Friday, August 3, 2012

Zero Cost Organic Container Experiment 2012

For the last 2 years I've been growing vegetables in containers with only materials from the yard for mix and fertilizer.  I try different methods each year and see what happens.

My deck only gets 4.5 hours direct sunlight at the summer solstice, beginning of August it is getting 3 hours and 45 minutes. This adds extra problems as it is mostly afternoon sun (10:30am to 2:30pm) and the deck is hot, so the plants wilt easily.  I've been forced to really figure out how to grow the plants with the minimum of wilt in full sun. If the plants wilt from say 11am on (which they could easily do without extra care) it would mean they'd only get 1/2 hour of direct sun photosynthesis hours!

Only getting direct sun when it is hot out is especially hard on transplants. The transplants don't get any chance to photosynthesize in direct sun, so it takes a long time for them to get established.
 In a normal garden a plant will get morning sun, when it is cooler out to photosynthesize.

Below is a post that was written in May 2012 explaining this years setup.  Updates to follow.

Zero Cost Organic Experiment 2012

Last year the forest floor mulch mixed with leaves did the best. The forest floor mulch is nice compost-like and scraped off the ground under some pine & oak trees. I'd use it in all my containers but in a dry climate I only have a limited supply on my property. So instead I used old container mix which is basically fine compost, and I add or do other things with it.
 A mix of half dried leaves and half old mix (basically compost) also did quite well last year.
Only fertilizer used is ashes and HLF (homemade/human liquid fertilizer).

This year I'm continuing experimenting. Read about Hugelkultur garden beds, basically burying logs under a raised bed. I put some of these in my in-ground garden and thought, well why not try it in a container also!
Made one container with big stump in it:
Made 2 containers by layering up branches and mix.


Here is this years container lineup.
Back row left to right:
* Mix is: old mix + leaves + branches. Plants 3 peppers.
* Mix is: old mix + leaves. Bottom 6" of container is only compressed leaves. The idea here is that the bottom of the containers accumulate fine mix over the season. With just leaves at the bottom it might not develop into the usual heavy muck.
* Mix is: Bottom 1 foot of container is only compressed leaves. Top 6" is only old mix (thick compost). It would be great if this works. It is the easiest to set up. Just empty old mix from the tote. Then walk around and fill the tote with leaves, compress them by standing on them. Then just put a 6" layer of the old mix on top and it's done. Also this is the lightest container.
* Flower container, mix is leftover turface, bark, & peat. I've put in a "clay pot reservoir" which will be filled with diluted HLF. The idea is to see if I can cut down on fertilizing frequency and make the container more maintenance free.
Front row left to right:
* Not organic. Mix is half turface, half bark. I've never had good results with these mixes outdoors. In a hot dry climate you need to water several times a day to prevent wilting. I do use this fast draining mix for indoor plants and they do great, much better than the peat mixes I had used before.
* One huge stump surrounded by old mix. This is the heaviest container. A saturated stump is quite heavy. I don't have high expectations from this one, (but do have high hopes!). The mix is heavy and so is the stump, so probably will not have enough aeration. Only planting eggplants in this one, as they like it wet.
* Branches combined with old mix. This is also heavy. Planting eggplants in this one also.

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