Let’s Start Gardening #4

“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”- Franklin D. Roosevelt

I garden in containers. Containers are a great way to garden for people who have soil with issues, lack of space, or mobility issues. For me container garden checked off two major issues. The first issue for me was a clay based soil. I could have amended the soil over time by bringing in extra soil and nutrients, but I didn’t have that kind of time in my life. The other issue I have is related to mobility. I have degenerative disk disorder which basically means my back hurts all the time. Traditional gardening requires a lot of bending down and squatting. All things that are not very pleasant for my back.

For me the benefits of container gardening outweighed and negatives. With that being said there are some negatives. You must select the right size container for the veggie you plan to grow. You must water containers more often, and then there is the biggie. The start up cost is higher in container gardening vs. traditional gardening.

If you plan to container garden you must pick the correct soil. DO NOT USE soil from your yard or top soil. You must use container mix or potting soil. I even go a step further to make sure my soil drains well and provides optimal conditions for my plants. I use 1/3 potting mix, 1/3 compost, and 1/3 vermiculite or perlite. You can also use peat moss or coco coir in place of potting mix. This is known as Mel’s Mix. I select potting mix because it already has some amendments in it and it also contains nutrients for my plants. I will continue to promote Miracle Grow until I find something that performs better.

To create this mix simply put 1/3 of each item in your container and mix very well. This is when I throw in some fertilizer. If you are fertilizing the plants you aren’t doing much. You need to fertilize the soil. Your plants need a good home that provides them with everything they need to flourish.

A question I get often is regarding saving soil. Once your planting season is over or you have accidentally purchased what I call garbage soil, it can be saved. I save soil in five gallon buckets from season to season. I chose this method, because I had five gallon buckets. I know you thought I was going to give you some profound reason. No, it was because I grew potatoes in five gallon buckets and found if I put lids on the buckets they would hold all my soil over winter.

After you have grown veggies in the soil there will be roots, mulch and other things you don’t want to carry from season to season. I discovered a secret that has transformed my garden.

This is a sifter I purchased on Amazon. You should be able to find some type of sifter at hardware stores but let me explain why I got this one. This particular sifter fits perfectly on a five gallon bucket. There are grooves at the bottom that allows it to sit firmly on the bucket as you sift the dirt. The second reason I selected this sifter was because of the size of the holes. 1/4 inch allowed all the soil and vermiculite to fall through while trapping straw, mulch, roots, and even rocks.

Above is the soil I started with. This was soil from the potatoes I grew last year. Notice all the roots, mulch and rocks in the mixture. This could have come from compost or amendments I put in the soil, or it could have come from birds. The goal is to remove all this from the soil while maintaining the vermiculite or amendments you have placed in the soil.

Above is what I was left with after sifting the soil. Yes it will seem like a lot of items are being removed from the soil but don’t panic. Place these items you remove from the soil in your compost bin. Outside of the rocks the rest of the items can be broken down. You can also place much of this on top of many of your plants to protect them from the sun in the heat of summer. Note that these items are not bad for your plants. You just don’t want roots or tiny seedlings competing with rocks for space. You are trying to make it as easy as possible for your plants to thrive.

Above is what you should be left with. This soil will be light and almost fluffy to the touch. You should be able to stick your hand all the way to the bottom of the bucket with no issues. This is the growing medium you want for your plants.

So the big tip here. Never throw out soil. Just grab yourself a $27 sifter and save the soil you already have. Here is another tip. One five gallon bucket of sifted soil gets me three buckets of premium growing mix. Remember you are mixing 1/3 of this sifted soil with 1/3 compost and 1/3 vermiculite. Depending on the quality of the sifted soil you may only need to top dress it with compost. You may not have to buy new soil from year to year, but you will have to buy compost. That is a small price to pay for the savings you will receive.

So at the end of the season grab those five gallon buckets and some lids. Sift the soil as you close out the growing season. I did not discover the sifter until this year so I’ve been sifting for hours in the garden. Yes its time consuming but the work is worth the reward. I repotted cabbage in the mixture after growing the seedlings in seed starting mix. They doubled in size in one week.

Currently growing three container friendly varieties of cabbage. Tiara, Katrina, and Early Jersey. Hopefully as the season goes on I can tell you about my favorites.

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