The Survival Gardener Book of the Week #2: The Planet Whizbang Idea Book for Gardeners

gardening books

Last week I told you why you should get Gardening When it Counts by Steve Solomon.

This week, we’ll cover a book by another one of my mentors – a man I’m also lucky enough to call a friend.

Let’s face the dirty truth: gardening books are often boring. And good gardening ideas are few and far between.

Sure, there’s the occasional laughter-inducing tome, such as Ruth Stout’s epic Gardening Without Work… or the infectious enthusiasm for geometric horticultural engineering found in Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening.

But most gardening books do little to stir the mind.

How many time do we need to be told the proper C/N ratio of compost? Or the spacing of beans? Or the cold-tolerance of kale.

Yawn.

We Gooders are looking for more. We need the burning vision of a Sepp Holzer to stir us… or the green vistas of Geoff Lawton’s food forest Edens.

Today’s book nestles in the sweet spot somewhere between the down-to-earth and the skyward-reaching tendrils of imagination.

If you’re looking for gardening ideas, this is the book for you.

This book = pure idea generation

Herrick Kimball is the inventor of the Whizbang Chicken Plucker, the Whizbang Wheel Hoe, the Whizbang Cider Press the Whizbang Garden Cart and he’s the maker of Classic American Clothespins that are better than their high-strung ancestors.

He also runs the excellent blog Upland Gardener… and he’s now started a regular vlog on his YouTube channel titled This Agrarian Life.

But… on to this week’s book!

I first had the chance to read The Planet Whizbang Idea Book for Gardeners during the cold days of winter back in 2014 and found it to be a great inspiration for the upcoming gardens of 2015.

Planet Whizbang Idea Book for Gardeners Cover

This is truly a book of ideas. If you’re a DIY person, a dreamer, a tinkerer or an experimenter… Kimball sets forth a big batch of homemade and home-tested ideas and basically says “Here – take these gifts and build with them and on them!”

Gardening ideas covered include remarkably inexpensive and sturdy T-post trellises, tri-grown carrots, refurbishing antique garden hoes (which I have done myself with great success!), creating biochar, building solar pyramids, siphon-tube rain barrels and a lot more.

Along with the many ideas and profuse illustrations, Kimball includes snippets and essays from vintage gardening books, letters, almanacs and bulletins. The wisdom of the past twines through the pages, reflecting Kimball’s Christian Agrarian philosophy of working with his hands and caring for the land generationally.

Mineralization, tool design, insect control – the gardening ideas are introduced to the reader one after the other, daring him to set down the book and get out in the workshop or garden with a brilliant new plan.

The Planet Whizbang Idea Book for Gardeners is my kind of book – and I think you’ll like it too.

You can get a copy here.

David-the-good-books-revised

Successful Gardening in Jacksonville!

backyard

D & S report success gardening in Jacksonville with some of my favorite crops and methods:

“Thought I’d send you a few pictures from our yard of what is growing now here in Jacksonville. Close to your old neck in the woods. I’ve taken a lot of good information you’ve provided over the years and my gardens are getting better and better.

90% of the tomatoes in the pictures are everglade. Amazingly prolific. We literally a large bowl full a day and that’s just the really red ones. I have one on the front porch in a grow box that I planted last March that is still producing. Amazing plant. 

successful gardening in jacksonville everglades tomatoes

All of the collards, Seminole pumpkins and everglades tomatoes growing right now came from seed from my last years gardening.

seminole-pumpkins2

collard greens

There is more stuff not pictured just because I wanted to pick a few to send. 

We’ve got sweet potatoes, peaches, citrus, lemon grass, 25 blueberry bushes, and more. 

This year so far I’ve spent probably less than 20$ on gardening. No soil, no fertilizer, no pesticides, just bought a couple things of seed starting mix, and a few pepper starts.

gardening in jacksonville seminole pumpkins and everglades tomatoes

A far cry from a few years back, when I was doing raised beds, buying soil, compost, seedlings, etc. 

I only have a couple of compost piles that just have leaves,weeds, etc, that are composting pretty slow but coming along. All my other composting I do is just burying stuff in the ground. Any leftover food scraps. I do a lot of fishing and all over the fish carcasses get buried in various spots. Keeps the rats and my dog from getting into it.

Just wanted to say hello, and thanks for all the tips and inspiration over the years. Read your site everyday and watch every youtube video.  Keep up the good work, brother!”

 

Thank you – I appreciate the kind words and the success report!

Whether you’re gardening in Jacksonville or gardening in Miami, the crops and techniques I shared in Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening work.

Totally_Crazy_Easy_Florida_Gardening_350As do the cheap and easy composting methods in Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Compost_960-webBoth books aren’t hard reads; they’re only in the 35,000 word range each.

Yet they both represent a lot of experimentation with crops and systems aimed at growing the most amount of food for the least amount of work. I failed again and again testing vegetables for Florida until I figured out which ones would grow even in a beginner’s garden.

And, I’m cheap. The “less than $20” spent on a garden sounds about right to me!

Florida is hot and sandy with almost universally terrible soil fertility and lots of pests. Yet when you grow the right things, you will have success.

Extra points for burying fish carcasses.

David-the-good-books-revised

Skillcult Remembers!

skillcult-remembers

I’ve been plugging Steven’s work ever since we met a while back. He and I both have that INTJ insanity going that makes experimentation a way of life.

He recently hit 10,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel and gave me a nice shout-out:

I’ve been sending traffic to other people since I started this site. Trading links and giving shout-outs connects you to the bigger community of gardeners and homesteaders, plus boosts your own profile as a side benefit.

Back when I first started linking to people, it only meant a few views for them. My reach was short and my site was small.

Now it means more, as you guys are quite happy to mobilize and send views to a worthy site or video if I say “hey – this guy is great!”

All of us are learning all the time. Sometimes I feel more like a good collector and interpreter of information rather than a brilliant innovator. Sure, I come up with some good ideas now and again but there’s really nothing new under the sun.

If I made a list of the people I need to thank, I’d have a hard time reaching the end of it. The commentors here that send me off searching on something new… the family members that said “you can do it!” when I was a kid… the experimenters like Steven that get me thinking along unexpected and profitable lines… I am blessed.

Subscribe to Steven’s channel if you haven’t already. Also make sure to visit his website – there’s a ton of info there on everything from axes to grafting.

He’s a great guy to follow.

Even if I did use a screen shot for this post making him look totally dopey.

David-the-good-books-revised

Planting a Living Fence in Almost Any Climate

gliricida-living-fence

This last week I demonstrating planting a living fence and posted the process on YouTube:

You can get the extended 21-minute mix of the Publix Song here, if you’re insane.

Since there were a lot of questions on this fence, I posted a follow-up video answering some of them:

I’m writing this article on half my normal caffeine dose, so if I make a mistake… blame the Lipton.

Species Options for Planting a Living Fence

For subtropical climates with little to no frosty weather, you could build a living fence with Gliricidia sepium, moringa, some aralia species, purple mombin or even governor plum.

Farther north you can do this with willow branches – especially in wet areas.

living fence made of willow

Living fences could also potentially be planted from the branches of species of mulberry, though I’ve had 0% success rooting mulberry by sticking branches in the ground.

If you don’t have any trees with branches that can be rammed in the ground to root, just plant almost any kind of tree seedlings in V shapes at 45-degree angles and tie them together at crossing points.

Dwarf apples, anyone?

There are a lot of possibilities for building a living fence. Interweaving the trees causes them to graft together over time and make an almost impenetrable barrier – even more so if you use a hard and thorny tree like osage orange!

As recounted over at Mother Earth News, “Easily propagated from seeds, cuttings, or sprouts from the roots, Osage orange is tolerant of a wide range of soils, resistant to drought, long-lived, and affected little by insects or disease. Planted at a spacing of 1 foot, in four years it makes a fence that is “horse-high, bull-strong, and hog-tight.”

Osage orange is also one of the best woods for tool handles and bows. Bonus!

From the same article:

“Other thorny species that could be used to make living fences are pyracanthas, jujube, hollies, black locust (also fixes nitrogen), honey locust (which has high-protein seeds and pods for livestock and people), prickly ash, and rugosa rose (which has vitamin C-rich fruits, or “hips”).”

Other Side Benefits of Living Fences

Beyond just keeping out wandering livestock and nosy neighbors, living fences have some serious advantages.

Let’s run through a few!

1. A Living Fence is Free

Unless you buy seedlings to plant, you can start a living fence for free. In my case, all I had to do was cut some Gliricidia branches and plant them. As for potted trees or shrubs, you can start your own. I always keep a little plant nursery going with a lot of bits and pieces in it. Maybe a multi-species living fence would work? Imagine that! Bougainvillea, noni trees, purple mombin, alternating with nitrogen fixers… crazy! A 2D food forest!

Oh man. I need to try that.

But the point is: free. Free is good.

2. A Living Fence Produces for You

A wire or wood fence is just a barrier, but a living fence is more than that. It’s a living, productive line of trees.

The top can be cut and fed to livesotck or used as a green layer in compost. You can also let it grow taller and make the trimmings into plant stakes. Or charcoal/biochar.

Not bad, eh?

3. A Living Fence Supports Other Species

If your living fence is a nitrogen-fixing species, it will feed the plants alongside it.

A living fence can also serve as a trellis for yams and other species as well as a home for birds, beneficial insects and lizards.

 

There are plenty of good reasons to plant a living fence and plenty of species that work almost no matter where you live. Experiments like this living fence are fun and I look forward to seeing mine in a few months.

Enjoy this post? Pin it on Pinterest!

plant a living fence pinterest*Willow living fence image via Rhian on Flickr. CC license.

David-the-good-books-revised

Plastic in the Garden: Good or Bad?

Nursery

Craig (of Permie Flix) asks about plastic in the garden in the comments of my video on making potting soil:

“I noticed you used a plastic tarp, bag, and bag pots. Most gardeners are cheap skates and do similar. What are your thoughts on plastic use in gardening?”

I answered:

“I go back and forth on plastic. I hate throwing it away. I do like the DeWitt/Sunbelt woven nursery fabric for occultation of new beds/no-till. Water comes through from the top but not light. Plus, the stuff will last a decade or so. It’s a pretty good trade-off. As for pots, discarded metal soup cans with holes punched in them work okay. Clay is too expensive. I just don’t see anything other than plastic for nursery work being feasible at this point. These plastic bag pots last for a few years and cost a few cents.”

Craig in turn raises some good points:

“Plastic is so useful in ag, and everyone seems to be using plastic green houses, plastic mulch, and fabric row covers like the DeWitt/Sunbelt. Plastic fertilizer bags, plastic pots, fabric pots, plastic trays, plastic irrigation, plastic totes. That’s a lot of plastic in ag. I’ve just been wondering what the Earth’s carry capacity for plastic might be before ecosystems are irreversibly damaged, and how much is acceptable, because I can’t see it’s use going away, only accelerating. I’ve read that the doubling time for plastic is around every 11 years. And that there are end-of-life problems like toxic materials such as heavy metals that leach out of the plastic as the products decay over a span of years. Tad at KIS organics wrote an interesting post about fabric pots last year containing lead and BPA among other things: https://www.kisorganics.com/blogs/news/fabric-pots This week I’ve read two articles, one on the isolated Henderson Island that was found to have 671.6 items per square metre of debris on North Beach, 99.8% of which were plastic. And another that showed of 17 brands of sea salt only one had no microplastic in it. Previous studies in Sydney harbour showed >30% of the mullet sampled had microplastics in their guts, and over 90% of seabirds feast on plastic and then defecate it on land. It’s also entering our soils through ag and municipal compost. I know that worm growth rate is significantly reduced at 28% w/w microplastics and that they distribute microplastics in their casts throughout soils. Considering that plastic was only synthesised in 1907, I’m on the go back side of plastic use and planting directly in the ground where possible. But like you mentioned there aren’t many other options for nursery work if you want to save your back and pocket. And I can’t see consumer demand for biodegradable products making a dent in regulatory or commercial practices anytime soon either.”

It really is a conundrum. I would certainly like to go without using plastic, yet sometimes there really isn’t a better option.

What About Other Options?

Back in Florida people used to ask me “what about soil blocks for transplants?”

They’re great… except Florida’s “soil” won’t hold together. You have to get some clay from somewhere else to make them stick. And the time involved… well… might as well just get some plastic trays.

When I ran my plant nursery, many of my pots were scavenged from other nurseries. I reused pots over and over again and would give extra plants to people that brought back pots after planting my plants in their gardens…

…yet eventually those pots would wear out and be thrown away.

I don’t like the large amount of plastic ending up in the environment. It’s everywhere. Even recycling may not make sense as I’ve read it takes more energy to recycle plastic than it does to just throw it in a landfill.

Yet try building a greenhouse without plastic! If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to scavenge old windows, but still – the construction is much more time-consuming than just throwing up a plastic sheet.

And eventually, that plastic wears out and is discarded.

Getting Rid of Plastic?

It’s tempting to burn plastic to get rid of it, but that releases some nasty toxins into the air.

“Current research indicates that backyard-burning of waste is far more harmful to our health than previously thought. It can increase the risk of heart disease, aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma and emphysema, and cause rashes, nausea, or headaches, damages in the nervous system, kidney or liver, in the reproductive and development system.

The burning of polystyrene polymers – such as foam cups, meat trays, egg
containers, yogurt and deli containers – releases styrene. Styrene gas can readily
be absorbed through the skin and lungs. At high levels styrene vapor can damage
the eyes and mucous membranes. Long term exposure to styrene can affect
the central nervous system, causing headaches, fatigue, weakness,
and depression.”
Yeah, that’s no fun. You can also burn yourself if you run through the ashes barefoot. My little brother did that when he was a kid, stepping on a piece of molten plastic and burning his heel badly.
Takeaway: don’t run through molten plastic and ashes barefoot.
no-bare-feet-on-fire plastic in the garden - dont burn it
That brother is a fire-fighter now. No kidding.

All burning of plastic may not be bad, however. There may be the possibility of using plastic as fuel in the near future, though:

“Burning plastic in the traditional manner creates extremely polluting byproducts, as evidenced by the black smoke produced by the cup. But this didn’t thwart Levendis, who noted that plastic contains the same amount of energy per pound as premium fuel.

“We wanted to tackle the problem by preprocessing the plastics,” said Chuanwei Zhuo, a doctoral candidate in Levendis’ lab. Toward that end, the team developed a combustion system that adds a simple step to the burning process that allows for turning plastic into a fuel that burns just as cleanly as natural gas.

That simple step has a daunting name: pyrolytic gasification. Instead of directly setting the cup aflame with a match in the open air, the team’s reactor heats the material to a whopping 800 degrees Celsius in a completely oxygen-free environment. This causes the plastic to become a gas, which is then mixed with air before it is burned as a clean fuel.”

So is Plastic in the Garden Good or Evil?

Realistically, it’s probably evil – yet it’s an evil without good alternatives right now, at least that I can find.

I like it when people like Craig ask “have you thought about…”

I’ll keep thinking about plastic in the garden. I’m still on the fence. I don’t like the environmental impact but I also don’t know what else to use.

What are your thoughts?

David-the-good-books-revised

Strong Legs

mountains

Since losing our car in an accident, I’ve had to do a lot more walking.

Our home is a few miles from the nearest grocery store, over slopes and rough terrain, but it’s kind of fun walking there.

Walking back with bags of produce and rice, butter and coconut oil… isn’t as much fun.

Sometimes I can catch a bus for part of the way. Other times I get lucky and can hitch a ride up the road with someone. Often I can’t.

It’s good exercise to walk, though, even if it means being a bit sunburned and soaked with sweat after a grocery store trip.

Usually I’ll take a few children with me. If each of them carries a bag or two, we can get more on each trip. Sometimes Rachel will meet us at the end of the road for the last ascent up the mountain to our house, which also helps a lot.

I don’t know when we’ll be able to get another vehicle though I’m working on it. Life moves slower here and you also need to make sure you’re not getting swindled.

When I was in town recently a man told me his friend was selling a van for a certain price. He asked him on the phone about it. Then when the man showed up with his vehicle, I asked him the price.

It had gone up $2000 after he saw me. I suppose you could call it the white man tax.

I don’t fault people for that sort of thing. They want to get the best price possible. Yet at the same time, I’m no Donald Trump – I’m not good at “the art of the deal.” The vehicle wasn’t suitable anyhow, so it was easy to walk away.

Literally.

Out back we have an abundance of plantains, coconuts and pineapples, plus the mangoes are starting to come in and we’re getting a jackfruit every couple of weeks. Going to the store for items like butter and flour isn’t strictly necessary, but it makes Rachel’s job as cook easier.

We’ll get back on the road eventually I’m sure. For now, I’m grateful for strong legs… and I’m still very glad to be alive.

Have a good Sabbath, folks. Take a rest… there will be plenty of good gardening to get done this new week.

 

*         *          *

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

-Psalm 13, ESV

David-the-good-books-revised

How to Germinate Jackfruit Seeds

jackfruit-germination

Today we’ll cover how to germinate jackfruit seeds.

First – here’s my video on jackfruit germination:

About Jackfruit

Jackfruit are a very productive tropical tree and a relative of mulberries, breadfruit and figs.

They also are capable of bearing the largest fruit on the planet.

Look at this one!

germinate jackfruit

Image from Sin Chew Daily

The guy on the left is like “TAKE THE PICTURE ALREADY!”

Inside the jackfruit and around the seeds is a delicious, tropical-sweet flesh like nothing else on earth.

sprout jackfruit seed

The trees bear abundantly and require little care to cover you in Jackfruit. Even in South Florida, somewhat outside their normal range, jackfruit can do excellently – as my friends Chuck and Sarah can attest.

Jackfruit_Tree_South_Florida_With_Sarah

But how do you grow your own jackfruit tree?

Seeds!

Let’s germinate some jackfruit seeds, shall we?

How to Germinate Jackfruit Seeds

Germinating jackfruit seeds isn’t hard but you do need to start with fresh seed as the seeds dry out and die quickly.

Obtaining Jackfruit Seeds

You’ll have to find for an ethnic market to obtain jackfruit unless you’re lucky enough to live someplace where jackfruit are regularly grown.

Now you know my favorite source for rare edible plants. Go and hunt.

Open that jackfruit up and save those seeds.

Here’s how my wife opens jackfruit now:

After you’re done munching on delicious jackfruit and cleaning the latex off everything in the kitchen, it’s time to plant the jackfruit seeds.

Jackfruit seeds look like fat beans. If you don’t have time to plant them right away, just set them aside on the counter – they’ll keep for a few days.

Don’t put them in the fridge!

Jackfruit have very little tolerance for cold and you may kill the seeds. If you need to keep them for a week or more, put the seeds in some moist soil or with a damp paper towel. They may rot or sprout if you leave them for too long, so it’s better to plant quickly.

Planting Jackfruit Seeds

how-to-germinate-jackfruit-seeds-pinterest

You can plant jackfruit seeds in pots, but direct-seeding jackfruit also works quite well.

If you use pots, make sure you pick deeper ones. Jackfruit like to send roots down fast and deep and will rapidly outgrow a small pot.

Here’s a video where I plant jackfruit seeds right in the ground:

They grew well, then I thinned the cluster of sprouts down to one tree. It’s been less than a year and that tree is about 3′ tall now.

Plant your seeds 2″ deep and wait. It will take a month or two for them to come up. Be patient and keep them watered. Before planting, I often soak seeds in water overnight in case they’ve dried out a bit. It seems to help.

Jackfruit come up with long, thin green shoots that resolve into two little leaves at the top.

My friend Amanda had this one come up in her compost heap – it’s a good example:

Jackfruit seed sprout

Remember: jackfruit do much better in the ground than they do in pots. Get them in the ground once they’re a decent size and get them growing with lots of compost.

How Long Does it Take a Jackfruit to Bear from Seed?

Some sites will say it takes years and years for a jackfruit to bear from seed but this isn’t necessarily correct. The tree in our yard apparently started bearing at about 5 years of age. Your mileage may vary.

Jackfruit grow quickly and like water, fertile soil and plenty of sun. Light frosts may kill young trees but older trees can take some cold.

I cover the potential for growing jackfruit outside their range in my book Push the Zone: The Good Guide to Growing Tropical Plants Beyond the Tropics.

So – what are you waiting for? Go ye out and germinate jackfruit seeds!

David-the-good-books-revised

The Survival Gardener Book of the Week #1: Gardening When it Counts

gardening books

Today I’m announcing a new regular feature: The Survival Gardener Library!

Every Friday I’ll feature a book of the week worth adding to your library. We’ll focus on gardening, homesteading, food forests, permaculture and wild plant foraging and maybe even throw in the occasional book from out there in left field.

I’ve been a book collector since I was a child and those books shaped the man I am today. From the Animals Without Backbones to The Foundation Trilogy to Florida Gardening to The Lord of the Rings, books have uplifted and inspired me over the years.

And that doesn’t even count the book that has impacted me the most: The Holy Bible. If you don’t have that book yet, go get one.

This week we’ll start the series with the must-have book Scorpions of Medical Importance:

51TOPWMMjdL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_

Oh wait, no, that’s not it. I’m sorry.

This week we feature Steve Solomon’s classic:

Gardening When it Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times

Gardening When It Counts

I consider Steve Solomon my mentor.

We finally got the chance to meet via Skype a couple of months ago and he is brilliant in person as well. The man’s mind is a machine – yet his books are easy to read, accessible, and almost always practical.

Steve has gardened organically for years in a variety of climates. He’s farmed, run a seed company and written multiple books. I own them all, with the exception of Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades – though you can bet your broadfork I’d buy that one too if I lived within a thousand miles of the region.

Gardening When it Counts teaches you to grow food without breaking the bank or your back. It will open your eyes to the value of wide spacing, sharp tools and traditional methods.

Reading Steve is like learning from a wise grandfather who has been there, done that, and grown the potatoes.

If you don’t own this book and you are a gardener, you should.

Go get a copy. Read it. Learn from Steve – he knows his stuff.

You can learn more about Steve Solomon on his website.

 

*Original featured photo by my friend Jean.

David-the-good-books-revised

Chicken Run Composting

Homemade-potting-soil-sifted-chicken-run-soil

I have a new post over at The Grow Network on chicken run composting the Back to Eden way.

Excerpt:

Throw Compostable Items to the Birds!

Yard “waste”, weeds, kitchen scraps, picnic remains… if it’s organic and will break down in a reasonable amount of time, throw it to your hens.

Back To Eden Chicken Run Compost

When you prune trees you can take the entire pruned branches and toss them into the chicken run. When all the leaves fall off, pull the branches out again and throw them into a hugelkultur mound, turn them into biochar, or use them for rocket stove fuel.

The leaves will be turned into compost by your birds, and then you can use that compost in your garden.

This mother hen and her chick started tearing into the leaves and garden “waste” as soon as I dropped it in the coop:

Back To Eden Chicken Composting

Chickens want to work for you if you give them a chance.

Click here to keep reading over at The Grow Network

David-the-good-books-revised

How to Make Homemade Potting Soil With Three Simple Ingredients

homemade potting soil recipe

Today you’ll learn how to make homemade potting soil using only three simple ingredients. I’ll also give you alternate recipes for potting soil in case you don’t have those three readily available.

My Homemade Potting Soil Recipe

If you’d like to see me make my homemade potting soil, here’s a video I created illustrating the process:

First, you’ll need a place to work.

I like to spread a tarp on the grass and use that as my mixing area, but you can work on any solid surface. A tarp is easy to roll back and forth to help you mix, but making potting soil isn’t rocket science and you can really do it anywhere.

Second, gather your materials. My potting soil recipe has three main ingredients:

1. Rotten Wood

Fresh wood chips will eat up a lot of the nitrogen in your potting soil mix and can cause your plants to struggle. Rotten wood doesn’t cause that issue, plus it holds moisture and provides a loose and airy texture to the mix.

homemade potting soil recipe ingredient rotten wood

As you know if you’ve ready my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, I don’t throw away or burn the logs and sticks that fall in my yard. Instead, I use them to feed the soil.

Leaving a pile of brush and logs in a corner of your property to rot over time will give you a ready source of rotten wood.

If you haven’t started doing that yet, just go for a walk in the woods and get a nice sack of fluffy, crumbly wood and drag it home.

2. Aged Cow Manure

I gather manure from my neighbor’s cows and leave it on a piece of metal in the sun to age for a few months.

Homemade potting soil recipe aged manure

Fresh cow manure is too “hot.”

If my home-baked manure sounds too weird, just pile it up in a compost heap somewhere and let it go for a few months. That will leave you with a nutritious, organic-matter-rich pile of good stuff for your homemade potting soil.

NOTE: Manure in the United States is often contaminated with long-term herbicides that will destroy your garden and your potted plants. Read Karen’s story and learn more about that danger here.

3. Sifted Soil/Grit

I let my chickens do a lot of composting for me, like this:

I go into the coop or chicken run, sift out the grit, soil and compost, then use it in my homemade potting soil.

Homemade potting soil recipe sifted chicken run soil

You don’t need to do that, though. No chickens? No problem.

I sift grit from the local creek bed and add that sometimes. I’ve also just added good garden soil, old potting soil mix from expired plants and even regular old sand.

Mix It All Up

Now all you need to do is get mixing.

Smash the rotten wood into smaller chunks, break up the cow patties, and pour in the grit. I use one part rotten wood, one part aged manure and one part grit/soil in my potting soil recipe, but don’t overthink it. If it looks loose and feels good, the plants will be happy.

As you’ll notice in my video, I often leave pretty big chunks of wood in my homemade potting soil. The potted plants seem to like them and they act as moisture reservoirs and soil looseners.

If you need a finer homemade potting soil for starting seeds, just crush the mix finer or run a coarser mix through some hardware cloth to sift it.

Alternate Ingredients for Homemade Potting Soil

If you don’t have cow manure, try goat or rabbit manure. Both work quite well. Homemade compost is also excellent, though I never seem to have enough for everything I want to do.

Don’t have grit/sand available? Vermiculite or perlite both work nicely, though you have to buy them.

Rotten wood can be replaced with peat moss or coconut coir. I prefer the coir. It seems to repel water less. You can also use leaf mould. Sift it out in the local forest – it’s wonderful.

Along with these ingredients, I’ve also added some ashes, crushed charcoal, coffee grounds, old potting soil, peanut shells and even moldy cocoa nibs.

When I ran my nursery business I often stretched my potting soil budget by mixing purchased soil with rotten wood chips I got from a local tree company and set aside for years to break down.

Just keep your homemade potting soil loose and fluffy with a good mix of ingredients and your plants will do great.

 

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how to make homemade potting soil a homemade potting soil recipe graphic for pinterest

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