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Permaculture Potting Soil

 
David Miller
Posts: 280
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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Hi folks, I'm faced with a dilemma. While trying to go permie on much of my garden I still plant annuals, pot trees from bare root etc. I tried taking sod, flipping it, butting it up to other sod and then covering overwinter but all I got was dirt that could not be considered potting soil. Any and all suggestions on how to create my own potting soil, I'm tired of buying it and I've failed at my first attempt to make my own. I know I can use compost and top soil but that's still a pretty heavy potting soil. Suggestions, feedback?
 
Shawn Harper
Posts: 360
Location: Portlandia, Oregon
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Worm bin... True story.
 
osker brown
Posts: 146
Location: Southern Appalachia
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leaf mould
well-rotted wood chips
I made a really nice potting soil for a container garden using this, plus about 20% biochar (charcoal+urine+home-cultured lactobacillus)
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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It's a long way from permaculture, but it works
I use about 1/4 perlite, 1/4 coconut coir and 1/2 sieved compost. If I had a worm-bin I'd use vermicast too.
I find potting mix too heavy, compacted and anaerobic if I add anything over a tiny amount of soil.
In the long-run I'd like to ditch the coir and perlite. I think really well aged, fine, sieved mulched wood might work. Or biochar.
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1012
Location: Northern Italy
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I reuse potting soil. I have a big stock left over from last year. I figure the plants are just being started, so no big deal. The'll get into the soil they need when they really start needing it. There are amendments you can make to pump up the fertility of spent potting soil, but I haven't been down that road yet. I use it as a "growing medium" and less as a long term solution. For the precious babies, I have a sack of new stuff.
William
 
Ben Stallings
Posts: 156
Location: Emporia, KS
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I use compost and soil, mixed in the compost heap... that is, when I build the heap I put in a layer of greens, a layer of browns, and a layer of soil. Usually it's not good topsoil, either, but heavy clay subsoil that got brought to the surface by a sewer excavation. By the time the greens and browns have decomposed, the clay is all mixed in with the compost and it's a very nice usable mixture. I don't start a lot of seeds indoors, but essentially all the ones I have started in this mixture have done fine. I do have to watch out for soil life that comes indoors with the mixture and decides to go adventuring.
 
Thelma McGowan
Posts: 170
Location: western Washington, Snohomish county--zone 8b
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This year I used leaf mold and composted Grass clippings That I have been storing on the edge of my property. The leafmold is light and fluffy with bits of leaves , stems and sm sticks and the grass clippings have a thick layer of worms working in them. I scoop about half and half into a bin and mix.
It is heavier than potting soil, but not as heavy and full of clay and rocks as my soil. I try to get most of the worms out of the mix. All of my seedlings are doing well in this starter.

I was worried that the non sterile mix from my back yard would be too rich for the seeds......This seems like a stupid notion to me now, as obviosly seeds want to germinate in rich fertile soil. But the hype of potting mix is the idea that it is sterile and safe.....and sterile soil also seems like a stupid idea. Although I did have some mold in my seedlings and some if the seedlings died back...but that also happens every year when I have used sterile seed starter or peat pods. That is not a soil problem but a ventilation issue.

I am never buying soil again---I have several low maintainance compost areas, and between the worm bins, leaf piles , grass clipping piles and chicken manure heap......I have all that I need to make healthy growing media.
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Tomatoe starts in compost grass and leafmold...notice the pot with the most seedlings is planted with my own Saved seeds from last year. a Testimony to the quality and superior level of germination from saved seeds and store bought
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leaf mold and composted grass clippings
 
Kay Bee
Posts: 471
Location: Jackson County, OR (Zone 7)
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Here is how we make our own potting soil based on rotten wood that has been run through a sifter:

http://wellheeledhills.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/rotary-sifter/

http://wellheeledhills.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/homemade-potting-soil-from-rotten-wood/
 
Duncan Dalby
Posts: 36
Location: England, Midlands.
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One thing I've heard about making your own potting soil is that it shouldn't bee too nitrogenous. The Idea is that if the soil is fairly rich the seedlings dont need to bother growing many roots because everything they need is right there, but if you use poorer soil the seedlings need to really get there roots established witch is what you wont. I dont know if that's true I just thought I throw it out there.
 
David Miller
Posts: 280
Location: Harrisonburg, VA
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Thanks to all who responded. Great ideas!
 
Andrew Schreiber
Posts: 215
Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
20
forest garden goat hugelkultur toxin-ectomy trees woodworking
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Hi all,

I am making up some potting soil mix in large quantities for mass tree propagation from both seed and cuttings. This is the general mix I will be using. It have worked well for me in the past with seedlings, when I want to encourage root growth over top growth.

1 wheelbarrow sand (sharp construction sand, adds to open structure and drainage)
1 wheelbarrow forest mulch/humus (light and fluffy, innoculates with native forest fungi/ and micro-organisms)
1 wheelbarrow chopped straw mulch (adds to the fluffy, water holding bulk)
½ wheelbarrow 50/50 worm castings/ decomposed manure (high nutrient content, innoculates with red-wriggler worm eggs)
1 gallon wood ash (adds to potassium fertility, promoting good ionic exchange and metabolic balance)
3-5 gallons bone char ( adds calcium and magnesium fertility, promoting good root growth, left-over from making Holzer's bone-sauce)

Hope that helps
 
Andrew Schreiber
Posts: 215
Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
20
forest garden goat hugelkultur toxin-ectomy trees woodworking
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Duncan Dalby wrote:One thing I've heard about making your own potting soil is that it shouldn't bee too nitrogenous. The Idea is that if the soil is fairly rich the seedlings dont need to bother growing many roots because everything they need is right there, but if you use poorer soil the seedlings need to really get there roots established witch is what you wont. I dont know if that's true I just thought I throw it out there.


Very much so. You want low nitrogen fertility in the critical period of root formation. We tend to focus on root formation for the first two years of any perennial. Not giving it more nitrogen than is contained in the above mentioned mix. After they show that they can stand up to the dry summers on their own, we will top dress the plant with manure in the fall and let it leach/rot down over winter.
I like to use bunny manure. a mixture of poopy-straw that breaks down into a nice mild humus, and does not tend to burn plants.
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 855
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I bet the texture of your soil affects its utility as a potting soil amendment. I have a fine sandy loam which works great. If I had clay it probably wouldn't. I go half sifted compost half fine sandy loam for seedings, and unsifted compost/soil for transplants and divisions. In both cases I use a complete organic fertilizer out of paranoia. I like the soil heaviness, because I think it helps regulate pot temperature and slow drying in my summers. I have spent mushroom compost available, but buy in advance so it can mature for a year and use the old stuff for potting. I have chicken manure, food waste, straw compost when I want to be fussy. I add the stripped rhizosphere of healthy adults for species where I suspect mycorrhizal associates are important.

My biggest challenge is weed seeds. Alas...
 
William James
gardener
Posts: 1012
Location: Northern Italy
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I'm finding this thread increasingly important.

I'm thinking of making my own mix with

sand, compost, vermiculture, soil, leaf mould, gypsum. Would add chipped wood but I sold my chipper. The tree plants I bought also had rocks in them, so maybe something like that could go in. I have to buy in the sand and potentially the compost

The issues for me are pH balancing and getting the mix to hold water but dry out as well. Even the peat I use sometimes gets too wet - rarely but it happens if it got overwatered. In a homemade mix I imagine that too much water retention is problem.

Getting the right mix is important because it could be a potential product I could sell in the future.

William
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
Posts: 1703
Location: Western Washington
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I've been getting great results, particularly with squashes, by using a mix of sand/leaf mold/activated char. Haven't looked in on the roots except very early one when one of my squash containers spilled. It was sending down a great tap root. I crush the char into perlite or so sizes thinking that it will serve a similar purpose. I mix the sand and leaf mold at pretty much 50/50 plus discretion. I've got a couple dozen trays going of this stuff (and many slight variations of this) and they are all doing very well. All local ingredients. No fossil fuels where used in the making or transporting of this potting soil
 
Andrew Schreiber
Posts: 215
Location: Zone 6a, Wahkiacus, WA
20
forest garden goat hugelkultur toxin-ectomy trees woodworking
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I recently made up a batch of potting soil for propagating several hundred comfrey root cuttings for planting out into a large swale system this up coming fall/winter.

I used a more of less equal mixture of:
spent mushroom substrate (decomposed Oak woodchips and wheat straw from a not-so-successful Shiitake bed attempt)
leaf mold (taken from a small depression in the forest. Oak and Pine needle based)
composted sod (from where we removed a lot of pesky grass, piled it, and put it under black plastic for the fall and winter. Lots of worms in it.)

The texture of the soil was very fluffy and full of mycellium and bits of root and woodchips that were still decomposing.

The comfrey is doing excellently in it. But doesn't Comfrey do well everywhere
 
brad millar
Posts: 99
Location: Menifee, CA
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I manage a landscape materials company. About six months ago I developed a potting/raised bed mix that we sell. My recipe is as follows:
6.5 parts compost
1 part perlite
.5 part poultry manure
1 part peat moss
1 part lava sand

These images were taken about a week apart. All plants were direct seeded.


 
brad millar
Posts: 99
Location: Menifee, CA
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Purple tree collard
 
Michael Vormwald
Posts: 154
Location: Central New York - Finger Lakes - Zone 5
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From a purely sustainable perspective adding leaf mould or rotted wood to top soil and compost would be best. Any wooded area or forest would provide a plentiful supply of either. If sustainability is less and issue for you (or leaf mould/rotted wood is not available) peat moss, vermiculite or perlite would be your alternatives.
 
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