You gotta have soil for a container garden!

Seventeen hodgepodge containers, and still no soil to fill them!

I was in a bit of a pickle with the garden centres closed, but thankfully I had my yard waste from the spring clean up in March. Thus began my second search for recycled material! 

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I had leftover six leaf bags filled with different types of yard waste: dried brown leaves, plant stems, sticks, twigs and lots of ornamental grass and their stalks. I had edged the gardens so there was a bag of the clumps of the lawn, and I had other green material like dandelions and the invasive dead nettle plant I had pulled. I had last year’s dirt from my own urns and dirt from the lawn edgings. I also started saving all our food waste in the house. I separated that waste out into separate containers. One to hold the food waste, one to hold the egg shells, and a container to collect the coffee, filters and tea bags. With all of this free stuff I had around the house I enough to start filling the containers with layers.

My thought process was to create “lasagna layers” to fill the bottoms of all these pots. “Lasagna layers” are alternating layers of brown and green material. Brown layers provide carbon to the soil and can be made from straw, newspaper, brown leaves, shredded office paper, sawdust, etc. Green layers provide nitrogen to the soil and can be made from compost, manure, grass clippings, green garden waste, etc.

I have successfully used this method in my perennial flower beds for many years. We have clay soil here and I am continually adding in mulch around the flowers; green yard waste in the summer, and brown waste in the fall, all chopped into two inch pieces. Over time, this has created a thick cushion of mulch that keeps the soil moist, full of worms and more workable, and the flowers seem to appreciate it, too!

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To fill the containers, I first put used coffee filters at the bottom of the pots to cover the holes so I wouldn’t lose any of my precious soil. Next, I put a layer of smaller sticks and twigs (broken or cut into shorter pieces) with a layer of ornamental grass, twisted like a nest, over top. My hope being that the sticks will give some breathing room in case of over-watering and the dried grass layer will act as a wick to return pooling water to the soil above and keep it moist.

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After the nest of grasses, came all the pulled weeds, old plant roots and lawn edgings. These, I broke down into the smallest pieces I could manage. This layer gave me a fair amount of dirt along with green material, but due to invasive nature of the greens, my next layer was the local newspaper (got to keep up with that news!). I layered the paper thickly in hopes of keeping the grass and weeds from growing. Time will tell if this was a good idea or not.

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On top of the newspaper layer I added more of my own soil from the lawn edgings (with the grass roots carefully removed this time) and added in any worms I found along the way.

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Hey, Don’t judge me on the LCBO bags! lol (in lieu of newspaper)

This first level of dirt was topped by a layer of old dried leaves and thin stems gathered from the spring cleaning. This material was all hand-cut into two inch pieces and created a thick mulch layer to add little pockets of air and beds for the wormies.

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On top of this, I added in my kitchen compost, chopped into small pieces, and then, finally, on top of the compost I put in the old potting soil from my urns. The kitchen compost did not include any meat or dairy products to avoid attracting any rodents. I also didn’t include lemon or citrus peels because I just wasn’t sure about them either. As far as I know, they take a long time to decompose and I only want to use food that composes quickly because I’m trying to create a cold compost to build up microbial activity, rather than a hot compost.

I didn’t include the egg shells or coffee grounds, which I continue to collect in separate containers because I’ll be using these later for the seedlings, but more about that at another time.

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With my pots now filled halfway, I watered them daily to start the decomposition. Each day, I lifted them up to find worms underneath which I then added into the pots. I’ll have you know that this messy gardener is not afraid to pick up worms!

My hope for the containers is to create a good microbial community through the cold compost. And, if all goes well, each container could be a little worm farm which will also help in breaking down the mulch/compost and start creating rich soil from my yard waste. It has been so unseasonably cold in April that I have to report that not much has happened so far, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that when the weather warms up my pots will start activating!

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In the meantime, the Garden Centres opened this past weekend so hallelujah, I now have soil and seeds!

Each container now has a layer of top soil and a layer of potting mix. My pots are now ready for planting!

Keep warm til next time!

P.S. if you have any special ingredients you add to your containers I would love to hear about it.

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