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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:

Click Here to see how I assembled the beds and rolling stands

Now lets fill up those beds and add some plants!

Soil Recipe

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.

Base mix-

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

Nutrient Mix-

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

Mineral Mix

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.

Base Mix ingredients. Aeration on the left, composts in the middle, and peat bale on the right.

Nutrients and Minerals- Starting at the top and going clockwise- Basalt, Kelp, Crab, Alfalfa, Oyster Shell, Gypsum and Neem meal in the middle.  Note- this is about 1 cup of each ingredient, not the actual amounts used in the mix.

Soil Mixing

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.

Nutrient Mix- Actual amount used. 9 cups crab, 9 cups kelp, 4.5 cups alfalfa, 4.5 cups Neem

Mineral Mix- Actual amounts used- Basalt 36 cups, Gypsum 18 cups, Oyster Shell flour 18 cups. There might not look like a lot in the picture, but that black tray is actually like 26 inches across and theres actually quite a bit of stuff in there.

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.

Rake the pile of base mix into a flat sheet, then evenly distribute the other ingredients on top and start mixing. I use a shovel and a rake to mix all the ingredients together.

“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.

Microbial “fuzz” forming on top of the soil as it cooks. This is normal beneficial biological activity, nothing to be alarmed about.

Here you can see white fuzz growing on the top of the pile.  This is normal microbial activity.  You can also see “cracks” in the pile being formed by the soil starting to stick together in clumps.  This is the soil microbes actually binding particles of soil together.

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!

I love when a plan comes together. This was the moment things started to get real, so I had to stop and take a picture.

 

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.

Cover Crop seeds. This is “low growing clover mix” which is white clover and strawberry clover. The seeds are pre-coated with beneficial microbes to encourage better nitrogen fixing.

Going crazy with cover crop seeds.  This is way more than you need to use, but they are cheap so i just went nuts. Any extra seeds act as fertilizer, so adding extra is no problem. I spread them around the surface of the soil and gently water them in with a pump sprayer.  I turned on one 260w led and hung it up very high over both beds to give them a little light.

5 days later we have lots of sprouts!

After about 10 days we’ve got a nice little carpet going on.  Time to start adding cannabis…

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.

These are “HitGirl Bx” from Jinxproof genetics. Vegged in the 2×2 tent I have in my office.

I fired up a second 260w light and gave them a few days to adjust to their new home before transplanting. These ladies started under a 100w light, so its good to give them some time to adjust to the stronger lighting. Eventually I will be running two 260w kits over each bed.

Transplant day! The ladies are ready.

Yup. Hella ready. She is going to love her new bed.

When transplanting from a plastic pot, I use my fingertips to carefully loosen up the roots around the edges of the root ball. This will help encourage happy root growth in the new bed.

After a transplant I water the whole bed really thoroughly. This helps ensure the new plant settles into its hole and helps “connect” the plant to the rest of the soil. Using this little drip line isn’t an ideal way to water, but I don’t have a proper water line in this room.  I’m using the supply line for the blumats I plan to install later.  I also used a watering can to give each bed a heavy dose of Recharge.

The ladies are loving their new home. I added some rice hulls around the base of each plant to act as a mulch layer. This will help protect the soil surface and keep the soil microbes happy.

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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