Posts Tagged ‘container gardening’

Impulse Gardening

Regular readers of this blog have undoubtedly discovered by now that I tend to be somewhat methodical when it comes to my garden. But that’s not always the case. Over the course of the last few days, I brought home a total of six plants (five different kinds) on occasions when I had gone out specifically to get something else.

On the first occasion, I had gone out to buy nursery pots so that I could transplant the first wave of fall plant starts, as detailed in the blog post, Seasons in the Sunshine State. Now, you would think that in a town the size of Orlando, there would be plenty of stores at which to buy plain old, ordinary, plastic, cheap plant pots. But, no. So far, I have found a grand total of one place where I can buy them. Had I planned ahead, I could have ordered some online, but I didn’t, so I made the trip across town to Urban Sunshine, a retailer that specializes in organics and hydroponics. It just so happens that they also carry nursery pots. The size I wanted was a whopping 50 cents apiece, so I was happy.

But, wouldn’t it be silly to drive all the way across town and come home with nothing but fifty-cent plastic pots? Of course it would. It would also be silly to pass up the gorgeous zucchini plants that were only $1.95 apiece, right? It would be even sillier, given that I had the organics experts right there to tell me how to address my squash vine borer problem! Right? I thought you’d agree. Never mind that at $9.95, the bottle of Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew with Spinosad, which is what they recommended, cost more than the zucchini plants and the pots put together.

So, I came home that day with two brand new zucchini plants, a bottle of organic insecticide, and of course, my nursery pots. I didn’t really have good places available in my garden for the zucchini, but I did have some unused 7-gallon containers, so that is where the new plants ended up. I didn’t think to take a picture of the zucchini up close, but you can see them in the picture below. They are in the second and fourth pots along the fence.


After making enough Mel’s Mix to fill the two 7-gallon containers and enough to fill 32 small pots, I realized I was getting low on vermiculite. Since I buy it in 4 cubit foot bags, such as the one Emma is inspecting below, I don’t have to buy it very often. Fortunately, I have found a local supplier who always seems to have that size bag in stock, and they sell it at a good price. Unfortunately, that supplier is the one I had just come from, Urban Sunshine. Alas, back I headed across town.


As expected, they had the 4 cubit foot bags in stock, so I got one. I was so pleased with the zucchini, I just had to look around again. What caught my eye was the cayenne pepper plant shown below. At only $1.95, I thought that was hard to beat. Before sundown, it was nestled into its new home in one of my raised beds.


This time, rather than plan a trip across town for just one thing, I decided to stop by Home Depot on my way home to get that other raised bed kit I’ve been thinking about. After finding exactly what I was looking for, I thought I would look at the tomato plants to see if they had any interesting heirlooms that I wasn’t already growing. Not only did they have 1-gallon pots of two different varieties that I was interested in, their 1-gallon plants were on sale at 3 for $10. So, I came home with two heirlooms and a hybrid developed specifically to perform well in the hot Florida summer. The heirlooms are a Mr. Stripey and a Yellow Pear. The hybrid is a Solar Fire.

I planted the heirlooms in my remaining two 7-gallon containers (first and third containers along the fence row above). The Solar Fire ended up in the raised bed near the Cayenne. Here’s a picture of the Mr. Stripey:


Here’s a picture of the Yellow Pear:

And here’s a close-up of the Yellow Pear’s tomatoes, already on the vine:


Happy gardening!

Quick ‘n Easy Mel’s Mix

In his hugely popular gardening book, All New Square Foot Gardening, Mel Bartholomew emphasizes the importance of a good soil mixture as the foundation of successful gardening. In fact, he makes a point of his belief that there is nothing more important. He goes on to provide a recipe for making a mix that meets his exacting specifications. He calls this mix “Mel’s Mix.”

Bartholomew goes to great lengths to describe the rationale behind each of the ingredients in his mixture, giving the reader a solid understanding of the importance of each and the role played by each in providing proper nourishment for the plants, for helping the soil to both drain well and retain moisture at the same time, and for keeping the soil loose, friable, and lightweight, all of which serve to make gardening with this mixture a pleasurable and rewarding experience. He also gives detailed instructions on preparing a batch of Mel’s Mix suitable for filling a raised bed. He talks about how many bags of each ingredient to use to get the right proportions and then how to ensure that the ingredients are well mixed before transferring to the raised bed. I have followed his recipe exactly as written, including the use of two people to repeatedly fold and unfold a tarp spread out in the yard. The instructions work beautifully.

But what if you don’t need to fill a whole raised bed, but still want to make some Mel’s Mix? For instance, what if you only need enough to transplant some seedlings into some intermediate sized pots? Or, what if you’re trying to expand a container garden by a few pots?

The steps below show what I do. I use this method to make five gallons of Mel’s Mix at a time.

Before I get into the steps, I would like t emphasize that the use of compost made from diverse sources is every bit as important as if you were making a bed-sized batch. The key is to avoid using compost made from a single ingredient, such as all mushrooms or all manure, for instance. If you make your own compost, you should be fine. If you buy it commercially, Bartholomew’s advice about buying at least five different types is still sound. Otherwise, you will end up with highly imbalanced nutrients in your soil, and your plants will suffer for it. There is no easy shortcut for this if you’re buying compost from commercial sources.

Having said that, the steps for making five gallons of Mel’s Mix are as follows. Start by filling a 5-gallon bucket one-third full of mixed compost.


Next, add enough peat moss to fill the bucket two-thirds of the way.

Then add enough vermiculite to fill the bucket the rest of the way.


Now that the bucket is filled with the ingredients, pour the contents into a second bucket.


Continue pouring back and forth between the two buckets until it takes on a uniform color and appearance. You may find that the peat moss and the compost have some clumps that need to be broken up. This is normal. Simply crumble it by hand as you encounter it. The whole process should take no more than about 10 minutes.


When you’re through pouring the mixture back and forth between the two buckets, your small batch of Mel’s Mix is ready to use! It is well suited to most gardening applications. I used today’s batch to transplant some month-old tomato and pepper seedlings to their new homes in small pots, where they will spend the next several weeks getting big enough and strong enough to plant in my fall garden.


Happy gardening!