Project Self Sufficiency – Day 3 – Learning From Mistakes And Pleasant Surprises

A few of the Grow Bags I used last summer.

A few of the Grow Bags I used last summer.

You can watch every YouTube video, and read everything ever written on Organic Gardening, Self Sufficiency and Farming, but the only way to really learn is to get your hands dirty and make mistakes.

My wife and I have been doing this for several years now, yet last year, I made some of the biggest, costliest mistakes of my homesteading life. Yesterday’s work brought it all back to me in living color. Let me ‘splain.

I love container gardening. I believe it’s the most water, earth and nutrient efficient way to grow. I do some raised beds, but I love my soil, hydroponic and aquaponic containers best.  Nearer spring, I’ll go into more detail about this.

Last year, I decided to try plastic, reusable grow bags rather than buckets, in order to save money. I have hundreds of three and 5 gallon bags. The experiment was a dismal failure. Yesterday’s clean up showed me exactly why. It turns out the problem was not the bags, but the soil mix.

I bought several truck loads of Organic Planting Mix from a local landscape supply company. This is a great base for garden beds and containers, and is full of organic material, but it always needs amended, which can be very time consuming. The ‘garden expert’ where I bought me mix explained that I didn’t need to amend it all, just in the holes where I was planting my starter plants and seeds. She assured me that’s what she does every year.

I took her advice and filled about 60 bags with the mix and amended the top three or 4 inches with good compost, peat and perlite. My tomatoes, cucumbers and eggplant that I put in them got off to a fantastic start, then just stopped growing. I got a very poor harvest off of them and was frustrated.

In July, when I began my late summer and fall plantings, I changed my method and trusted my instincts by amending the entire contents of the containers.  I had beautiful fall tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and cilantro.

Worms are a gardener's best friend

Worms are a gardener’s best friend

As I began pulling the plants out of the bags and emptying the mix into the compost pile, the full picture of my errors became clear. The plants had virtually no root system below the top layer I had amended. The tiny root balls just popped out of the bags, which was a complete contrast to the peppers and tomatoes I had pulled up from the fall garden. Those properly amended containers had vast, healthy root balls that filled the buckets and bags and were a pain in the tootie to get out.

Below the roots, the soil was very compacted and sticky because of all the clay.  There was simple no way for the plants to really send down roots and thrive. Lesson learned.  Again, more in future. I will take photos and make a video showing how to make a really good bucket container.

Look what I found. The Parsley that Lived.

Look what I found. The Parsley that Lived.

Two very pleasant surprises, softened the blow of remembering badly I screwed up.  The first, was finding worms in some of my containers. I am always excited to see them, because their presence shows there is plenty of organic material in my garden. The worms will feed on it and convert the material into nutrient rich waste that the plants will feed off of. When I dumped them into the compost bed, I’m providing the worms a lifetime buffet and they in turn multiply and keep my compost rich and nutritious for my plants.

The second surprise gave me opportunity to do another experiment. I do love to play. Anyway, as I was cleaning up around my herbs, I saw a potted curly parsley plant someone had given me, that never got transplanted. Our recent warm spell had brought it back to life. There were two or three fresh leaves growing. so rather than throw it out, I cleaned the soil and peat off the roots, trimmed off the excess ones and dead leaves, then transplanted it into my floating hydroponic raft. It may or may not prosper, but it will be fun to see what happens. I don’t even like parsley, but I love to grow things!

That’s about it for today. I’ve got to shorten these updates, or I won’t get any other work done.

Parsley all trimmed up and transferred to the Hydroponics system

Parsley all trimmed up and transferred to the Hydroponics system

BTW,  I’m so excited to have all of you new readers and followers. It makes my day to see your likes and follows. Please, though, don’t just lurk. Join the fun. Tell us your stories. Ask questions. Heck, tell me how all my mistakes make you feel better about yourselves. And…thank you for reading.



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