  I added spawn into the trenches and then covered everything back over.  I still had the chips left over from the fertile holes.  I spread the remaining spawn more or less evenly across the bed and covered with the fertile hole chips which added about 2 inches over the entire bed.

From that point I covered everything with a thick, 2-4 inch layer of straw, thoroughly soaked and waited.  The tomatoes grew and produced shade.  I watered down the bed a couple more times but then it got hot and I didn’t like being outside anymore and I let things be.

By the time fall came around the tomatoes had grown many healthy fruits, but the deer ate them all!  At any rate by early December I was a little disappointed that no mushrooms appeared yet.  No question, when I pulled apart the chips, I could see white strands, but nothing else.

About 2 weeks later the situation changed.  The whole bed became spongy and soft and while digging around the spawn had really multiplied.  By May, mushrooms popped up everywhere.

I hope this can help you,  Wine Caps are amazing

Eric
 
Kali Hermitage
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Wow, again, thank you! I can't wait to get started. I am in the East Bay Area, California. Would you recommend I wait until spring (which is what most websites say)? We have warm-ish temps during the day in winter, but can get frost (20s-30s) and we never know if it will be relatively dry, or so much rain it will flood and turn to a bog.
 
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You can definitely just spread it on the surface of any of your beds. You could do it before you spread new mulch or use it as mulch. It's likely mostly peat, coco coir, and perlite so while not super nutritionally valuable it has lots of housing for microbeasties
 
Eric Hanson
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Kali,

Ok, I am of two minds, but first some basic information.  When you say East Bay Area, are you referring to San Francisco and it’s immediate environs?  I am just wondering how much land you have and what resources you can access basically for free and which ones you might have to buy in.

Assuming that you using a raised bed (you are right?) and assuming that you can get your spawn, I would think that you could go ahead and start soon.  I would, however try to moderate cold temperatures.  Don’t worry if it gets below freezing overnight, but if you can throw a blanket over the bed on freezing nights, this might work well.

I need to take care of things on this end so I will continue tomorrow.

Eric
 
Kali Hermitage
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Hi Eric,

I am in a small unincorporated area about 10-15 miles NE of SF as the crow flies, inland from Richmond, CA. My lot is a total of 5000sf with a 1000sf house on it (not including tiny garage). So....no "land". I have a nearly unlimited supply of free free chips that can be delivered from various people, and we may have scavenged some rotting oak logs here and there.

I actually do a lot of experimenting right now, so I have a combination of raised steel trough beds, reclaimed redwood raised beds, a small hugel-bed, in ground beds, and a round African keyhole bed.

I was kind of thinking of getting another load of wood chips and spreading them everywhere, and just seeing what happens. Would that be crazy?

 
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Kali Hermitage wrote:Apologies if this has been done to death, I haven't been able to find anything in my searches.

Do any of you with small backyard gardens have suggestions for recycling used potting soil? I have several pots worth of what was good soil that's used up, and my thought was to add chicken or steer manure along with other compost and use it on my beds as topsoil/mulch. Any issues with that or other suggestions?

Thanks!



I just throw the old soil and dead plants onto my garden a dig them under.  As I add compost, manure, dead leaves, whatever to build the garden soil the old potting soil will be recycled.  
 
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Kali Hermitage wrote:Apologies if this has been done to death, I haven't been able to find anything in my searches.

Do any of you with small backyard gardens have suggestions for recycling used potting soil? I have several pots worth of what was good soil that's used up, and my thought was to add chicken or steer manure along with other compost and use it on my beds as topsoil/mulch. Any issues with that or other suggestions?

Thanks!



Do you compost? if you do all you need to do is add the potting soil to your compost heap so it will be not only recharged with nutrients but it will also get the bacterial and fungal additions too.
This method works very well since almost all "potting soils" don't contain any soil at all.

Get those wood chips, they will do a lot for your soil where you spread them as mulch.

Redhawk
 
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I have very large containers.
22 to 55 gallons, though half of the volume is a water reservoir.
The "soil" started as purchased  peat moss mixed with bagged manure compost.
Very dead.
It gets better with age and growing things in it.
I refresh by top dressing with chicken litter in the off season and  rabbit litter during the growing season.
I also chop and drop, so it's a the soil builds up that way as well.
Lastly, I will add my own urine to the soil, if I think the plants need a boost.
 
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I recycle used potting soil/mix by using it as bedding for my worm bins (vermicomposting).
 
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Used potting soil can definitely be useful. I do different things with it around the nursery & gardens, depending on where it came from & what it's made of.
If it's the mix I make for my nursery, it's usually made up of a peat base, along with a little sand, calcined clay & sometimes perlite. That is usually dumped in a barrel with leftover stems/roots removed to the compost, and then reused in future nursery stock.
If it came from off-site and I don't know if there's any chemicals in the mix, I usually just put it in the fungally dominated compost, or add it to beds/soil that has a strong fungal network going.

If it's peat-based, I probably wouldn't use it as mulch on top of the soil, by itself, since peat becomes hydrophobic when it dries out. But it should be good to mix it with the wood chips or other mulch.
 
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I have a wheelbarrow with a broken bed (big crack in the bottom of it).  It's the potting soil wheel barrow now.  I cut a piece of plywood to fit in the bottom and now we use that old wheelbarrow to mix and create new potting soil, particularly in the spring when we're planting hundreds of pots and seedling trays.

EVERYTHING much goes into that wheelbarrow.  Old soil from pots that never got planted out, lots of well-aged compost, bags of sand or decomposed granite that I find after the Southern California rains have passed and sandbags are discarded (construction sites and such), manure from the chicken coop, and good old garden soil from around the orchard.  Sometimes I'll pick up a bag of steer manure at Home Depot as well, but generally, the soil looks rich enough and fertile enough.  It all gets mixed in the wheelbarrow and then I roll that wheelbarrow to wherever it's needed.  We've got an old table that we set out in the orchard and make a potting station.  

Nothing goes to waste in the garden.

I suppose that the simplest way to recycle old pots full of "spent" potting soil is to simple dump them into the compost pile where they'll be turned into the compost and used again in the future.
 
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Kali Hermitage wrote:Thanks for the tip on the Wine Caps, lucky me to have a yard full of wood chips too :) I've had zero luck with oyster/shiitake mushrooms in logs...but Wine Caps in wood chips sounds much easier!


This is me too, from yard full of wood chips to no mushroom log success. But I wasn't familiar with Wine Caps until reading this post. I'm thrilled with the suggestion!

I've always been a fan of wheelbarrow rejuvenation for old potting soil. That seems the best way to mix compost and fresh soil into it. After discovering how well beneficial fungi like wood chips, I now add a generous shovelful of those too.

A number of years ago I read about someone experimenting with ant mound soil for potting. Minus the ants, of course! The ants seem to somehow aggregate the soil. There wasn't a follow-up on this idea, so I don't know what the final thoughts on it were.
 
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Kali, you've got a bunch of good ideas already, but what I do with old potting soil is save up to sprinkle on top of small seeds when I sow beds. I have REALLY heavy clay soil and after I scratch and sow the new seeds, I can use this nice, dry, fine potting soil to just barely cover them over (cilantro, green onions especially). the soil underneath is good and it's only really just a thin covering, which is impossible with the soil I have in the ground.
 
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Kali Hermitage wrote:
Do any of you with small backyard gardens have suggestions for recycling used potting soil?
Thanks!



I just dump my used potting soil into the compost pile for a cycle.
 
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I too am new to the gardening game so I'm wondering if mixing it into the compost pile & letting it regenerate there is a good idea?
 
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Rob Millard wrote:I too am new to the gardening game so I'm wondering if mixing it into the compost pile & letting it regenerate there is a good idea?


That's what I do. So I think that's a good idea. Even very old 'soil' filled with roots when I re-pot my house plants I put uit on the compost pile. It's organic matter, that's what counts.
 
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I know old potting soil is supposed to be "spent", but I just add an inch or so of compost on top of the pot spring and fall and the plants just keep on going. I don't immediately notice the difference when the coir breaks down because there's a bunch of organic matter in there. If the pot eventually becomes thirsty or growth slows, I change it out and scatter the soil into the beds or the compost pile.

I envy your stropharia! I live in an area with very little in the way of hardwood chips, so what I did was inoculate straw that I had cold pasteurized (soak in a garbage can of full of water). That last step really isn't necessary with stropharia by most accounts, but I did it anyway. I mixed it with coir, soil, softwood bark and coffee grounds, layered that with the inoculated sawdust and topped it with burlap, leaving some spaces. They went mad for the burlap. I had a few great harvests and at the end of the season I had lot of thoroughly inoculated burlap, so I thought I could keep it going into the next year with fresh straw, but it didn't work. Some of the reasons might be: the straw was hay, maybe I didn't use enough straw, or maybe I didn't transfer enough of the  burlap to each bed. The other downside was that keeping it damp included using a microsprayer - kind of expensive. I think hardwood chips would hold more water, but I'll just use more coir next time.
 
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QUESTION from the thread but kinda off topic about the Wine Caps Mushrooms:  I, too, am in northern California (Mendocino), which means all my wood chips are redwood and tan oak--both very tannic--could the Wine Caps grow in them?

Also, what is your favorite source for wine caps spawn?

Thanks!

Abeja
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Abeja,
I am also in NW CA. As I have observed tanoak support a lot of native mushrooms (chanterelle, and hedgehog), but a local expert said he had trouble with many cultivated varieties. I think he had moderate success with oyster, but I have just recently seen a nice flush of volunteer blue oysters on alder in a hugel bed.
 
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