October 31, 2013
After discussing organic growing indoors for so long, you start to come across a few things over and over again. I have a book on the shelf called TLO by the Rev. If you are reading this, then I’m guessing you have either read the book or have read his laundry list of a soil mix and were looking for more information on it. In my opinion, that book perpetuates many cultivation myths and then goes a step further and actually creates some myths of it’s own. Many of the amendments being used in the soil mix are ridiculous when you learn more. That’s why I wanted to list the entire list of ingredients and break it down line by line.
Please argue with me, I’m not writing this for my own good, but to create a conversation about where our amendments are coming from, and how we are growing our plants. My goal is to keep things as simple as possible, and to duplicate Mother Nature as much as I can while bringing organics indoors.
2 gallons of quality organic soil mix
2 gallons thoroughly rinsed coir (coconut fiber)
2 gallons perlite(small nugget size)
2 gallons earthworm castings, and/or fresh compost works too)
While I don’t have a problem with the Base mix, I would be more specific here and do things differently.
1. What is the 2 gallons of soil look like?
2. Why Coco Coir? Check out this article from Utah State University on Peat Moss Vs. Coco coirhttp://cpl.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/pub__9468201.pdf
(Although Leaf Mold would be Best, it takes 1 year to make at home and would be the way to eliminate all of this outsourcing)
3. Perlite Sucks – Seriously there are way better aeration amendments that don’t float around in the soil mix. Try lava rock, buckwheat hulls, rice hulls… the list goes on.
4. Hell Yes! I love Worm Castings and Compost.
This is what I recommend for a base mix, but think of it this way…. The base mix just has to have good humus and good aeration. Ideally you want the highest Cation Exchange Capacity possibly that way the soil will hold on to all the nutrients instead of letting them leach out with water. You can change the percentages and get almost the same results, but if you start to tweak things too much you will have a mix that is too heavy. You can grow in 100% worm castings, but the growth is slow with no aeration and too much compaction over time.
This base mix will perform very well and is also cheap to make.
30% Sphagnum Peat Moss or Home Made Leaf mold.
30% Homemade or Premium Worm Castings (Compost will suffice, but better be good compost)
25% Buckwheat hulls or Small Lava rock. Some form of aeration amendment. Perlite if you have to.
15% Topsoil – This will make it a real soil, and add clays that will increase Cation Exchange and also add a diverse amount of materials to the mix. I take a shovel and get some soil from a nice spot on my property, worst case you could find some good soil around town.
Or just straight 33/33/33 Peat/Compost/Aeration without the topsoil.
A note about Sphagnum Peat Moss: The Bales you buy at Home Depot in 2.0 Cubic Feet or 3.8 CF size are of a much higher quality than the sphagnum peat moss inside most of the bagged soil mixes you can buy. When you get bagged soil, they run the peat moss through a shredder, blender type deal and it gets really degraded. When you get a 3.8 CF bale from the store, you are getting something that hasn’t really been processed at all, just baled and shipped. It even has some micro life in it when you look at it under a microscope! Good Stuff!
Now for the fun part, all these crazy amendments, I’ll keep the list here and just go through it one by one.
Amendments according to the Rev 2.1 True Living Organics Soil mix.
1 and 1/2 cup Grow or Bloom "Pure" by Organicare (or 1 cup 5-5-5) Here are the ingredients for the Organicare: Fish meal, crab meal, sulfate of potash, alfalfa meal, composted poultry litter and seaweed (Ascophyllum nodosum). Why not just add these separate ingredients yourself at a known ratio and with your own personal quality control? Why are we using expensive bagged products along side with similar stand alone amendements? This makes no sense.
1/2 cup greensand Greensand takes Years to become available, if this is part of your really long term plan, that’s fine. This could be an initial amendment for starting a No-Till. There are other mineral amendments that will make themselves available to the plants faster. My goal when building a soil is not to waste money, and I would cut this out for sure.... but really see no harm in using it.
3/4 cup ground oyster shells (1 cup if no crushed oyster shells) Oyster Shells are about 95% CaCO3 or Calcium Carbonate. Once you realize that calcium carbonate is good, you can add it without having to be redundant. Gypsum, Crab, Oyster, they all have CaCO3 1cup crushed oyster shells (optional) Read the above.
1/2 cup dolomite lime (powdered) NO DOLOMITE LIME: As a rule, don’t use Dolomite lime, regardless of what you may have read in various gardening books, unless you are sure that you need Magnesium. (We don’t need any more magnesium in our mix, I promise) Dolomite is a high Magnesium limestone. Using dolomite will tighten the soil, reducing air in the soil and inducing anaerobic alcohol fermentation or even formaldehyde preservation of organic matter rather than aerobic decomposition. 1 and 3/4 cup prilled (pelletized) fast-acting dolomite lime Again, No Dolomite, it’s awful for your soil, especially with the alternatives available like gypsum.
1/4 cup blood meal Blood Meal: There are way better sources of Nitrogen than this. Blood meal is the blood waste from the cattle industry, Are you 100% confident that all the blood being used is free of any drugs, hormones, toxins etc? I'm not, and it turns out there is good reason to question the industry practice. Blood meal is made from dried blood that is literally scraped from the slaughterhouse floor. Even those farmers that use it admit that it is dangerous to breathe and can carry a number of harmful pathogens. Warning for animal lovers: Blood meal may attract your pets or other animals and if ingested can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Ingesting blood meal can also result in severe pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) which is bad news for your pup.
1/4 cup high N bird/bat guano 12-8-2 N-P-K Bat guano is bad to breathe, and isn’t sustainable to harvest. It’s also not magic like the hippies of yesterday seem to think it was. There are many alternatives to Bat Guano, but I understand many people still use it and love won’t grow without it. That is a personal decision you have to make. Personally, I’ve found that Comfrey, SRP, and many others are better and less dangerous to use.
1/2 heaping cup feather meal
Antibiotics and other drugs found in feather meal samples. That should be enough to show you how convoluted the feather meal industry is. This is another waster product from slaughtering animals. Here is a quote from an article sited below: "To do this, they examined 12 feather meal samples from the U.S. (n=10) and China (n=2). All 12 samples contained at least one antibiotic residue, and some contained residues of 10 different drugs (both of those were from China). While many of the antibiotics were ones used in poultry farming (or their metabolites), they also found drugs they did not expect. Most significantly, this included residues of fluoroquinolones, which they found in 6 of 10 U.S. feather meal samples. Why is this important? Fluoroquinolone use was banned in U.S. poultry production as of 2005 because of the risk to human health–so where are these residues coming from?" Source:http://scienceblogs.com/aetiology/2012/04/05/waste-not-want-not-poultry-fea/
1 cup un-steamed granular bone meal (like Whitney Farms brand)
Why not use Fish bone meal, comfrey, soft rock phosphate or something better than bone meal? Bones are stripped, dried, and ground. It is used for its high phosphorus and calcium content despite the fact that bone meal is dangerous to breathe and has been suggested as an agent for spreading Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) (the human form of bovine spongiform encephalopathy “mad cow disease”) to humans. “Do you feed your roses with bone meal? Not a good idea, says the world’s foremost expert on a group of rare diseases, found in animals, that sometimes make their way into humans. Breathing in the dust from contaminated bone meal could be deadly, says Dr. D. Carleton Gajdusek (GUY-doo-sheck), a brilliant Harvard Medical School graduate and Nobel laureate. In his latest book, Deadly Feasts (Simon & Schuster), author Richard Rhodes traces the history of these diseases, called spongi-form encephalopathies, that reduce the brain to a spongy mass, causing their victims to stagger, fall, develop dementia and paralysis, and soon die a terrible death.” - “Mad cow disease” from feeding your roses? – Medical Update September 1, 1997. Brown, Edwin W. Bone Meal can also be a danger to your pets. If an animal consumes a large quantity of bone meal (for their size) it will form a cement-like ball in their stomach, which may block the digestive track and need to be removed by surgery. http://gentleworld.org/whats-hiding-in-your-organic-fertilizer/
1/2 cup bulb food
WTF? Why are we adding chemical fertilizers now? Okay, so someone said he uses an organic bulb food. (I looked it up, it's just more of all the above)
1/4 cup powdered soft rock phosphate Good good, but ¼ cup for more than 1 cubic foot of soil? I don’t think that’s enough!
(Also, SRP does contain heavy metals, please use to start your mix but don't start going crazy with it)
1/2 heaping cup powdered gypsum Finally, this makes some good sense… but again, not enough, it should be about 4 cups!
1/2 cup kelp meal Awesome! Kelp Meal is incredible.
4 heaping cups composted steer manure (this inoculates your mix with specialized microbeasties and primo organic matter) Manure? Really? We can get said “microbeasties” without that crap. If this manure hasn’t been composted properly it still has residual amounts of antibiotics etc in it.
1/2 cup azomite granular (add an additional 1/4 cup of greensand if no azomite) Azomite I’m fine with. Good source of minerals, but don’t stress if you can’t get it easy, no need.
1 cup granular humic acid ore (such as Down to Earth brand) Humic Acids are NOT all created equal. I prefer Liquid Ful-Power. It is 10 times better. Read this interesting write up on the Humic industry. There is SOOO much bullshit being sold as “humic acid” it’s ridiculous. Please read this entire article before buying any!http://www.bioag.com/educationandresources.html
1 cup alfalfa meal (or 2 cups pellets- make sure pellets are all organic no additives) I love Alfalfa Meal! With all the other stuff going on in this mix I would cut it to ½ cup. Or leave it out of the mix and use it for making botanical teas with.
1/2 cup rock phosphate granular (optional) Soft Rock Phosphate is better. This won’t be as available and also may have slightly more heavy metals etc.
1 heaping cup organic rice (important for the good fungi in this soil mix) First the rice will absorb water, then rot and while rotting it’s going to take up N to compensate for the use of carbon. Eventually it will turn into something useful but it would be better to use the rice for making BIM cultures and then adding that to the mix. It just doesn’t make sense to add it to the mix directly. (Thanks to JayKush for this comment in my notes)
For what it’s worth, if anyone wants to discuss the ridiculous use of spikes and layers along with god awful “Nutrient Teas” that make absolutely no sense…. Than we can talk about that stuff too. But be prepared, because there is nor reason to shove spikes into the soil or to use even more nutrients in these crazy tea concoctions with doses of calmag etc.
Here is what I would use for amendments to keep it simple:
Neem Cake ½ cup per cubic foot.
Sea Kelp Meal ½ cup per cubic foot.
Crustacean Meal ½ cup per cubic foot.
Mineral Mix 4-5 cups per cubic foot.
Comfrey Leaf – Handful top dressed and then covered with worm castings.
Once in the container, mulch with straw or with a living mulch like clover.
Ideally, you can process your homemade worm castings with these ingredients and when the castings are ready for use, that will be all you have to add…. Not anything else! That would be really cool.
The Rev Mix isn't good and is too complicated. Understanding how to build a soil can be simple.
You only need good compost or worm castings and a few good soil amendments covering the NPK range. Add to that a complete lineup of minerals and you are done. You can source whatever is best locally and you don't have to use ANY set recipe. Just make sure you have Compost, Nutrients and Minerals. The part where people fail, is keeping the soil alive and full of microbes that can actually proccess the added minerals and nutrients fast enough to keep up with the plant. That is where the compost and/or compost tea comes in.
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