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potting soil for flats

Make Your Own Potting Soil

Three decades of Growing Good Food in the Northwoods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula
~ ~ ~
Down to Earth Information, Experiences, Thoughts

I tried a lot of different combinations for making my own potting soil in years past and they were great if over elaborate homemade mixtures that took hours and a motorized shredder/grinder to mix. Buying dirt in a plastic bag just wasn't my thing so that wasn't an option but the noise of the shredder was hardly a pleasant experience (besides which we sold it). I decided I was making this project far too complicated and too hard, so I looked around for another solution.

 And the solution was right there in front of me. Well, at least it was when I was in the garden. It was there in the compost pile (see the Compost article for information on making compost).
        At first I simply used straight compost and that was it. Sometimes I would sift it through a 1/2" hardware cloth screen first, other times I'd wait till I needed it then sift it. For fine seeds I use a 1/4" hardware cloth screen). Maybe I'd mix in some sharp sand. 
        The plants and I were fairly happy with the results. But the compost tended to be rather heavy, and I occasionally had trouble with damping off. I would spray the seedling flats and pots with a strong chamomile tea and that would usually take care of it. Sometimes I would "water" my filled flats and pots with boiling hot water before planting (letting it cool off first). But my soil is alive and I didn't like the idea of knocking off some important whatevers with the boiling water. So I came up with a mix that is fairly easy but works better.
       I have no exact recipe but in general I put a 1/2 inch screen sifter on a wheelbarrow and shovel in and sift:

            a half dozen shovels of compost
            a few shovels of garden soil (we have sandy-loam soil and I usually take it from the outer perimeter which we keep tilled -- the rest of the garden is in permanent beds). I don't always include garden soil.
            several shovels of sharp sand (sifted gravel type sand not the soft sand of most soils. I often use Lake Superior beach sand)
            a generous dusting of wood ashes
            several shovels worth of old sawdust or shredded dry leaves or well dried grass clippings 

     Mix it all up with shovel or hoe and you have a generous supply of great healthy potting soil. I do this in the fall, filling a galvanized garbage can in the greenhouse with the mix so I have potting soil ready at hand whenever I need it all winter and spring. 

     You can just mix it all up without sifting, of course, then sift later as needed (
see Soil Sifters article). Works both ways. This is a live soil and I often have to weed my flats of odds and ends of weeds and unwanted seedlings that come with the mixture. It's a rare occasion now that I have damping off or mold but a watering with strong chamomile tea takes care of it if it occurs.

        Now I've also potted up small transplants and full sized plants out of the garden to bring in the greenhouse using plain garden soil and they have done just fine. But my experience using garden soil for indoor winter and spring potting soil hasn't been good and I prefer the potting soil mix. Garden soil tends to pack too much making it hard to water and I had more trouble with damping off when I used it. I'm sure this would depend on your soil, however, so experiment.

        One way or another, there's no reason to buy potting soil. Make your own! If you eat, you can make compost. If you live where you can't have a regular outdoor compost pile, check out the indoor worm composting method. It looks like fun and I know many folks who swear by it. Your attitude makes a big different in all this, too. Healthy plants start with healthy soil, and a healthy outlook on life will give your potting soil that extra dash of magic that can't be replicated from a bag.

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Copyright 2009 by Susan Robishaw

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updated 04/03/2014

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