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Soilless Potting Soil
March 09, 2009

Thanks to you, we keep growing.

Keep sharing the newsletters with friends and family.

Don't you just love it?

Daylight Savings Time.

That extra hour of daylight we can enjoy on the evening side of the day instead of the morning when many of us are in bed or working.

I have little trouble adjusting to "Spring Forward".

Now Fall Back is another story.

It's time,

Time for March madness.

There are league titles to win and conference tournaments to play heading up to "Selection Sunday" on the 15th

Who's it going to be this year?

Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, UConn, Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Michigan State?

Maybe there's a sleeper somewhere.

Don't forget to cheer on your local high schools.

Actually, I'm not referring to basketball,

I'm talking March madness.

You know what I'm talking about.

When you get that bug...............

You get a little crazy because you want to get outside and get dirty, but you know better.

The kind of crazy that goes beyond cabin fever.

When Nature teases, you will have a few warm days and then the temperatures drop and the ground turns white once more.


Short sleeved shirts one day and winter coats and shovels the next.

Now that is March madness, at least here in the North country it is.

This past week started out with sub zero and single digit temperatures (no snow).

The week ended with highs in the 60's and then into the 30's and rain.

Texas and other locations, I feel for you.

It was so nice to have some windows open.

To feel the smell the fresh air.

Listening to the sounds of the birds as they sing and drum away.

Now there is talk of snow later this week.

Why not, the robins are appearing more and more each day.

When the robins arrive here in southwest Michigan, you can pretty much rest assured we will get at least one more good snow fall.

I just might get that 3" of snow yet.

March madness, as the weather is in its own transition game.

The battle between winter and spring, I think winter will win this week).

High and lows.

Red-wing blackbirds continue to grow in numbers.

Brown headed cowbirds are popping up around here as well (A thrill a minute).

My winter feeding birds are becoming less and less as they begin to pair off or look for mating territories.

Another tell tale sign of spring is when you see rabbits in pairs (even they require a mating ritual).

Akita and Ziggy are once again enjoying their walks.

Keet has to smell everything and she wants to chase anything that moves.

Ziggy the poodle is much better on his walks now and even shows some interest in a rabbit now and then.

Yes they are on leashes when we walk.

These days, more people are looking to save a buck or even make a buck.

More and more of you are getting back into gardening and some folks are gardening for the first time.

Isn't that great?

With so many of you starting seeds, transplanting, planning on container gardens, raised beds and more, I thought I would share with you on soilless potting soil. (is that a misnomer?)

Making your own may not always be a good deal or good buy, but at least you know what is in it and i'll share with you the recipe that works well for me.

Onto Soiless Potting Soil.

Soilless Potting Soil

Make your own potting soil?

Why not?

It may be too early to put seeds in the ground in many locations, but you can get ready to grow by mixing up a batch of clean potting soil for starting seeds.

Most of the time mixing up your own is more economical than buying sterile potting mix at a garden store.

Plus, often you don't know what you are buying.

A good germinating medium is fine textured and free of pests, diseases and weed seeds. It should be low in fertility and soluble salts and capable of holding and moving moisture.

Beware my friend, soil straight from your backyard just wonít do the job.

Typical backyard soil is too compacted and full of weed seeds.

Native soil may not drain as well as potting mixes, and it can develop a crust that prevents seedlings from pushing though the surface.

If it is not pasteurized, which can cause diseases in seedlings.

Another task is to clean your pots, trays and flats in preparation for planting.

Scrape old dirt from containers, and then rinse them in a solution of one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water to kill remaining plant disease microorganisms that could invade your tender young seedlings.

Not to mention, seed starting instructions invariably say to use a good Soilless potting mix.

What kind of potting mix doesnít have soil and whatís wrong with soil anyway?

Why Not Start Seeds in Soil from the Garden?

You certainly could use soil right from your garden, to start seedlings indoors. However garden soil comes with 2 major disadvantages.

Whatís Coming in With It: Disease spores, bacteria, plant eating insects, weed seeds and assorted other unwanteds can easily hitch a ride with your garden soil.

There are all kinds of natural predators and weather phenomenon outdoors that help keep these things in check.

To use this soil indoors, youíd need to sterilize it first, with some sort of heat treatment and that takes to much time and effort.

Lack of Drainage: Garden soil tends to be somewhat heavy and without tilling, either by you, earthworms or other insects, it begins to compact after several waterings.

This compaction is especially hard on the tender roots of young seedlings just getting established.

Okay Ron, what is so Great About a Soilless Mix?

A soilless mix gives you more control.

Besides being free of disease and other contaminates, you can blend ingredients for preferred drainage, water retention and air space.

It is also lighter in weight, which youíll appreciate when you have to move the pots outdoors.

Whatís in a Soilless Potting Mix?

Most soilless mixes are predominantly sphagnum peat moss. Sphagnum peat is lightweight, inexpensive and in certain areas, renewable.

Just as important, it drains well yet its water retentive.

Granted, until you get the peat thoroughly moistened, the particles can be very unpleasant to work with.

Peat is also on the acidic side and most seed starting mixes have a soil pH around 5.8, which is fine for starting most seeds.

Bark: Bark is added to improve drainage and air space within the mix. This means it will also decrease the water retention slightly. Bark mixes are better for use with mature plants that need to dry between waterings than for starting seeds.

Coir: Coir is a coconut fiber by-product and works similar to peat in providing good drainage while also retaining water. Itís often used as a substitute in areas where peat is hard to come by.

Perlite: Perlite is that stuff that looks like pebbly Styrofoam. Itís a volcanic mineral, although it does not affect the nutrient quality or the pH of the mix. It does add in drainage and in air and water retention, that magical balance. In fact, it is sometimes used in outdoor gardens to prevent sandy soil from leaching nutrients.

Vermiculite: Vermiculite is those silvery-gray flecks you see in potting soil. Itís a mica-type material that is heated up and expanded, to increase itís water holding capacity. The particles soak up water and nutrients and hold them in the mix until the plants are ready to access them. Perlite is also good as a soil covering for seeds that need to remain consistently moist to germinate.

You may see vermiculite for sale at home improvement stores, for use in insulation or plaster. This grade vermiculite is not really suitable for potting mixes since it does not absorb water easily.

If you are into "Organic Gardening" 100% you need to look at some products for fertilizer and/or trace elements or a wetting agents.

Seeds donít require fertilizer for germination, so it is somewhat wasted if you are using it for seed starting.

By the time the seedlings have grown true leaves and require supplemental food, what ever was in the mix has begun to dissipate.

Wetting agents are becoming increasingly popular.

Thatís understandable, if youíve ever worked with straight peat moss.

Wetting agents are polymers added to the soil to greatly improve their water absorbing ability.

I donít know of any certified organic wetting agents, perhaps because by nature, a soil wetting canít be quickly bio-degradable or theyíd be useless.

Iíve always had good luck without a wetting agent, but making sure my mix is well moistened before I put it into pots or cell packs and then, not letting it dry out. Watering containers from the bottom will help with this.

If your pots or containers dry out to much, punch several holes into the mixture using a pencil or similar object.

This allows the water to soak into the mix instead of running down the side os your container.

You may also see pH adjusting amendments such as limestone or gypsum.

Mixes will vary by manufacturer and region. Occasionally a particular plant will favor certain amendments over others, but for seed starting a basic mix is generally sufficient.

These will be labeled for seed starting or as a starter or germination mix.

The best way to judge a potting mix is to see how well your seedlings do.

If you get good germination and the seedlings start off a healthy green, all is well. Otherwise adjust your mix, starting with the pH.

A soilless potting mix is preferable to using outdoor garden soil for several reasons. And there are many good soilless mixes on the market.

However if you need a large quantity of mix or have a need for a special blend, it is often easier to simply create your own potting mix.

Here is the mix I use and have had great success with it (I add the nutrients).

I use it for starting seeds, growing outdoor plants and vegetables as well as houseplants.

Using a whell barrow, large container or a plastic child's pool, mix together:

2 parts Compost ( I use Michigan Peat)

2-4 parts Sphagnum Peat Moss (I go 4 parts)

1-2 parts Perlite or Vermiculite (I go 2 parts)

I use perlite, but it doesn't realy matter.

Basic Mix with the Addition of Nutrients Add Ĺ cup each per every 8 gallons of mix:

(I use Espoma products for this).

Ĺ cup Bone Meal(Phosphorous).

Ĺ cup Dolomitic Limestone (Raises soil pH and provides calcium and magnesium).

Ĺ cup Blood Meal or Soybean Meal or Dried Kelp Powder (Nitrogen).

If you feel the need, watering agents can be added at this time as well.

This mixture also will work in raised beds as long as you continue to add organic matter to your beds.

After my growing season is over, I empty my containers into my gardens and beds and work it into the soil. It adds organics plus ariates the soil.

The picture to the right is me with a couple of my tomato plants.

As you can see the are large plants in large pots.

My 6 plants produced 60 quarts (canned), more than enough to eat and give plenty to friends and family and of coarse, many green fried tomatoes.

It is important to water daily or as needed and to feed potted plants on a regular basis.

I feed my pots every 2 weeks.


Water and nutrients leach out of the drian holes.

Pots dry out quicker than the earth so watering is very important.

Be sure to keep water off the foliage as air borne fungus are looking for a place to settle down.

If you only need a tad bit of potting mix, you may be better off purchasing a bag instead of making your own.

For me, I use a lot of it, plus I like to tinker around.

Be sure to save this recipe for future use.

Well, Its time to fly.

Before I go, I have a comment and your positive quote or thought for the week.

I end every letter with a positive quote and thought for the week.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone reads them, but every now and then a reader will respond with a thank you or to let me know that it hit home or really blessed them.

If one reader responds to anything I write, then I feel I've done my job.

Hopefully it made you think.

Maybe even get you to change a habit or two.

Good or bad, you had to think about something and thinking is a good thing.

This past week several of you responded about our situation and our Brain injured daughter.

Her name is Yolanda. She is a quadriplegic and is a blessing to us.

Thank you all for your responses and prayer.

Hopefully at least one of you can look at life a bit different now.

Thank you so much, and everyone that shares their time with me.

Now here is this week's thought.

You can find on the outside only what you possess on the inside.

Adolfo Montiel Ballesteros

How ture, how true.

This is almost a follow up on last week's qoute isn't it?

What do you see or find around you?

Do find beauty?


Do you find tough times?



Is your vocabulary filled with "Why me" or "Life stinks"?

(I've been there, boy have I been there and don't plan on going back.)

Or do you use terms like "What a beautiful day"

Here is the secret to this truth.

What you think about most of the time, you are or become.

We don't pick up habits over night.

Bad habits or good habits,

It takes time to develope or practice them.

The sad part is, it seems to be easier to practice bad habits (fallen world).

That goes for our thoughts too.

Research shows that good habits can be developed within 30 days and with practice, they can replace bad habits.

It's your choice.

Do you feel unloved?

Then start loving from within (yourself first) and it will replace bitterness.

Do feel unappreciated?

Then start showing appreciation for others and it will be returned to you (even if it is within).

Does the world seem unfair?

Then change that from within as well.

Look at the world around you.

If you can read this, then you have a choice to change many things around you and about you.

It is never to late.

That change can start with a simple smile (baby steps).

When you start to smile, your moods change.

You can change the moods of others too.

Oh sure it may not happen over night, but you can do it.

I know you can, because I can and have in many ways.

The choice is up to you my friend.

Whats the saying?

"Garbage in, garbage out."

Now I realize you may not be able to change everything and someone may have a handi-cap like our daughter, but many things you can change if you chose to do so.

Matters in your control, you can change and you can start living the life you want.

How about happiness and love. Love starts from within and the same reflects out.

Now, start everyday this week with a big THANK YOU LORD and share your best smiles.

Get out there and enjoy the natural world around you.

Look for the beauty in a snowflake or a naked tree.

Help a fellow human being.

You may be amazed at how well you feel when you help others.

It is a universal law my friend.

You can do it, I know you can.

Until next time.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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