Living Soil Beds: Part 2
This is part two of my series about Living Soil Beds. Today’s article will talk about how to make your own living organic soil for use in “no till” pots or living soil beds. If you want to learn more about setting up a living soil bed, check out part one. If you would like to learn more about “living organic soil” or “no till” gardening, check out my full guide at DudeGrows.com/NoTillForNoobs
Last episode, I built two rolling beds:
Now lets fill up those beds and add some plants!
For my soil mix I’m using a homemade recipe I’ve used several times before. This mix is very similar to the “coots mix” or build a soil recipe but with some small changes. If you wanted to do something similar without the labor of mixing it yourself, you could order one of the BuildASoil “Living Soil” mixes. You could also order the Build A Soil Nutrient Kit and Mineral Kit and then source the rest of the ingredients locally. I’ve made many batches of soil over the years and learned many lessons along the way. My recipe changes a bit with each batch. Below is the exact recipe I used to fill up these new soil beds. The recipe makes enough to fill one bed, so I made two batches to fill both of them.
This recipe consists of a “base mix”, a “nutrient mix” and a “mineral mix”. All three are combined to make the final soil.
Peat- 6 cubic feet-
One 3.8cf bale of peat = 6 cubic feet uncompressed peat
Aeration- 6 cubic feet
Pumice- three cubic feet
Rice Hulls- three cubic feet
Compost- 6 cubic feet
Vital Earth “Vital Compost”- three cubic feet
Vital Earth Worm Castings- one cubic foot
Peaceful Valley Organic compost- one cubic foot
Peaceful Valley Organic Soil conditioner- one cubic foot
Crab Meal- ½ Cup per cf of base = 9c total
Kelp Meal- ½ Cup per cf of base = 9c total
Alfalfa Meal- ¼ Cup per cf of base = 4 ½ c total
Neem Meal- ¼ Cup per cf of base = 4 ½ c total
Oyster shell flour- 1 Cup per cf of base = 18c total
Gypsum- 1 Cup per cf of base = 18cf total
Basalt Rock Dust- 2 Cups per cf of base = 36c total
Recipe notes from Soup– I use a mix of composts to help ensure a good mix of microbes in the final soil. This also helps balance things out in case one of your compost sources isn’t the best quality. (Better to avoid putting all your “eggs in one basket” as they say.) Vital Earth is a local brand that makes good quality stuff. Peaceful Valley is my local nursery store that has a few of their own compost blends of various quality/cost. (They also run GrowOrganic.com, which is an excellent resource for backyard gardening.) The “soil builder” contains fir bark humus, green waste compost, rice hulls, coconut coir, worm castings and biochar. I mostly added it to get some biochar into the mix since my usual biochar option was sold out. Its mostly compost and castings, so I’m counting it as a “compost ingredient” for this recipe. My nutrient and mineral recipe is very similar to the coot/build a soil recipe except I am using some alfalfa in my mix. I’ve found I can substitute alfalfa for neem with this recipe and it works pretty well, so this time I decided to use a little of each.
I usually mix the base mix first, then I mix in the nutrient amendments, then repeat the process again with the mineral amendments. Doing the mixing in three stages helps ensure everything is thoroughly blended together.
First, I like to dump all the base mix ingredients out on a tarp and start slowly blending them together with a shovel. I use a rake to flatten the pile out into a big sheet, then use the shovel to scoop the sheet back into a pile again. The process of raking the mix flat then scooping it back into a pile stirs it up nicely and is a good workout. Put on some good music and go to town mixing things up!
Once the base mix is somewhat mixed you can start adding your nutrients or minerals. I like to measure out all my amendments into a big tray before I mix them into the soil. I usually do the nutrients first then repeat the process with the mineral ingredients. Measuring everything into a tray first helps reduce the risk of goofing something up while measuring.
Once I’ve got all my nutrient ingredients measured out in the tray, I will mix them together before adding them into the base mix. I like to rake the base mix flat and then distribute the nutrient mix as evenly as I can across the top (see pic below). Then I use the shovel to pile it all together and repeat that raking + piling cycle a few more times to ensure everything is all mixed up. I repeat this process with the mineral mix, then give the whole pile one last mix just to make sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed.
“Cooking” the Soil
Once the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, they need some time to break down. We need our pile of ingredients to break down into actual soil, and that takes TIME and MICROBES!
Rake the soil into a big pile, make sure its slightly moist, and cover it with a tarp. Then leave it for about two weeks. The microbes will begin breaking down your pile of ingredients and turning it into an actual LIVING SOIL! This process is commonly known as letting the soil “cook”. Think of it like making a pot of stew… you add all the ingredients to the pot, then you allow it to cook so all the ingredients meld together into a nice stew. A similar process goes on in the soil.
You may notice white filaments, fuzz or other “biological activity” happening in your pile during the cooking process. Do not be alarmed, this is just beneficial microbes doing their thing. Keeping your soil covered and slightly moist will help keep the microbes happy.
Bring it to LIFE!
After cooking for about 2 weeks the ingredients have broken down and the soil smells nice and earthy. Now that its ready to go, its time to fill up the beds and start bringing them to life! I set up the beds in their new room and used a wheelbarrow and shovel to fill them up. NOTE- Be cautious bringing tools like shovels and wheel barrows into your grow from outside! Outdoor tools can be a source of pests if you aren’t careful. I have a dedicated indoor shovel and rake I use for mixing soil, and my wheelbarrow was brand new, so I had no concerns about using it indoors for its first use. Once the beds are full it’s time to start adding life!
My veg soil already has TONS of beneficial soil mites and rove beetles. I’ve been recycling my soil and keeping them around for years and I’ve developed a long lasting population. I mixed a little bit of my veg soil into each bed to make sure they each got a healthy dose of beneficial critters. I also ordered some worms and beneficial nematodes. Worms are great for soil and provide lots of benefits in long term beds like these. Nematodes will help deal with any fungus gnats or other pests that snuck their way in with the compost or other soil ingredients.
I recommend a couple handfuls of worms per bed.
I also planted some cover crop in the beds to help protect the soil and create a microbial habitat. This helps bring the soil to life and keeps the soil ecosystem happy. Living soil is all about keeping your microbial population happy and thriving, so using some sort of mulch or cover crop is essential.
There are lots of different cover crop blends available, and I always like to experiment and try different mixes. This time I’m using “low Growing Clover mix” from Peaceful Valley. It’s a blend of white clover and strawberry clover. It will form a nice carpet to protect the soil surface and should also help fix a little bit of nitrogen into the soil too. Its also pretty cheap, which means I can buy a big ol’ bag of seeds and go crazy with it.
Time for Plants!
I have a 2 x 2.5 tent in my office where I started some seeds a few weeks back. I started with 7 regular seeds and ended up with 4 nice looking ladies. We’ll take the two biggest plants from this tent for the new beds, the smaller two will be used for various tent projects.
If you want to start a 2×2.5 tent like this one, check out my Home Grow Shopping list, which goes over everything you need to get started.
In Conclusion, Beds are Awesome
As you can see, the new setup is working well. I’m really loving these new beds so far. I have a lot more work to do in this room… adding more lights, hooking up blumats, pruning and training… but that’s all work for another day.
Thanks so much to GrassRoots and all the people that helped me get to this point!
I hope you all enjoyed watching along and maybe learned something too!
Thanks for reading and have a great day!
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