Making your own organic potting soil takes work, but the enormous benefits to your pocketbook and the environment can make it worth your time. Not only does making your own soil save money, but it can provide better nourishment for your plants and soil than store-bought mixes. It also allows you to customize your potting soil to meet the nutrition needs of different plants.
A high-quality homemade organic potting mix should have four characteristics to ensure that it is safe and nourishing for your plants. First, it must be dense so that it can hold the plant upright. It must also be able to retain nutrients and moisture while allowing air and water to circulate. Finally, a quality homemade soil must be free of diseases and weed seeds. Remember that different plants require different soil recipes, so it is important to use a recipe that is right for the plant.
Many of the best organic soil mixes contain compost, which is made of decomposed, nutrient-rich household and yard waste. For an easy composting method, create a pile that is a mixture of 1 part brown material such as leaves or wood chips and 2 parts green material like grass clippings. Mix them thoroughly before placing in the pile. Turn the compost every two weeks, and it will be ready in six to eight weeks. Pasteurizing compost is a good idea because it kills any fungi, insects or bacteria it may be harboring. Add a small amount of water to moisten 3 quarts of compost, spread it in a large baking pan and cover with aluminum foil. Place the pan in an oven heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and stick a meat thermometer through the soil and into the center of the compost. When the thermometer reads 150 degrees Fahrenheit, turn off the oven and let the compost remain for 30 minutes. Cool the mixture and place it in a bucket or other container.
Depending on the types of plants you're growing, recipes for homemade organic potting soil vary. For leafy plants, combine 1 part coarse, clean sand, 1 part perlite and 2 parts peat moss. For succulents, combine 1 part coarse sand, 1 part peat moss, 1 part perlite and 2 parts topsoil, sterilized similarly to compost. For a seed starter for seedlings, combine 2 parts compost, 2 parts peat moss and 1 part vermiculite. For a soil mix that can be used in gardens and for general purposes, combine 1 part compost, 1 part topsoil and 1 part sand, vermiculite or perlite.
If you are an organic gardener, the environment may be of concern to you. Keep in mind that peat moss, perlite and vermiculite, while organic, are not sustainable because they contribute to environmental problems such as pollution and land degradation. Peat and vermiculite substitutes include rotted leaves, rotted sawdust or a mixture. Clean sand at a rate of one handful per quart of soil is a good substitute for perlite.
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