Homemade Potting Soil

I make potting mix every year for my greenhouse seedlings.  I have written about it many times here & here, but every year I refine it, learn more, change things, or get my hands on something new.  This year I learned it is probably best to gather my ingredients in the fall, when it is warm and lovely and my compost is harvestable and not freezing as it is today.

Beacause I wanted potting soil in January and my compost was yes freezing, I bought compost this year.  It is Bio-dynamic compost made with Cow manure from Terra Flora and it looks pretty darn good.  The creator even sent me pictures of it’s microscopic crystals.

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Because I like to deepen my practice of gardening every year I plan to do trials with my seedling mix ingredients and watch and learn, that is once my compost thaws.  I plan to try a mix I got from Santa Fe Greenhouses (during their going out of business sale) a mix with the Terra Flora compost and a mix with my own.  I will of course let you know how it all goes.

So to make your own soil mix for your wooden planting trays (that is what I use and what I think this mix works best for) You must gather you materials–

Compost from your own pile (or another source if not is available)

Soil from your garden

Sand from your arroyo

Peat moss or Coco Peat from your Nursery…(unless of course you have homemade leaf mold composted and ready to go, by all means use that first!!)

I get all this stuff in advance and store it in bins so everything is ready to go when I need to mix.

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Plastic is gross, I know, wooden bins would be ideal, but for now this is what works for me.

Once I have everything gathered I get my wheel burrow, a 5 gallon bucket, my 1/4 shifter screen, a shovel and a hoe.IMG_8859IMG_8870IMG_8860IMG_8863

Here is my the recipe I use, from my Alma Matar, CASFS.

It is a parts recipe, but if you use a 5 gallon bucket as your measuring cup and follow this recipe you will get a full wheel burrow, which will be enough soil for 6 2x1ft seedling trays.

Pour into wheel burrow through a 1/4 screen

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1Bucket- Garden soil

1/2 Bucket-Sand

1 Bucket Peat Moss or Coco Peat

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Anything you shift off can be saved for potting soil for plants that will live only in pots, or can be added back to the garden or compost pile.

Mix everything well with a hoe and sprinkle occasionally with water.

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The moisture level is key, not only does it cut down yucky dust, but you want a nice moist mix in your flat before you seed.

If it is too dry it will actually repel water and you tiny seeds will float away in the run off.

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Give it a squeeze and release

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If it stays in a loose ball and breaks apart when you bounce it in your palm you have got it.  Now store it in a bin with a lid to keep that perfect moisture, or put it directly into you flats and sow away!

And that is that.  Once you have your flats made & potting mix made, now all you have to do is decide what and when to sow…..more on that soon.

Leaf Day!

IMG_3346Sunday Afternoon- What a great time to start seeds indoors!  Today would be a great day to start cool season greens inside – kale, cabbage, chard, lettuce… if you have a cold frame or even row cover and are ready to begin your outdoor watering routine.. you could also start all those things outside today (especially down south Amber!!)I am also starting my sunflower and pea shoot sprouts so we can have fresh greens asap!!

 

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I have to admit I am missing my own Planting calendar this season, so I dug up a few posts from my archives from the days before I ever made the glossy pretty calendar… So for this year I thought I would just share with you some of my informative blogs posts, already written and ready to go!!  My gift to you to jump start your growing season!

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Here is the Recap from my seeding class from years past

How to make Homemade Potting Soil

How to make Wooden Planting Flats

Garden Planning

Bed Prep

Also, if you are a more hands on learner- My dear friend Amanda will be teaching an indoor seeding class next weekend at the wonderful Ampersand Learning Center.  I am sure it will be super informative and get you growing!

There are also some cool classes Home Grown New Mexico is putting on this season too that I want to check out, including a cool looking one called Evolution Gardening/Revisiting the Victory Garden in the 21st century Awesome!!

So no shortage of things to learn and do these days!  Let’s get Growing!IMG_5210

Time to Sow

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I have been puttering around the house this week, knowing I should be starting seeds, but way more drawn to spring cleaning and trying new things.  I have unconsciously been putting off starting seeds outside or in the greenhouse, though my calendar tells me to do so and all my experience from years past point to NOW, I just haven’t felt drawn to do it…. and know I know why,  WATER.

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There simple has been none.   For almost 2 months very few drops of anything have fallen from our skies, while the rest of the country wades through multiple feet of snow, we kick dust around, sweep our porches constantly and sneeze our way through a disturbingly early spring…..

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But the gift of rain has fallen upon us, finally!! So beautifully slow and steady all night, so well received by our parched, dry earth.  Every thing feels back to balance somehow and today my seeding instincts have finally kicked it.

For those of you who are following along with my calendar this year I know you may have seen seeding dates since January, but if you haven’t planted anything yet, you are NOT TOO LATE.  The dates in the calendar are what you could plant, not necessarily what you must plant.  In fact if you planted everything I recommended on every day, you would need at farm to grow all that food.  Every garden and gardener is different, every single season, so if you are gardening this year, today would be a great time to get started with a few simple questions before you get those seeds in the ground.

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Ask yourself and your garden…

How much room do you have to grow this year?

How much water have you collected, or are you willing to pay for city water?

Are you going away at all this summer, if so when?  You will want to plan your harvests around your trips.

What do you know you will want to eat fresh daily?  What can you afford to source from farmers instead of growing yourself?

How much windowsill/greenhouse space do you have fro starting seedlings?  If none, what is your budget/plan for getting starts for your garden?

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These are all big questions I must address every year before I start throwing seeds and water around.  I try to change things up every year too, to keep up on the needs at hand.  For example, having a new baby, no money and lots of time at home in the past few summers, my garden was tremendously ambitious.  I planted mostly spring greens and during the summers my garden was filled to the brim in tomatoes.  From 110 plants I weighed in 300lbs of red and 75 lbs of green (early frost) tomatoes from my backyard.  I grew enough to can and supply for my families needs for a year.  With the same plan in 2012 I never bought a tomato product.  This year, to date I now have 25 pints & 3 quarts of diced tomatoes, 5 pints of salsa and 5 half pints of ketchup left to carry my till July. I will let you know if I run out, but I think we will plan accordingly and be just fine.  So these past years it was my goal to never buy a tomato product,  and my experiment worked….

Put up for the long winter ahead

Put up for the long winter ahead

This year I am wondering, will I do that again?  We have more travel planned, the water is looking less promising and I am actually more excited about growing spring greens for my Mama’s Mini CSA and trading for milk and eggs, than having all that tomato processing to do this fall… Decisions, Decisions!!

Well, While I mull over mine, what will you grow this year?  What will you buy, trade, what will you forego?

If those questions are already answered, well then now my friends, would be a good time to begin to sow.  If you are beginning your garden journey here are a few posts that will help you get started-

Homemade Potting Soil

Bed Prep

Seed Starting

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What are the top ten ways to simplify your gardening?

Christina, over at Tumbleweeds and Seeds posed this question to me the very same day I mixed up a fresh load of potting soil, filled my homemade wooden flats and sowed seeds to be pampered in my greenhouse till it is warm enough to transplant them outside under row cover…..All this to say- -my gardening style is hardy simple.  Because I love it and love to do it all myself it is totally worth all the effort, but simple it is not.  So as I worked, I thought of all the ways you (or I if I so choose) could make gardening simpler.

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The first would be simply Don’t garden.  NO seriously I am not kidding, yes I am a garden teacher and yes I would love to teach you how, but seriously like any hobby, life-giving or not, one must consider the time, skills, costs, resources and water, that go into any new endeavor.  Gardening can help take you out of an industrialized food system, it can get you out into nature more, it just might address pressing personal and global shifts, but consider if it is the right fit for you and your time and resources because honestly it may not be worth doing if you can’t do it well.

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I worked as the school gardener a couple of years back and I had a co-worker who told me a great story.

She rode her bike to work, shopped locally, she did all she could to reduce her carbon footprint and contribute to her community.  One summer she decided to add growing her own food to her good green efforts.  She built a raised bed, bought fancy soil, invested in little plants from the greenhouse and watered like crazy.  She worked so hard that summer and got very little return that ended up losing money & time, but she did gain the realization of how much effort it really took to grow your own food here in the high desert.  She concluded her tale with,

“After all that, now I happily shop at farmers market and I will never scoff at a $3 bunch of Carrots again.  Those farmers know what they are doing, have the appropriate resources to grow beautiful food, and man, the earn every penny!!”

Did you know that one of the biggest problems with the Santa Fe Farmer market is that the farmers CAN’T SELL all their beautiful food!! So much effort, water, land, money, highly precious resources here in the high desert all gone to waste….So if you can, just buy your food from the local pros and save your water bill and spare time for something else.  Gift your local farmers with the value and respect you give any professional.

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Now if you are continuing to read, it is probably because you love to garden, can’t afford market or have some other very good reason you are set on growing, or like me, you simply MUST, so my dear gardeners, here are a few more tips for you.

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1-Starts

If simple is what you are truly looking for, the first advice I would give would be don’t make your own flats, soil or even grow your own starts.  Though a wonderful and pleasurable task, it is not simple and not always easy to do all the pre-growing yourself.  I would recommend buying starts from your local Nursery, Aqua Fria always has a good selection, and of course plenty of folks at Farmers Market.

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2-Choose your crops wisely

Grow only what you eat constantly, what costs a lot and doesn’t travel well.

Like greens, salad, or herbs.  I say make good friends with Swiss Chard, it can be eaten raw of cooked, grows almost year round, bugs don’t like it, it is truly a loyal pal.  I also recommend people start with potted herbs that come come inside in the winter.  This way you always have them on hand and start to really save money and those darn plastic containers most herbs in the supermarket come in.  Dark leafy greens like Kale & Chard are always giving and take require very little attention and really you can’t eat enough of them!

Grow crops that will supply for your needs all year.

Garlic is super easy, low maintenance and you can grow a whole years worth in your backyard.

Skip field crops

If you have a small yard and are trying to grow some of your own food, skip crops like Onions, Winter Squash, Corn, and Potatoes unless of course you have really great success with them.  You can buy all those in bulk locally and cheaply from farmers at market and store them all winter long.  There is no way I could produce all that I consume, so I save my garden space for things I consume daily.

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3-Consolidate Resources- Small is Beautiful

Plant intensively one area, don’t spread your gardening all over the yard.  Choose a small are and really love it up, water it well, spoil it with compost and mulch and wind protection.  Even use containers on your porch that have great soil and are convenient to water, but make sure this precious area is well cared for.  Your work is a resource too, so make sure you are using your time and energy as wisely as well as your water and nutrients.  A small intensive area that is well cared for will sing, rather than over doing it and spreading you and your garden too thin.

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4-Mulch like crazy & STOP Weeding!!

Mulch suppresses weeds so you don’t have to worry about them.  It keeps in moisture so you water much less and builds up organic material in your soil.  If you do have weeds, let them be if they aren’t encroaching in precious vegetables.  Just change how you see them , call them cover crops, call them water catchment, call them green in the desert.  If they are getting in your veggies way, pull them up and lay them down right where they are and call them mulch.  They will just dry up and look like straw anyway!!

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5-Plan well

I have found good gardening really is good planning.  Sow succession crops so as you harvest you are continually adding more seeds.  This makes so you are always harvesting something, so no time, water or space is wasted.  If you need help, here is my handy planting calendar to help guide your way.

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6-Low till to No till

Build up the soil with constant additions of organic material.  You are building up an ecology that does not need to be disturbed every season.  Once you dig deep the first couple of seasons, a light fluffing of the top soil should do the trick for sowing seeds and transplanting.

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7- Chicken tractors

Have you ever had chickens loss in your yard?  Then you have seen them scratch, pick and rake your garden to a nice fine tilth.  Build a little cage that fits over you beds and put the chickens in there before you sow.  They will do the work for you in day!  No chickens?  I guarantee you have a friend who will lend you a few for a day.  They of course eat bug and weeds too, you don’t need to be the only one working out there!

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8-Swap and share

Your friends have chickens and you have Chard- just trade, we don’t all need to do it all the time!  Things are only worth the value we put on them.  Create your own little underground swapper market.

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9-Perrenialize

You can plant your whole yard in edible berries, trees, herbs and shrubs and have a lot less work to do weekly.  You may have bumper crops one year creating a lot of work at one time, but I am sure you will have tons of friends all of a sudden who want to come over and help pick.  Also Perrenialize annuals too.  Let things go to seed and they will be sure to sprout up in odd places next year.  You can wild harvest out of your own yard if you let things naturalize and learn to eat your weeds! Generally perennials take less water too and you can use grey water on them more easily.  All our dish water goes onto our perennial front yard.

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10- Only garden if you love it!!

Forgive your self if you don’t love gardening and use your precious time and energy on some other righteous earth healing soul nourishing endeavor, I am sure you can think of one that is calling to you right now!

Planning for Spring

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Ahhh, the subtle return of the light, the seed catalogs in the mailbox, it is still cold outside, but the garden dreams have started.  I know you are with me here, as I have gotten numbers emails lately about this year being your year for you to grow some serious food.  I often forget how valuable growing my own food truly is and then I wander into the produce aisle mid winter and see Kale for almost $4 a bundle.   All my winter garden laziness falls away and I  get to down to business with my garden planning, compost collected and double digging.  Honestly I don’t really buy many vegetables, in 2012 I grew over 500lbs of veggies here on 1/5 of an acre and though I haven’t done my math yet, but I am pretty sure 2013 there was even more.  Every year is different, but I am hoping for an abundant year ahead, with the Wood Horse on my side and all. ( We just went to a Chinese New Year party, for those of you who missed that reference)

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Today to celebrate Imbolc, the half way mark between Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox, I am making potting soil for my green house flats which I plan to sow tomorrow with lots of cool season greens.  For those of you who bought a planting calendar, are you gardening along with me this year? ( If you didn’t get one, I still have a few.)

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This spring, starting March 28th,  I am excited to be offering a class at the Community College on Gardening in the Desert.  These cold winter eves are spent in pouring through my book collection, organizing my thoughts and recruiting signups for this class.  If you are familiar with SFCC Continuing Ed courses here is the course info is: course #Hg337 01/crN 31535 if not just call 505-428-1270 and they will get you all set up if you care to join me.  We will be going from seed to harvest, focusing on home scale vegetable production in the high desert and since I run the garden at the College, we will have lots of opportunity to get our hands dirty.

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Meanwhile, today in the backyard we harvested almost 1 lb of Spinach and are about ready to get the hose out and just spray down the entire lot if we don’t get some moisture soon!  Enjoying the sun, praying for rain, the eternal dance of the desert grower!

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Salad Days & Dressings

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We had a smashing spring day in the sunshine at the Children’s Museum this weekend and I got the blessing of feeding many folks my garden greens.  We talked gardening, making potting soil and building wooden flats and got a few young gardeners started sprouting their first sunflower seeds!!  Nothing quite like that first spring day where it feels like the whole town is out to play.  It was truly nostalgic for me, as about eight years ago I ran the garden there and it is actually where I meet my husband for the first time.  Now we have a little one of our own to bring to play, mingling with our sprouting community of little ones frolicking beneath the very beings my young hands planted so long ago.   Feeling so lucky to have such a great crew to hang with and such a beautiful place to raise our babies up in.  Thanks to the Arts of Nature for providing such a splendid community gathering, Griet, such a delight to see yo manifest your visions.

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I also made a few home dressings that I shared, so as promised, here are the recipes for those.

Green Goddess- Voted #1

· ¼ c Tahini

· ¼ c olive oil

· 1 tbl +1 tsp Tamari

· 1 tsp Miso

· 1 tsp Toasted Sesame Oil

· 2 tbl Apple Cider Vinegar

· ½ c water

· 2 cloves garlic or a handful of fresh garlic chives

· 1-2 green onions

Blend all ingredients in a blender/food processor until desired consistency and serve on fresh greens mmamma.

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Maple Mustard- Voted #2

1/4 cup Mustard

1/4 cup Maple Syrup

3/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar

3/4 cup Olive Oil

1/4 Flax seed Oil

These measurements I just made up so do measure it to you taste.  Shake and serve

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Tarragon Yogurt- Voted # 3

2 big handfuls of fresh Tarragon

1 big handful fresh Mint

1 1/2 Yogurt

Salt/Pepper

2 tbsp Lemon Juice

Add more of whatever you wish to get the taste you like. Blend till smooth

Here’s to lots of springing energy and plenty of spring greens!

 

Planting into pallets

Is there anything you can’t make out of an old pallet?  Yes, it does take more time and a bit more know-how to upcycle a pallet into a totally different and functional thing, but luckily I have an expert on my side.  Yep, Joel does it again.  This time he made me a new seed planting flat out of recycled pallet wood.

(Note: I do also do make these out new wood too, see here)

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Cool Huh?  Want to try? Here is how he did it.

First, he tore the pallet apart with a flat bar to get the the lumber in order. Image

Then he used the cross pieces which were 3.5inches wide and 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick.  There was mix of oak (harder, longer lasting, heavier) & pine (softer, easier to work with lighter)

 

Then he cut off the split tips with the nails in them- to have clean, split free ends and not to bother with pulling out the nails.Image

Then he cut 2 pieces at 1ft long and 6pieces at 2ft long

He nailed 2 of the 2footers & 2 of 1footers into a rectangular box.  The 2 footer edges over lapped the edges of the 1 footers.  Unfortunately he moved so fast I didn’t get to photograph every step… but I hope you follow.

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Then he nailed the remaining 4 2footers to the bottom of the box using 4d galvanized nails. These are rust resistant and small enough that they will keep the wood from splitting, but large enough to hold your box together when it is full of heavy, wet soil.  Because the wood was irregular enough he just pushed the bottom slats together and nailed…but it is important to note during this step to leave a little space between the slats for water to drain out, but not soil.  I usually stick a quarter between the slats which has always proven to be just right.

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And there you have it.  Here is one I made from Redwood and screws in 2010 (in front) and the new Pallet one (in back).  Image

Similar—-but there are few subtle differences.

*The new one is a bit wider than the other.  As far as size go, I pretty much try to maximize my table space.  If you table is a 3×6 (which many tables are) you can fit 9 2×1 flats on it.  That should be more than enough (much more in fact) for all your seedling needs.  Remembering, when you start seeds in wooden planting flats you will need to divide them or thin them before they reach the garden, so leave space in you table(s) for transplants.  This is basically bio-intensive gardening, but more on that later…here is the next step if you are eager.

*The other difference is that my new flat is mostly oak and the older one is Redwood.  Both have their pros and cons

Oak- Hard, Heavy, Durable,Rot Resistant, Brittle-(Available in Pallets)

Pine- Soft, Not Rot resistant, Light weight, Cheap or free-(Available in Pallets)

Redwood- Light weight, doesn’t spilt easily, VERY Rot Resistant-(Must buy)

Wooden Flats are a great thing to add to your garden shed if you find yourself starting seeds every year.  They are pretty simple to make, relatively cheap and last many years, not to mention they are NOT plastic.  They work beautifully to hold moisture and give ample space for those babies to grow.  Many farms use them, which is where I learned about them.  Here are a few I stumble across while ambling through a sleepy farm in Colorado last spring.

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Yes, I take pictures of other people’s planting flats, I told you I was a farm tourist.

Good Luck and I hope you help rescue one more lonely pallet from the back of your hardware store and put it to good use.

When you are ready here is a link to how to make potting soil for the flats and one on how to plant into them properly.  Let the sowing begin!!