Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Soil Matters - basic soil mix recipe

Hello my fellow gardeners,
Today  I’d like to briefly talk to you about soil and how do we create the perfect soil mix. This is one of the questions I receive most often. I grew up in Russia, as some of you may know already. We lived in a part of Russia where soil is called “chernozem”. It is a kind of soil with black color and contains high percentage of humus. It is very fertile and is sometimes called black gold. I grew up thinking that all soils around the world are black and when I took up gardening I had no idea that things can be otherwise. You can imagine my surprise when I found out that there are many different types of soils around the world. Turns out not only the color of soils differ but the composition too. I won’t go into details about soil composition and types of soils in this post, will leave it for later.. Soils can be of three major types: sand, clay and silt. Different combination of these make the soils around the world. In this part of the world we have sand. Like pure sand mostly. This is a tricky soil to work with but it has its advantages too. Our soil here has almost nil nutrients,  is too alkaline (high pH, will discuss it some time later) in most parts, is often salty which prevents water absorption, dries out too fast and doesn’t hold whatever nutrients we add to it. It’s main advantage is that it’s easy to work with.
You may wonder why I don’t use potting soil from the market. Well, there are many many choices. Some appear and then disappear. Some contain things I don’t want in my garden, like chemical fertilizers. Some are not very suited for our climate. Some are simply incomplete to serve as a good potting mix. That’s why reading labels is important. I still use some of these soils from the market, but I add things to it to create that perfect mix. If you saw my video about how to make a potting soil mix, you’d know that to create a perfect soil mix we need to consider the basic elements that make for good soil. These are:

  • water and nutrient retention
  • air and good drainage
  • anchorage
  • fertility (not mentioned in the video but it’s important)

I have made that video a while ago and have since changed the proportions by the way. So after trial and error, research and observation I have come up with a basic formula for potting soil. This basic soil mix works great almost anywhere, not only in our part of the world. This recipe can be altered to suit different purposes and plants’ needs. You can use this mix to build your raised beds, mix with present sand/soil in your yard (don’t add extra sand then), in pots and containers, and even for starting your seeds (make sure you use new compost, that is preferably sterile, for that). So to create the potting soil that would contain the needed elements mentioned above, you need the following in EQUAL PARTS (by volume)*:

  • Compost
  • Coco Peat and/or Peat Moss
  • Perlite and/or vermiculite (if you have find it)
  • Sand (optional) 

*you will need to add something for fertility to the above mix.        

Compost is decomposed organic matter. Compost is a great addition to any kind of soils. It adds a good amount of nutrients, holds on to nutrients, yet provides good drainage. Compost improves soil structure, and is great for any types of soils. Compost is not very readily available here so I use potting soil as well, since it usually is just organic matter of some sorts which compost actually is. I follow the square foot gardening methods in my garden, so I follow their recommendations and use at least 5 different compost/potting soil sources to create my soil. It is done because most compost brands are a byproduct of some industry, so to create diversity different sources are used.  Please read the labels to see the composition.Manures are also considered compost so you can use that too (note, no more than 5 kg per square meter total manures, as this is the recommended use; also if you add manure it’s preferred you wait a couple of weeks before you plant anything).

Coco Peat / Peat Moss
Neither of these carry much nutrients but they’re important to add. Peat’s water absorbing quality helps with water absorption and nutrient retention. Peat moss also helps bring the pH of the soil down a bit, which essential as our soils are alkaline, or on other words  have high pH. Most plants prefer pH of aroun 6-7. I prefer to use coco peat because it is more sustainable and renewal source unlike peat moss. But I still add peat moss, but not as much as coco peat. Make sure to mix it well, and it’s eaier if you wet it first.

These two are great for creating good drainage, water and nutrient retention. They’re intert and won’t affect soil pH. Vermiculite is more expensive and a little hard to find, but it holds more moisture than perlite. Since there are different grades of both, make sure you get the agricultural grade. Perlite comes in two grades for garden use: fine and coarse. Use coarse type for pot cuz it’s lighter, and use fine type for gound mix as it’s heavier yet retains more moisture. Wear a mask while working with any of these as they’re dusty.

You can add sand to your mixture, or use the sand already present in the soil (if your building garden soil). If you’re making the mix for container plants make sure you use sweet sand from the nursery, as it doesn’t contain salt unlike most garden sand. If you’re mixing the soil into your garden soil make sure you water it well for a few days, especially after summer.

The mix above is a basic soil mix suitable for container and the ground. You want to add nutrition in a form of slow release organic fertilizer. It will feed your plants over the season and is a great alternative to hemical fertilizers. If you added manures to your mix you can still add a fertilizer separately, just don’t use as much. I personally use Sustane. I like the fact that’s it’s certified organic, is easy to use and my plants love it. I will talk about fertilizing in more details in another post.

I suggest you wear a mask cuz some materials mentioned can be dusty. Like I mentioned earlier I use equal parts of mentioned above materials. I wet coco peat and peat moss before I use it otherwise it’s impossible to mix well. You can leave it to absorb the water. Then measure everything by volume and mix. For small quantities you can mix in a wheelbarrow. I usually use a spare as my measuring tool.. If you’re mixing big quantities add materials onto a thick, heavy duty material, and add in layers then mix. Don’t add all of the materials at once at it can be very difficult to mix well.

This is a basic recipe for basic soil mix. There are other soil amendments and conditioners we can add, and InshaAllah I will talk about them in upcoming posts.

For info on where to get the basic gardening supplies in UAE please visit this page:

I have covered the basics of soil mix in this post. If you have anymore questions please comment below.

I’d like to ask you for a favor. If you like this post consider sharing it with your friends on your social media accounts. Let’s spread some garden love.

Happy Gardening


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