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Critique my Living Soil recipe

manicbotanic

New Member
Hey folks, as the title suggests I'm hoping some of you TLO/living soil vets will pick apart my recipe and tell me where I could do better/balance things out. I'm on my 2nd living soil recipe and I'm loving every minute of the method. It's taken me to strive for an entirely localized, sustainable soil recipe that is impossible with current commercial organic fertilizers, so I'm branching out and building my own. I plan to use worm castings, peat moss, and rice hulls in a 1-1-1 ratio, with Vetch, Rye, and Fava Beans as companion plants. I'll be growing potted Stinging Nettles, Garlic, Chamomile, and a couple others and using water runoff to grab their exudates for watering (using leftover light on the sides of the grow).
Molasses does not grow in the midwest, so I would like to use Maple Syrup/Sap. I've heard lots of people talk down to this but test results I've seen on the internet (so it must be true) show that the syrup contains manganese, zinc, calcuim, potassium, iron, and magnesium along with the sugar, so I find it hard to believe it would be a poor substitute (maybe use the sap before turning it into syrup? I have a Black Maple Tree)
Here's the organic ferts going into the soil:
Comfrey (1.8-.5-5.3)
Stinging Nettle Leaf (1.7-.6-4.5)
Alfalfa Meal (2.5-.5-2.5)
Soybean Meal (6-1.5-2)
Eggshell Meal (1.2-.4-0, calcium rich)
Wheat Bran (2.4-2.9-1.6)
Steamed/cooked Bone Meal (2-21-0)

What I don't know is how the ph would turn out, the bioavailability of said nutrients, and the decomposition time of each (I've read bone meal takes awhile to become available). Obviously, I'd have earthworms, pill bugs, myco, protozoa, etc. as well as a worm bin, pill bug bin, and shroomery (above the lights) in the same room to add to the co2 (maybe not a lot, but hoping to maintain 700-900 naturally). I'm hoping to get composting this spring and having a mixed soil, possibly even finished test run, by this time next year. Care to tell me why this would or would not work?
 

bobrown14

Grow Journal of the Month: Dec 2017
You have a great list of ingredients .... for my compost bin... which creates the humus portion of your mix and will do better than adding it straight into the pot and planting a plant in it. All those "ingredients" still need to compost. The plant doesn't send roots into bone meal and automatically get Nitrogen... there's a chemical process that has to take place first. That happens via composting.

Yes you can add ingredients to a pot and let it sit .. lots of folks call that "cooking" the soil. "Cooking" = composting. Yes it happens that fast. All you need is a few weeks and some bacteria/fungi.

Now I'll comment on your list of "ingredients":

Bone meal... Where's the bones coming from - did they treat the animals humanely, did they feed them anti-biotics and GMO feed? IF you could source bone meal from a farm that raises animals in a bio-dynamic process, by all means have at it. Other wise there are lots of other sources for nitrogen and calcium. (Comfrey is one HUGE source).

Comfrey - the more you have the better and again - into the compost bin and then into the pot - takes about a week. In an outdoor garden by all means pile it on. In containers its going to compost and compost pretty quickly which means it's going to heat up .. can cook roots of seedlings/cuts. You can make a soil mix with it but you need to let it sit for at least a week to compost. Trust me it will break down VERY FAST... I grow Comfrey and use it in my soil mix after composting.

Stinging Nettle - Alfalfa Meal = same as Comfrey and top shelf best stuff. Reps for asking about these! I look for organic alfalfa meal. Stinging Nettle I also use as a tea a foiler on along with Horsetail Fern tea... mix them together FTW.

SoyBean meal... is it non-gmo? Political rant not going there yet... again you're probably not going to find organic soybean meal. I know farmers that grow organic soybeans... it gets fed to cows ... high end cows and also turned into high end Tofu/Soy curd, it will never make it to the public as a meal/fertilizer. This product is best saved for outdoor flower gardening as a top dress... go easy.

Egg Shell meal.. CaCo3 ... pour it on!

I like to use Crustacean/Crab shell meal and Oyster Shell Flour for my Ca inputs - I get slow, medium and fast release Ca.

Wheat Bran.. .never tried it... used to eat it on yogurt. Should be good.. again compost it.

Once these ingredients are composted all the goodies will be readily available to the plant in container gardening... raw inputs, it's going to take a few rounds with that soil. May as well do a compost pile.. same amount of time and work. Then you get into a habit of composting and your life will change and so will your garden!

I do a very similar mix...

1/3 humus
1/3 peat moss
1/3 aeration

Plus amendments - rock dusts(granite dust) additional to your list.

3 things I absolutely use as amendments are:

Kelp Meal .. you should be able to get that at the feed store
Karanja Cake
Neem Cake - these last 2 will help you with pests... and are also nutrients for the soil and plants.

Worm castings ... I would be growing anything without worms.. worms put the ARM in farming. You can walk in the woods and collect castings FREE... the worms will thank you and your plants will love you.

Cheers and glad to see another organic soil farmer..
 

manicbotanic

New Member
Great info, the hot soil/comfrey bit was exactly what I was fearing. I've been using the crab/kelp/neem with good results, but they don't grow naturally in MI :(.

The bone meal would come from hunted animals (deer, beaver, etc). I know a few hunter friends that I don't think use them for anything.

Planning on supplementing egg shells with rusty crayfish shells which are invasive here in MI (and maybe more similar to crab shell), so I can take as many as I want without hurting the environment (according to MDNR's site anyway).

I figured I'd buy the primo organic soy animal feed, since it's just me I should just need a bag. I've always hot composted my mixes for a month before planting anyway, and yeah it heats up. I saw 106 degrees and 2.5k co2 ppm in the room for about a week when I did my last mix with Down to Earth organics.

From what I'm understanding then, you would cook/compost all those things and use as the humus, then add even more fertilizer to the soil? I was under the impression the castings would be the humus portion and the list would be the amendment portion.

Thanks for the tip on the horsetail fern, MSU does a $25 compost test, so I'd planned to experiment with a bunch of wild plants, I suspect there's a bunch of useful stuff out there that coincides with the wild edibles I study (Stinging Nettles are my favorite edible).

Will look into granite dust from MI, I know there's plenty of granite here so it can't be that hard to find.
 

bobrown14

Grow Journal of the Month: Dec 2017
Well yes your list is part of the amendments we use for sure. Also can compost them as mentioned then they become the worm castings. Can use them in addition to the amendment list... Not sure what you mean by fertilizer??:

From what I'm understanding then, you would cook/compost all those things and use as the humus, then add even more fertilizer to the soil? I was under the impression the castings would be the humus portion and the list would be the amendment portion.
What I was trying to say is "some" of those items on your list I would compost, and use the castings from the compost and also worm castings as the humus...

Your worm castings are home made?? Feed the worms your veggie scraps and coffee grinds and add in some of those meals that are too hot for straight addition like bone meal and soybean meal for example feed to the worms. They will be a better addition to your soil mix after composting and turned into EWC. Food for thought in the spring. You can add them to compost in the winter and they will slowly compost as some bacteria are still alive even in adverse (for us) conditions.

For granite dust.... do you have a fire ring with granite stones?? Some of the granite from the original continent (some of the oldest rock on earth) is up your way as it is in most of the area around you in Ontario. That old granite (has a sort of pinkish color to it) is pretty soft (for granite) and once heated up in the fire will break apart pretty easily and you can get granite dust from that and add to your gardens and soil. Also can find it in creek beds as a silt layer...scoop it up into a bucket and put out on paper on a table outside and let it dry... granite dust. Clays are formed with granite dust, and will break down into soil given the right conditions (add some CaCo3 to some clay soil) - chemical processes break up the clay to make it more tillable. This happens thru CEC and the CEC (cation exchange capacity) will/should be part of your soil test result.

Soil test you should be able to get thru your County Extension Service, I HIGHLY recommend getting this test done on your completed soil mix.

MSU Soil Test.com - Personalized Recommendations for Your Lawn and Vegetable Garden Based On Your Soil Test Results

Posting this as general info... you may know of it but its good to let everyone know this service is available to everyone. $25 is a little steep - still worth it ... $9 in PA (in state) and $16 for out of state in Virginia where anyone can get a soil test.

Don't guess... soil test!
 

manicbotanic

New Member
I think I'm scoopin' what you're poopin' now, you're saying let the worms do the composting of the slower release amendments while letting the faster degraded materials go into the mix as an actual amendment to the humus/SPM/aeration mix (such as kelp), where the humus in this case is all the composted slower release stuff worms have had their way with.

So really, your humus alone would have as many available nutrients as basically all your amendments, (though maybe not the same ones)?

I've been using store bought 1-0-0 castings, though I have recently built a wormery using the coffee/veggies you mentioned to get started on my own. Does that mean that feeding worms 2.5-.5-2.5 alfalfa meal will make their castings closer to that npk value instead of what I understand is a pretty standard 1-0-0 store bought castings? (I've seen that ratio almost exclusively for store bought castings in CO,OR, and now here in MI)

In the past I've cooked my soil mix+amendments+bacteria/myco for a month THEN added the worms so I could cook the soil together before separating into pots.
It sounds like I should instead compost everything before adding aeration/SPM/myco but +worms, then cook with the SPM/aeration and more readily available amendments like the kelp/comfrey, but only for a week or 2 instead of a whole month; which would help fungi get established anyway (without breaking it when potting).

Here SPM= sphagnum peat moss and myco=mychorrizae. Fertilizer i use interchangeably with amendment, only because I don't use 'real' fertilizers. For public purposes, I'll stick to amendment from here on out.

In short, I should've paid way more attention in soil science class 10 years ago. I appreciate you walking me through all this, it seems most articles I read talk about how they do things different, but not why, so I get confused.

Will do some digging about the granite dust, I just remember seeing it as part of the bedrock up north UP/Ontario area, as you said).
 

bobrown14

Grow Journal of the Month: Dec 2017
hehehe no - adding in NPK to the compost bin won't yield you that same NPK on the output.


That said there's still a lot of science we don't know about worms. You could get a doctorate studying worms and the benefits.. probably several doctorates.


There's something about quality inputs to your compost bin that makes it MUCH better than say if you put in shredded paper like a lot of worm wranglers do.

If you wanna start a worm bin I would suggest composting in a container with a lid. You can make your own from a rubber maid trash can and drill holes for aeration for cents on the dollar... I have 2 in rotation. They are filled with red wigglers. It's pretty gross really don't even want to spend too much time looking around when the bin is active.

Worm bins - say just for getting castings. Meh... too much fussing. We run our compost bins: 1 season we use 1 bin, let it over winter. Starting about now.. as soon as the active bin fills up, and that only happens at the beginning of winter once the worms go dormant, we switch to the now empty bin. The bacteria will finish off the bin we were using all season, thru the winter months. The compost will be full of worm cocoons. The birds go crazy too... I've seen birds hanging on the outside of the bins picking off worms thru the air slots. Then birds poop in the garden.. they eat worms and fertilize the garden. My work is done here! hahahaha Now we're talking.

During the spring and summer we will be digging the compost out of the full bin and screening it thru a wire mesh frame screen into a wheel barrow as needed. That's GOLD... black gold. This is a different material than worm castings. I also use worm castings when I transplant and up-pot cannabis. The compost goes into the soil mix. It's got "mostly" worm castings but there's a lot more.

Using soil "amendments"; for me that's akin to folks that use chemical fertilizers. The difference is that everything the plants need to grow is in the soil already. We don't need to keep adding in nutrients. This goes back to getting our compost "dialed in". when we add in amendments to our compost heap we are just making that compost more nutrient rich. Mixing in amendments the way it works is they compost... it takes a lot of time for that to take place. Why I do no-til and re-use the soil over time. The older the soil, the better the crop!

If you need an NPK relationship then we can verify worm power by getting a soil test done. Pure worm castings are not the same as compost but the worms do almost all the work in composting. Why is that? The million dollar question.

Quality input = quality output... going with that simple equation... and checking out the science...

/ramble
 

manicbotanic

New Member
Thanks for all your knowledge, I have one final question from your reply: What do you do with any of the compost that doesn't fit through the mesh screen?
 

bobrown14

Grow Journal of the Month: Dec 2017
Great question... it's mainly coarse strands and some other stuff that didn't compost completely.

We have a Bamboo patch that is pretty big, if they have a good supply of nutrients they don't spread much (I do some light trenching to keep them in check).

I have 1 compost bin right beside the bamboo... they send roots into the compost bin.

So when I'm screening into the wheel barrow, I dump the dredges into the base of the bamboo patch. They are happy .... I'm happy I don't have to do much work on the bamboo. Keep them happy and they stay put.

The bamboo we grow is short and native to our area - Appalachian Bamboo.. it's a short (10-15 ft) variety and perfect for making stakes to stake up tomatoes and specially Cannabis. If you look at the pics in my journal, all the bamboo stakes were harvested here. There's lots of stuff we can make with the bamboo, it's pretty hardy to say 20F ... if temps get down below 20F for very long the tops burn.

We cut the burnt tips off in the spring or just cut down those stalks. The plants are still alive they just look a little shabby, not that I care. My neighbors prolly just shake their heads and wonder WTF we wanna grow bamboo... I bet 15 years ago they were worried it would be everywhere. Instead we have flowers and veggies everywhere... sadly not much grass. Not bummed.

In the far east organic farmers burn the bamboo leaves and stalks and use the ashes for fertilizer. It's a very versatile plant, and grows just about everywhere.
 

Growingasmile

Well-Known Member
Hey folks, as the title suggests I'm hoping some of you TLO/living soil vets will pick apart my recipe and tell me where I could do better/balance things out. I'm on my 2nd living soil recipe and I'm loving every minute of the method. It's taken me to strive for an entirely localized, sustainable soil recipe that is impossible with current commercial organic fertilizers, so I'm branching out and building my own. I plan to use worm castings, peat moss, and rice hulls in a 1-1-1 ratio, with Vetch, Rye, and Fava Beans as companion plants. I'll be growing potted Stinging Nettles, Garlic, Chamomile, and a couple others and using water runoff to grab their exudates for watering (using leftover light on the sides of the grow).
Molasses does not grow in the midwest, so I would like to use Maple Syrup/Sap. I've heard lots of people talk down to this but test results I've seen on the internet (so it must be true) show that the syrup contains manganese, zinc, calcuim, potassium, iron, and magnesium along with the sugar, so I find it hard to believe it would be a poor substitute (maybe use the sap before turning it into syrup? I have a Black Maple Tree)
Here's the organic ferts going into the soil:
Comfrey (1.8-.5-5.3)
Stinging Nettle Leaf (1.7-.6-4.5)
Alfalfa Meal (2.5-.5-2.5)
Soybean Meal (6-1.5-2)
Eggshell Meal (1.2-.4-0, calcium rich)
Wheat Bran (2.4-2.9-1.6)
Steamed/cooked Bone Meal (2-21-0)

What I don't know is how the ph would turn out, the bioavailability of said nutrients, and the decomposition time of each (I've read bone meal takes awhile to become available). Obviously, I'd have earthworms, pill bugs, myco, protozoa, etc. as well as a worm bin, pill bug bin, and shroomery (above the lights) in the same room to add to the co2 (maybe not a lot, but hoping to maintain 700-900 naturally). I'm hoping to get composting this spring and having a mixed soil, possibly even finished test run, by this time next year. Care to tell me why this would or would not work?
why add bone meal? plants generally don't get it in the wild. crushed limestone is the more natural way to go
 

Diatomacious

New Member
I don't see you say that you are having a soil test done... they are usually free at most local Agricultural Dept (sometimes you have to pay a little). It will let you know what the NPK concentrations are in the soil which will greatly aid with plant development. I see so much info on mixing your own organic soil and this is the one critical piece of info you need to know in order to have good success. Oh and btw bone meal is almost immediately available in the soil... I usually mix my soil the day I plant. If you are adding too much fertilizer then you will have to let it cook but just the right amount is like using chemical in my opinion. Your pH will depend on whether you have a soil-less (6.4) or a soil (6.8) (soil has minerals in it from crushed rock while soil-less is just coco or sphagnum types).
 

bobrown14

Grow Journal of the Month: Dec 2017
Great point on the soil test. I always get one after each new mix.

What is the source of bone meal??

This is my amendment list + minerals and rock dust

Acadian Kelp Meal @ 1/2 Cup per cubic foot
Neem Cake and Karanja Cake 50/50 Mix @ 1/2 to 1 cup per cubic foot
Crustacean Meal @ 1/2 Cup per cubic foot
Malted Barley @ 1 Cup Per Cubic Foot (ground fine in a coffee grinder)

Add the above to 1/3 Peat moss + 1/3 Aeration (per-lite), 1/3 vermi-compost (home made - I usually add in some EWC to this portion along with the compost).

Pretty basic list and it lasts YEARS in containers.
 

Diatomacious

New Member
Looks like a good mix bobrown14. Yes a soil test is definitely recommended whenever you are putting together a new mix or changing ingredients. Otherwise you are just guessing at the NPK and how much of each to add.

I'm using powdered bone meal (actually fish bone meal from Down to Earth). It is finely ground and I mix it into the soil very well with a cement mixer (just make sure to wear a respirator).

Only a few fertilizer sources in my mix right now but I have tweaked the amounts to get optimal growth.
coco coir (potassium source, some phosphorous)
earthworm castings (nitrogen source and makes final mix nicer IMO)
fish bone meal (phosphorous source, some nitrogen)
feather meal (nitrogen source)
By tweaking the feather and bone you can get the N and P where you want. The K is already in the coco and is probably already too much even though I cut with perlite, vermiculite and the castings. The K works its way out after a couple harvests. I add some other stuff like a little sea salt for trace minerals as well as humic acids. The potassium in coco does sometime make me want to switch back to pro-mix but so far so good.
 

bobrown14

Grow Journal of the Month: Dec 2017
Your mix looks pretty good too. Yeah fish bone meal is the best. I use it from time to time as a top dress @ 1tbs / cubic foot scratched and watered in.

I'm not real sure how fast it becomes soluble enough for plants tho.

I think sometimes I do stuff, It makes me feel better and the plants are like; thank God he's not gonna de-foil. lol

Pro-Mix is over priced. Just get Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss.

Pro-Mix is made by Premier - they also make a pure bale of Peat Moss - same as the Peat Moss they make Pro-Mix for but its only $10 a bale for 3-4cubic feet.

What's in Pro-Mix to help with water retention?
Peat Moss will actually repel water so we need to mix in something to help it work better with water.

That something is Saponin. Saponin relieves the surface tension of water and whatever surface, that's how soap works. Saponin is organic from a Saponin tree and CHEAP as hell. I bet they use a chemically made version and likely NOT organic. They may have changed since the last time I read the recipe.

:hmmmm:
Yeah so just straight up CSPM will work best, specially when we are mixing our own soils. It gets into a guessing game when you depend (and PAY for ProMix) on others to do a job.

disclaimer - not dissing ProMix - its good for what it is. Not sure how it got brought indoors for cannabis cultivation tho.
 

Diatomacious

New Member
Now as a top dress it might take 4 weeks for the bone meal to become available. It must first become water soluble which requires microbial activity (so they say). I know if it is mixed in homogeneously it is available immediately as that is what I usually do and you can definitely see a reaction from the plant almost as soon as it is potted (especially if you use too much).

Pro-mix is good for what it is, a premixed ready to use potting media. I have had great success with it in the past, however, the only thing I don't like about it is the amount of lime they use. Their is so much lime in the mix it will continue to increase alkalinity over time if it remains wet (which is necessary for microbial activity, which is necessary for organic production). So you are right to use sphagnum as then you can use the right amount of lime (oyster shell is what I actually use) and the pH will turn out right after a good 4 weeks of cook time (or you can cheat and set the pH with KOH or some other base, hopefully not too chemical if you use food grade lol).

Edit: It seems to me growing with chemical and growing with organic are pretty much the same... you must be more careful with giving too much organic though. Organic is mostly water insoluble while chemical is water soluble. If you add too much you cannot simply flush out organic fertilizer, hence the need for a soil analysis before adding fertilizer.
 
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conradino23

Grow Journal of the Year: 2017 - Grow Journal of the Month: Sept 2017
It’s always advised to test your soil before using it. It takes away guessing out of equation.
 

bobrown14

Grow Journal of the Month: Dec 2017
Pro-mix is good for what it is, a premixed ready to use potting media.

Edit: It seems to me growing with chemical and growing with organic are pretty much the same... you must be more careful with giving too much organic though. Organic is mostly water insoluble while chemical is water soluble. If you add too much you cannot simply flush out organic fertilizer, hence the need for a soil analysis before adding fertilizer.

There's more than 1 product that has the label "Pro-Mix" from the same company.

You may be referring to the "potting soil" Pro-Mix??

All we see around my neck of the woods is:

Pro-Mix BX

Ingredients list:

Canadian sphagnum peat moss (75-85%)
Perlite
Dolomitic & calcitic limestone (pH adjuster)
Mycorrhizae - PTB297 Technology

They forgot to add to the ingredient list:
wetting agent.


The actual product (I was able to find it easily last time I looked) was hard to find but
here's a good read on it:

The wetting agent in promix hp ? - Ourfigs.com


THE BEST WETTING AGENT is = soap nuts. Organic and sustainable plus the plants and the roots and micro herd LOVE it. Wash your dishes, your clothes, your-self and your peat moss. It's a win.


Edit:
Been using the same soil over and over for several years in 1 cu.ft. containers. Soil test was done at initial mix.

I dont have to do anything with the soil but add water to grow top shelf nugs.
 

Nunyabiz

Well-Known Member
All sounds pretty good to me.
I don't think there's any one single perfect mix as there are numerous amendments that can be substituted for others.
You just need to make sure its balanced, has micro and macro nutrients, has at least 30% aeration and always get your biologicals introduced and start a self sustaining ecosystem.
I add predator Mites, Rove beetles, worms and inoculate with microbes/mycorrhazae.
Plant a nice cover crop of nitrogen fixers and use a thick layer of mulch.
If my current soil were any more alive it would be talking back to me.

Here's my basic mix which is the Buildasoil Oly Mountain modern mix 2.

Base Soil:

  • 2 CuFt Sphagnum moss
  • 1 CuFt Pumice lava rock
  • 1 CuFt Modern Beginning charged Biochar
  • 1 CuFt Rice Hulls
  • 2 CuFt Humus composed of 1/3 Compost(Oly Mountain or Malibu Compost) and 2/3 EWC, and
  • a few handfuls some probiotic herbs – comfrey, nettle, dandelion, etc..
Nutrients included in the soil:
  • (Per cu.Ft of Base Soil)
  • 1/2 cup organic Neem meal
  • 1/2 cup organic Kelp meal
  • 1/2 cup organic Crustacean meal
  • 1/2 cup organic insect frass
  • 1/3 cup Gro-Kashi
  • 1/3 cup Karanja Meal
  • 1/4 cup of fish bone meal
  • 1/16th cup of Modern Microbes
  • 3 cups of some Rock/Mineral Mix
  • (Rock/Mineral Mix)
  • 2 part Oyster Shell Flour
  • 2 part Gypsum
  • 1 parts Glacial Rock Dust
  • 1 part Basalt
  • 1 part Calcium Bentonite
I then add a handful of Gro-kashi on top, plant a cover crop, add a couple hundred worms which gives the best worm castings you can ever get which is fresh everyday being fed Gro-kashi and fresh green manure from trimming the cover crop daily.

To that I feed the soil Sprouted seed teas from organic corn and alfalfa for enzymes.
The only thing I add to my super oxygenated RO water (I use o2 emitters to raise DO) is coconut water, aloe vera, yucca, Chitin, Silica.
I use 25 gallon fabric pots.

And if you're doing a Living Soil you always keep your soil moist, do NOT let it dry out as is the common thing to do for using just regular soil that's bottle fed.
 
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