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The Right Soil And Potting Techniques For A Bumper Greenhouse Harvest

Dec 8, 2007
You will receive a bigger harvest from your greenhouse crops if you plant them in the right soil mixture, in the proper kind of pot or other container, and shift or transplant them at timely intervals.


The first-time greenhouse grower often faces the problem of finding organic material, an essential component of a light and rich potting soil.

The usual recommendation is ⅓ garden soil, ⅓ organic matter (humus), and 1/3 builder's sand. A compost pile can supply the organic matter--or you can buy rotted manure to mix in the soil.

Failing this, you can purchase bales of peatmoss or bushels of leaf mold. Processed manure is also suitable.

Commercial growers obtain organic material in a way that may be adaptable for you. They cut sod and stack it in alternate layers, with manure and some commercial fertilizer spread between the layers. A man in my vicinity has some rather deep cold frames no longer used for plants.

In these, he places a load of builder's sand, another of loam, and a third of brown peat.

These materials are forked over until well mixed and allowed to age a year before use. You might try making up a similar mixture in a large wooden box or bin, or in a section of your cold frame.

I think it is an excellent basic mixture, but I add special elements for various plants.

Any time is a good time to start a compost pile; the important thing is to have one.

It will assure a reliable source of humus for little labor and less expense. Into your compost pile can go all kinds of vegetable matter: grass clippings, tree leaves, weeds, vegetable peelings, arid so on.

If the pile is kept moistened and sprinkled with fertilizer or a special bacteria-activator as Activo, it soon becomes fine enough organic material for your potting soil.

Some gardeners dig a pit for compost; others prefer to have compost bins above ground. One manufacturer sells an aluminum bin, 52 by 28 inches, that might suit your needs, especially if you are a city gardener.

When you consider that the small amount of earth packed into a pot must sustain a plant for weeks, months, or longer, you will see the importance of a good soil containing loam, organic matter, and sand.

However, additions of sponge rock for greater porosity, charcoal as a sweetener, aluminum sulphate to acidify, or old mortar rubble (for cacti) can be beneficial for special crops.

The symbol pH is used to indicate the degree of acidity or alkalinity of a soil; pH 7.0 is neutral. Most potted plants grow well in a slightly acid soil with a pH of about 6.0 to 6.5. There are exceptions.

Azaleas, citrus trees, gardenias, and hibiscus, do best in a definitely acid soil. You can purchase a soil-testing kit for your own testing, or have someone at your university or your county agent make tests to determine whether your soil is acid or alkaline, and what (if anything) it needs.

Do not use the same soil for more than 1 year. A sizable amount will go out every year with the potted plants, flats of seedlings, etc., you sell. But crops such as bulbs can be lifted and dried off, and you still have the soil.

In any case, at the end of a year, remove any leftover used soil and pile it outside to aerate and revitalize for some months. Then it can be incorporated again into potting mixtures.

Mixing Soil

Unless you buy or borrow a small cement mixer or similar type of heavy-duty churn, you will have to rely on your own strong arm to mix the soil.

I have found a 16-quart aluminum canning kettle a good "mixing bowl." In this I mingle the extra ingredients (charcoal, sponge rock, and such) with the basic soil mixture. If the mixture is dry, I add enough water so that it will adhere when I pinch a little of it between thumb and forefinger.

Break up large lumps of soil and peatmoss--but for most potting purposes you need not sift the mixture through a screen.

However, seedlings and some cuttings do better in screened or milled material.

Soil Mixtures--To Buy or Sell

Of course, you can purchase a ready-made mixture from a large greenhouse, but this should be used only as a starter or in an emergency.

Such standard or all-purpose potting soils will not be right for everything you grow.

As you learn to mix soils, you may find them an added source of income. You can buy plastic bags in which to sell your own all purpose mixture to customers. If it is sterilized, it will bring a higher price.
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