Customize Soil Mixes

We all know that plants have different preferences for where they rest their “feet” (roots). Some plants preferred very dry medium, like rosemary and lavenders, while others thrived in moist but well drained mixes . Generally, plants do not tolerate having their roots soaked all the time. Thus, it is important to know how to customize soil mixes or at the very least, how to adjust ready mixes for different plants’ needs.

Seasoned gardener, Guanster Guan, shared his soil formula for dry loving plants which need very well drained soil. By this, he meant that water need to drain out very fast, it does not sit in the soil. His ratio is 1:1:1 of the following :

  1. LECA balls (small ones)
  2. Rice Husks
  3. Baba Organic Vege mix (suitable for edibles)
Customize soil mixes for different plants needs

Ratio 1:1:1 of leca balls, rice husk and vege soil mix or other organic compost

Customize soil mixes

Close up look at Guanster 1:1:1 ratio for non-water retaining soil

Guanster also advised gardeners to adjust this ratio according to the garden’s environment. For example, if  the garden is located in a high rise where it is dry and windy,  to add more vege mix (or other good quality compost) so that the medium do not dried up too fast.

Customize soil mixes

Baba Vege Soil Mix (Organic) or other good quality brands

On the other hand, if the garden’s location is humid, where the air flow is bad and stale, it is advisable to add more LECA balls which allow aeration for the roots.

For soil mixes that contained compost, perlite (volcano ash that had been dried in 1200C heat), cocochip etc, his ratio advice is not more than 30%  of each because this media will become acidic over time. Plants such as lavender and rosemary which preferred alkaline PH do not thrived in acidic soil.

On super soil mix for most other plants, his preferred formula are these with lecca

Customize soil mix

Plants which preferred more moisture – Naturegro Compost and Garden Formula Potting Mix

For edibles, add in Baba Vegemix (picture is third one from the top) for a potent formula. Another gardener, Ooi Shirley, enjoyed good harvest with this Baba Vegemix for most of her plants. Jaimie Lim used Garden potting mix for seeds and rosemary plants. Guanster used Baba vegemix to germinate seeds.

For succulent n cactus, Guanster’s formula is Baba cacti/succulent mix , volcano sand and lecca at the ratio of 1 : 1: 2

Soil for cacti and succulent

Customize soil mix for cacti and succulent

Cacti and succulent soil

Ratio 1:1:2 of Baba cacti, Volcano sand and lecca

Mix thoroughly and remove any coarse particles.

cacti and succulent soil mix

Cacti and succulent soil customize and mixed thoroughly

On burnt soil, Guanster advised this will break down into a powdery form over a year. This prevent aeration and thus choked plants’ roots. He preferred to use dried rice husks (non carbonated) which break down into plant food instead.

On volcanic soil, he felt that as it has a sticky texture, it is best to mix with volcanic sand rather than compost. Or volcanic sand with compost.

Guanster stressed that this is his preferred soil formula that he hopes to share with fellow gardeners.

Don’t have to follow 100% ! “. 🙂

There are more than one way to garden and customize soil mixes. Most seasoned gardeners have their own formulas. It is important to understand the WHY’s and use this information as a guideline for available options only.

Regarding feeding, his advice is reduce dosage and increase frequencies. Plants suffer shock when gardeners do the opposite, that is feed once a month but increased dosage than recommended. This applied to every fertilizer.

How to check plants health when buying from nurseries –

  1. Check the base of the stems (especially for rosemary and lavender). DO NOT buy if the lowermost stems are black or browning. This indicate roots rot already. Plants in this condition will die soon.
  2. Check the color of the leaves. Stressed plants showed distress in leaves as well, for example, brown and discolored leaves.
  3. Check the soil for fungus or algae.

Most of local nurseries plants came from Cameron Highlands or other parts of Malaysia. The reasons why most of these plants suffered stress are the following :

  1. Weather – our local weather is hot compared to the plants’ growing environments in Cameron Highlands.
  2. Transportation and time – Plants from orchards in cooler Cameron Highlands are packed in a) peat based media to retain as much moisture as possible during their long journey to Singapore. However, this media is not suitable for humid Singapore. b) The plants are also wrapped in plastic and packed in boxes, to prevent spill in the cargo. This increased the heat stress on the plants. 3) Long queues at customs put these plants in extreme stress conditions when they finally reached our nurseries.

Knowing how to customize soil or media for different plants’ needs increased the survival rate for these plants. For rosemary and lavender, as we found out in earlier posts, Guanster also gave the same advice, that is change the media from nurseries’ coco peat base to very well draining media. He preferred formula is 1:1:1  (lecca, rice husks and vege mix). Other gardeners from the above 2 hyperlinks, have other formulas.

Less severely stressed plants can be treated. Once media is changed to a more suitable type, these plants’ are slowly acclimatized.  First placed plants in partial sunlight or filtered bright area (afternoon sun). The best is 4 to 5 hours of morning sun. Water as prescribed to the plants’ needs.

 

 

Small Space Edibles Garden

Living in a small apartment and no space for home grown vegetables?

Farm in a Cup

Lim San ‘s Aug 7 2015 harvest of his tomatos

Too busy! No time to tend to a garden?

How about a Do-It-YourselfAutomatic watering garden out of free-of-charge recycled containers?

Having no land and living in high rise apartments are NOT going to stop Singapore’s determined urban farmers from growing their own food ! 🙂

Lim San thought out of the box and created a ” farm in a cup ” (or bottle) concept to grow fresh edibles. I guessed once he tasted freshly harvested own grown edibles, and enjoyed the satisfaction of overcoming all the limitations to grow them, there is no going back!

Just look at his thriving small “farm” growing out of recycled paper cups in his apartment. 🙂

His crops so far include dwarf tomatoes varieties, bell peppers, lettuce, rosella, spinach and even strawberries!!

How to grow a farm in a cup

Lim San’s Bell peppers on Oct8 2015

Singapore awesome urban farmers

Oct 8 2015 – Capsicum plant flowered in his farm cup!

Small Space Edibles garden

Photo : Lim San’s strawberry plant from seed! Aug 11 2015

Here is another example of his creative small space farms 🙂

 

February 2016 – Okra in a cup !

 

 

Lim San did not stop upgrading his mini – farms ! 🙂

In late 2015, he built vertical farm out of recycled bottles which auto irrigated his edibles remotely and saved the dripping water in a reservoir to be recycled again! 🙂

This system of vertical farming was made famous by Britta Riley‘s WindowFarms, a simple idea to utilize only a window to grow food hydroponically in a vertical arrangement. For city dwellers around the world, her concept brought hope to grow food inside apartments without using a lot of space.

As I was experimenting with the same thing myself around the time Lim San had already improved his, I learned a lot from him with his video. My difficulty arose from not knowing how to connect the T joints to combine compressed air with water. Done in the right way, compressed air from the air pump will combine with water to become water bubbles. The bubbles will be dragged up the vertical tubing by pressurized air from the pump to the topmost bottle. Then trickled down through the rest of bottled “farms”, irrigating them, and finally ending in the reservoir (Coke bottle seen here).

This irrigation cycle began again from the reservoir as long as the air pump is on. A timer is usually used to regulate the irrigation cycles. And that’s basically how vertical farm irrigation system work! 🙂 Cool, huh?

No matter how many fancy vertical farms are available in the market now for home gardeners, nothing satisfy me and likely gardeners like Lim San and many like us D.I.Yers :), is to built something with our own hands and grow food out of the cheapest material possible! 🙂

But Lim San did not stopped here.

In January 2016, he decided to combine  aeroponic and aquaponic systems with this vertical farm to grow more salads and edibles as organically as possible!

In Wikpedia, “aeroponic” was described as a process where plants are grown in an environment of air and mist, without soil as a medium. The word “aero” meaning “air” and “ponos” mean labor , came from Greece. Unlike hydroponics, aquaponics do not use liquid nutrients, instead it utilize water from fish (aquarium) waste to feed plants.

Lim San's Mizuna

Lim San’s Mizuna

Awesome gardeners in Singapore

Lim San – Harvested fresh vegetables on the 45th day

All these systems combined to allow Lim San to grow great harvest like these with only one window! His farm is suspended above ground and limited space used for his aquarium below it 🙂

Vertical private gardens in Singapore

Space to grow edibles is a luxury in Singapore but we still have windows!!!

Lim San 's Mizuna before his harvest

Lim San ‘s before his harvest

Singapore vertical aeroponic and aquaponic private gardens

After Harvest

Awesome gardeners in Singapore

Lim San’s fresh harvest of Mizuna

What I like about about these 3 systems are that they all recycled water, but if I have to choose only one, it would be the aquaponics system because it utilized organic waste from fish and greatly reduced any possibility of mosquitoes breeding in the reservoir if the air pump malfunctioned! 🙂

If I ever get sick of growing strawberries, maybe this would be the NEXT project at home ! 🙂