Imagine you have a sunflower growing in a large pot of soil. When that
sunflower dies, how could you reuse the soil?
I read that you can mix it half-and-half with soil from a compost heap,
but I don't have one, and my Mum doesn't want one.
Could you mix fertiliser into it? Or what about crop rotation? (We
learnt about it at school, but I can't remember how it works).
It seems counter-productive to keep buying more compost, when gardening
is supposed to be economical.
> Imagine you have a sunflower growing in a large pot of soil. When that
> sunflower dies, how could you reuse the soil?
> but I don't have one, and my Mum doesn't want one.
> learnt about it at school, but I can't remember how it works).
> is supposed to be economical.
Getting the right mixture of brown (carbon) materials, to green
(nitrogeneous) materials will make a huge difference. Adding too much
brown material will result in a compost pile that takes a long time to
break down. Adding too much green material will result in a compost pile
that is slimy and smelly that doesn't break down well. In order for your
compost pile to break down quickly and efficiently you should feed it
just the right balance of brown and green materials.
The microorganisms in our compost bins need both carbon and nitrogen to
thrive; carbon for energy and nitrogen for protein synthesis. For every
one unit of nitrogen used by the bacteria they also consume about 30
units of carbon. So in order to keep the bacteria working efficiently we
need to supply them with a mixture that is about 30 parts carbon to 1
part nitrogen. Needless to say, most materials don't have a ratio of
30:1. However, if we know the approximate C:N ratio of the materials we
use in our compost, we can combine them so that the total mix will be
close to 30:1.
Take the old plant out of the pot,
shake dirt off the roots into the pot,
add a little fertilizer,
put in the new plant.
Add potting mix as needed from the bag you keep in the
Since you're not composting, don't worry about adding compost,
that's for people with compost piles. Just use potting soil
you can buy anywhere.
Dan did mention adding fresh potting soil to previously used potting
soil. This is to provide some organic material, which is consumed
continuously by the micro-beasties in the containers soil. The organic
material will help with the container's water retention, however it
isn't absolutely necessary. Additionally, the organic material provides
nourishment for the little micro-beasties in the soil, whose life cycles
help feed the plants. People also grow plants hydroponically with no
organic material, but they are set up with timers to water/feed the
plants automatically. If you don't mind a tight watering/feeding
schedule you could do without the organic material. An organic system,
however, is more forgiving to error. I'd recommend fish emulsion, every
2 weeks for pots.
If you had a patch of land that you could use for gardening, an old
trick is to dig a trench (8" to 16" deep), and bury your leftover
kitchen scraps/yardwaste in it, filling in the trench little by little
as you add material. It will compost just fine there, and improve the
Dump it out with other containers, add from 1/2 to an equal amount of
compost into it (you could use bagged manure from a homecentre), mix
it well, and re-use. The compost adds organic materials, and of
course, fresh nutrients for uptake into the plants.
Get yourself an inexpensive trashbin with lid, and alternate emptying
bags of compost and soil from old potted plant containers. Mix it up
a bit as you go, rather than trying to do it all in one shot. If you
have a source for cardboard sheets (an appliance box, or cardboard
sheeting from a garage door installer), you could instead lay a bunch
of that out and hand or _carefully_ with a shovel, mix it up on top of
that and then refill your various pots. A wheelbarrow would also
work. But, a spare trash can serves well being able to hold the soil
I realize you're indicated your mum doesn't want compost, but what I
do is maintain a "soil pile" just outside the main entrance to my
garden. I empty spent container plant soil there (the stalks go into
the compost pile), add some compost, usually also dump some ashes from
the pellet stove (during the winter months), sawdust from my workshop,
as well as some chicken manure. I'll shovel it over once in a while,
adding some of my finished compost, and then when I decide I need to
"clean up" the pile and make it a nice mixture for fresh use, I back
the compact tractor tiller, or the walk-behind tiller into it and till
it for a couple of minutes, then put it to use. Works really well,
and I have a perpetual place to dump excess soil that I excavate from
elsewhere (such as when I dig post holes or level a spot).
I also have a soil sifting apparatus, so I'm able to produce a nice
fine soil (I don't like rocks in with my root veggies, and I _do_not_
put rocks in the bottom of container plantings - I use a couple of
handfuls of straw, which keeps the soil from pouring out when I water,
and doesn't introduce rocks into my soil pile when I recycle the
Sure, but compost is natural fertilizer, and introduces organic
biomass to the soil, which is good. Chemical fertilizers don't, plus
most are petrochemical based.
As to crop rotation - plant legumes in some of the pots during the
Well, crop rotation has two chief goals:
* pest mititgation - not growing one crop in one place too often means
that certain pests don't take a hold and then become permanent
residents. You can spoil a field by growing pumpkins every year for
* giving fields an opportunity to replentish their nutrients. If you
grow something that has high nitrogen demands, following it with
something such as a legume (bean or pea) that fixes nitrogen from the
air into the soil will help the soil recuperate. Different crops
place different demands on the soil.
Doing a 4 field rotation - three actively growing grops and the
fourth growing 'green manure' (nitrogen fixers that will be tilled
under) is a common approach that addresses these goals.
I dunno if gardening is truely "economical". Price garden gadgets and
tools, and all that, and pretty soon, you're spending real money. If
you don't start everything from seed, you can spend a fair amount on
starts too. I was perusing some starts at a store the other day (not
really intending to purchase any because I start virtually everything
from seed), and I noted this store was selling single packs of corn -
a single stalk in a 3" plastic nursery pot - for US$1.29. Someone is
bound to think that's a good price, but at best, you can expect it to
yield one good ear and a lesser secondary ear, provided the plant
successfully reaches maturity - but they're charging more for the one
plant than I can walk into a grocery and by 2 or 3 ears of corn _now_
for. Nevermind when corn is in season, and it's being pitched for 6
or 8 ears for a buck. A packet of seeds though will set you back
little more than that one plant, and you can get say 75 plants from
that (and if it's heirloom, you could save seed and have a ton the
following year for no added cost).
Anyway, back on topic: if soil amendments are a big part of your
garden expense, then composting can significantly reduce your costs.
A proper compost bin doesn't translate to "pests" and "stench". My
household feeds kitchen leftovers to our chickens (and I use a hay
fork to dump weeds from the yard into one of their pens for them to
scratch through, eating seeds, thereby gaining nutrition while at the
same time reducing the number of seeds that might not compost down),
for which we get eggs in return (the eggshells of which are returned
to the chickens with kitchen scraps). They get feed too of course -
but all the while, we're getting fresh eggs which we don't need to
purchase at the store (an 80# sack of lay mix only costs me about
US$18 at the feed store, and at 4lb/dozen or 4lb per lb of chicken,
that works out to less than US$1/dozen fresh eggs or $1 per pound of
roaster - but fresh, not second grade). We also get chicken manure
from the chickens, though by and large, that drops wherever - in the
yardwaste they're scratching through and converting into compost, and
on the ground underneath the moveable chicken tractor (a coop on
wheels). Other kitchen waste (stuff we'd expect the chickens to take
a pass on, or which they can't really digest), goes into a worm bin,
which produces a compost tea as well as castings (which are VERY
beneficial to plants). Garden waste after harvest, as well as tree
trimmings, get added to composters and a larger compost pile in the
yard, though some garden waste goes to the chickens too (aww, did the
brassicas go to seed? No problemo.)
That whole approach leads to very little household waste overall, but
also provides a lot of compost for gardening. However, my uptake from
the garden - I grow a lot of stuff - still needs more. So I get
composted horse manure from a stable, and duck manure and rice hull
compost (which I got a delivery of today). Around here, horse manure
compost is free, but I've got to transport and unload it. Duck manure
isn't, but what I pay for the compost and the delivery is trivial
considering how much of it I get, as well as the labour savings for
me. The bill was US$191 for delivery of 20 cubic yards (T0 "1 cubic
foot" bags of compost at a garden centre), and I didn't have to load
or unload any of it. I just need to spread and till it in. That
quantity of course it overkill for someone with a few potted plants -
but if all you have is a few potted plants, you probably are able to
generate a sufficient amount of compost from the scraps of
store-bought vegetables and yard trimmings.
Thank you all for your input.
Putting back a new terrace it not really an option as it was half way up
the first floor, making the house look like it was in a pit, and a
As far as soil amendment goes, it seems;
*Avoid the timber products, especially for lawns (thanks Sean Straw)
*Compost rich in organic matter is the way to go.
*If I am feeling motivated well rotted manure rotavated in is an option
*Then regular mulching / amendment according to plant
*Maybe raised beds that can be filled with the right soil are the way to
As long as it doesn't exceed 5% by weight of the soil.
Roto-tilling once into a new bed can be beneficial, after that it
becomes debatable. Many, like myself think it will damage the soil.
See: Farm for a Future
It comes in 5 parts from the BBC
Mulching will lower soil temperatures, so depending on where you are,
you may want to wait until the temperatures rise to mulch.
When I discard a potted annual or repot a perennial, I use the old
potting mix to level uneven spots in my lawn and flower beds. I spread
the old mix not thicker than 1 inch, so it might take a while to raise a
David E. Ross
Climate: California Mediterranean, see
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