Category Archives: soil

Buying Soil for the Garden

I recently had a friend by a soil mix from  St. Louis Composting. It was supposed to be a mix of 50% top soil and 50% compost. She ended up getting big clumps of clay in the soil and I was disappointed in the mix. There response was this, “With the wet winter and now wet spring, it has been hard for us to pull soil out of our fields. This has led us to go to other sources of receiving the material.”  Their new source seems to be more clay than anything like topsoil.

I also went to Grants View library community gardens. They have just completed their raised beds and were also filled with those large boulder like clay clumps. Gateway Greening ordered the same Garden Mix which was supposed to be 50/50 said, “They have a huge facility, so there are always variables in my experience.”

The lesson learned is this.

Go to the source of your soil and check it out before you buy it. Look at it, feel it and check the quality of what they are going to send you.

After they dump the soil on your lot, it’s too late to do anything about it. Check out the soil or soil and compost combination ahead of time and make sure they get exactly what you want.

Note – St. Louis Composting also has a product called SLC Raised Bed Mix which might be better, but is more expensive.


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Butterfly Gardens in a Pot

I’ve got a school that doesn’t have room for a traditional in the ground garden, so we are going to plant in large pots. The question that comes to mind is, “What kind of soil should we put in the pots?

Here are two solutions from two experts.

  1. One expert, Jesse, suggests this for a mix to fill the pots.
    2/3 – potting mixI like ProMix – BX – it has micorrhizae
    1/3 compost – this provides a lot of the nutrients that the plants need. I like the Black Gold compost that you can buy at
    If you don’t need a large quantity they do sell it for $3.50/bag or 3 for $10.00.
    Jesse does not use Osmocote or any other fertilizer, but every year he might just add extra compost to the pots.
  2. Another expert from a Horticulture program suggests using ProMix BX. Don’t use any other amendments, but after you put in the plant, you sprinkle Osmocote on top. There are two types of Osmocote – I buy the one with the micro-nutrients. Another tip she had was to put in an upside down pot to help take up some of the space if you want to save money on potting mix.

Below are three pots I did for a school. They are fairly large pots and are filled with Miracle
Gro potting soil plus a Miracle Gro Compost. Each pot took about a dozen plants and then some of the kids planted marigold seeds around the outside. One pot with the stake was entirely different types of milkweed.  The other pots were combinations of host and nectar plants. I put in close to a whole tray of plants into each pot.

May 10, 2016 – I’m also testing out a pot at home to see how the various plants do.
Here’s a list of butterfly plants I have put into pots.
Alyssum, Bronze Fennel, Coreopsis, Echinacea, Pussy Toes, Salvia, Shasta Daisy, Tropical Milkweed, Verbena bonareinsis, Verbena trailing, Veronica.

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Mycorrhizal Fungi

I’m going to use this page to add in information about this topic.

Here’s some good information from Gabe Brown on Mycorrhizal Fungi. One of the reasons I use Pro-Mix BX is because it has this fungi.

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Filed under 2013, Mycorrhizal Fungi, soil, Soil Amendments

Pro-Mix BX Potting Soil


I noticed that they use Pro-Mix BX at Shaw Nature Reserve so that is the seed starting mix and potting soil I’m going to use for most seeds and plants.

They do make similar products, but what you want in the product is MYCORRHIZAE.

According tho their website, it improves fertilizer uptake; reduces fertilizer costs increases plant’s resistance to stresses; reduces maintenance costs.

Some products which look very similar don’t have the MYCORRHIZAE

I’be been told that the HP variation stands for High Porosity and just has more perlite. It is more expensive.



2016 – I found the BX product at the Bayer Garden Centers. $36.99 for a 3.8 cu. ft compressed bale

Note – this brand does NOT have fertilizer so you will need to add some Osmocote when you transplant.

I also found Pro-Mix at Menards, but it does not have the Mycorrhizae.


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Organic Gardening and Soil Notes

Yesterday I went to a program that included an organic gardener and a soil scientist. Here are the notes from the programs.

Kris Larson – Organic Gardener from Alton, Illinois.

  • He tills most of his beds. Not recommended by the USDA.
  • He use BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) – this is a good reason to be very careful if you are trying to feed parsley to Black Swallowtail caterpillars.
  • This was mainly a “classroom” approach to organic gardening. No pictures or videos of his farm.
  • He emphasizes keeping your gardens small enough to manage. He down-sized last year.

Ross Braun – Soil Scientist – retired from USDA

  • Apple demonstration
  • He recommends the book – How to Lie with Statistics
  • To show kids the effect of capillary action use celery and colored water (also paper towel and colored water)
  • Possibly add red wiggler worms to school soils if they are very degraded. One person said that their schools soil had no worms even after two years of adding organic matter.
  • Raindrop impact – picture on wikipedia – keep your soil covered.
  • Organic Farming Handbook
  • Watch videos by Ray Archuleta to see most of what he said.
  • 50% of corn farmers use no-till while 38% of organic farmers use no-till or minimum till. ( from the handbook above)

Other Notes

  • St. Louis Composting – said that you don’t have to add compost every year. They also talked about biochar. They don’t have a biochar product at this time.  They do have a program to help schools.

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Till vs No-Till Gardening


I saw a recent article by Organic Gardening talking about preparing your soil for planting in the spring.  The article titled, “Preparing Your Soil in Spring,”talks about working your soil to get it ready. They don’t use the word till, but do talk about working it, which is pretty much the same.


On the same Organic Gardening site they have an article on the benefits of no-till gardening.  There conclusion is that no-till is both good for the gardener, the soil and the planet.,1

So what should a home gardener do?

While I’ve been a conventional gardener in the past, because I’ve had mostly perennial beds I have ended up basically in the no-till camp. I’m going to go even farther this year and use no fertilizer, but instead use compost and cover crops to improve my soils. Most of my research comes from the USDA-NRCS and their videos on YouTube which show the advantages of this method for conventional farms, but which should also apply to home gardeners.


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Cover Crops in the Home Garden

One of the new ways of farming and gardening is to use cover crops to improve the soil structure and nutrients, instead of the traditional tilling and chemical fertilizers.

Here’s a free book on the benefits of using cover crops on a farm. I’m going to try and bring some of these concepts to the home garden.
Managing Cover Crops Profitably.

Here’s another great source of Cover Crop Information from the USDA.

I decided to try this on a test area that I use mainly for tropical milkweed. It’s one of the few areas in my yard that is open enough to plant extra seed.

March 16th I planted the Interseed Mix from Walnut Creek Seeds. I used half the packet and will reserve half in case the first seeding does poorly.  I will later on plant my milkweed and hope all the crops will co-exist.


Below is what the cover crop looks like on April 27th.


I next used my trimmer and cut most of plants down to a couple inches high so that I could plant my milkweed. I’m not sure how much the cover crop will recover.



You can see from the picture below that the cover crop came back dramatically and is growing faster than my milkweed in some places.

  • Angelia Phacelia – pretty flower – dead by July 1st.
  • Barley – gets large and turning brown around July 1st. I would not plant this again – too much maintenance.
  • Crimson Clover – 12 34
  • Flax – poor germination
  • Millet – poor germination.
  • Radish – fast grower and tall – cut it down about June 1st.

Other Cover Crops

Crimson Clover – planted in the fall.


Fall Cover Crops

This is another seed mix from Walnut Creek Seeds




Notes from video below.

  • Legumes add Nitrogen, but they have to be inoculated – most come pre-inoculated.
  • Crimson clover – his favorite cover crop – usually winter kills, makes a lot of Nitrogen.- earthworms love it – easy to kill.
  • Radish tops scavenge more nitrogen than the tubers – don’t throw this away. Leave on the soil?
  • – articles are old.

Crimson Clover

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Filed under Cover Crop, Experiments, Fertilizer, Gardening, soil