Soil mix without chicken manure

chezronMarch 14, 2013

I may end up mixing my own. I used to use Kellogg's Cactus and Palm Mix, but they just started adding chicken manure. I am looking for a soil mix with no manure, wetting agents, fertilizer, or other questionable ingredients. Most manures contain antibiotics, and all chicken manure contains ARSENIC. I do not want any of these things in my garden. What i am looking for is a soil mix with just soil, sand, perlite, and coir or peat. I just don't have the space to mix up a large quantity myself, so I am looking for premixed soil. Any suggestions?

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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

No suggestions, but a very interesting question, so I've emailed Kellogg to ask them about the presence of chicken manure in their products as follows:

"Hi, I'm interested in your use of chicken manure in your products, someone having pointed out to me a wave of articles about arsenic and antibiotics in chicken mature that then makes its way into garden soil. Arsenic is apparently fed to chickens (along with Benadryl, Caffeine, antibiotics and tranquilizers) which then supposedly shows up in manure. What is Kellogg doing to examine and address the presence of these in chicken manure? Thanks for your reply..."

If I get an answer, I'll post it! :)

I can only add some food for thought on soil mix from a local nurseryman (3rd generation). Quoting from his newsletter:

"It's interesting to me that no one ever questions why commercial potting soils look nothing like real soil. Apparently consumers believe that the manufacturers and marketing folks know what is best. Decades ago, I never questioned University research that developed potting soil blends that commercial manufacturers copied. The problem is that the research on development of potting soil blends focused on an expected use time of 3-5 months.

The basic problem with any and all containers is that they create a perched water table.

When water is applied to the ground the soil surface absorbs it due to its porosity, but it usually is drawn downward with gravity since the soil below is normally equally porous. If the ground below is not as porous (clay soil laying on top of sand or gravel) the water forms a saturated (condition where all spaces between soil particles is filled with water) layer "perched" above. (Eventually at a certain thickness water exceeds the soil's hold and gravity moves it downwards.) Real estate that sits on such soil is prone to sliding during wet winters.

Gardening can be very difficult when soil remains saturated for an extended period. Eventually the oxygen is depleted and root suffocation along with root rot diseases occur.

At the bottom of any pot the material of the container and/or the slight air gap that exists below the bottom of the container normally disrupts any connection of the potting soil with any soil below, creating a perched water table within the pot.

The thickness of the saturation layer depends upon the porosity of the soil. When gravel is saturated the layer may be a fraction of an inch. When sand is saturated the layer may be a few inches. When clay is saturated the layer may be a foot or more.

To make gardening in the pot possible, the perched water table cannot take up much of the total volume. Either the pot must be quite tall or the soil must be quite coarse. If you use local soil as a potting soil the pot must be nearly 2 feet tall or else the saturated layer at the bottom will take up too much of the total soil volume. If you have tried this, as I have, you will end up with a small plant with roots only surviving at the very surface of the soil.

Let switch now to HISTORY.

The history of potted plants appears to go back furthest in the Far East. Both China and Japan have been cultivating plants in containers for hundreds, if not over a thousand, years. Japanese Bonsai artisans have specialized in growing miniature trees in relatively small containers for a period of decades or even centuries, so they know a bit about sustainability.

My father was taught by the late John Naka, perhaps the greatest and most honored Bonsai artist in North America, who studied Bonsai in Japan. His textbooks are the Bibles of Bonsai technique in America. In these books he discusses entire chapters on the proper soil for Bonsai pots.

John Naka notes that sand, as a soil, produces the most vigorous plants with the healthiest roots. However in Bonsai, they desire plants of low vigor with small foliage. To accomplish this they mix sand with loam (soil containing sand, silt and clay) in certain proportions. Any time you add even a small amount of clay, the soil's permeability and the resulting vigor are greatly reduced. This slows down the plants growth and produces smaller leaves, desirable when creating miniature trees. Of course there are endless variations of loam so the end result may cause trouble if the permeability drops too low. Mr. Naka warns that if the plant show symptoms of distress, change the soil to pure sand until health and vigor are restored.

In the 1800's French royalty grew citrus trees in giant pots. In winter these pots were moved into primitive greenhouses called Orangeries. Records show that the soil used was greater than 95% sand. Even today, the University of California recommends sand as the best potting soil for citrus.

In the early 1900's the Royal Horticultural Society determined that loam was best for growing container plants. I wonder how tall their pots were?

When I was a kid in the late 1950's the nurseries were growing plants in containers using sandy loam. I know this because I played in my father's dirt pile. I remember the feel of it because my brothers and I spent hours playing in it. The soil was perhaps 70% sand and 5% clay. Today at landscape supply stores I can see and feel similar soil sold as either FILL SAND or SANDY LOAM."

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 6:57PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

this U of CA pdf lists ingredients for common commercial soil mix products (see page 2):

Here is a link that might be useful: University of California pdf

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 7:26PM
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Really interesting historical information Hoovb. Thank you so much! I will keep the sand in mind when I make up my own mix. Seems like in bonsai soil I have seen there is red lava rock too. I definitely will go heavier on sand than I would have previously. If plants do better in sand, where do they get nutrients from?

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 6:13PM
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Julie_3201(USDA 9, Sunset 22)

E.B. Stone Cactus Mix and Bonsai Planting mix have no manure, according to their website. I suspected the cactus mix didn't because it smells great. HTH.

Here is a link that might be useful: E.B. Stone Cactus Mix

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 11:56PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

If plants do better in sand, where do they get nutrients from?

Frequent (monthly) applications of fertilizer.

As to the reply from Kellogg, the reply I got wasn't 100% satisfactory, something along the line of "I don't imagine our manure suppliers feed arsenic.." which is, well, you know they do or you don't know? Knowledge not speculation or imagining or guessing. Do they or don't they? Ask them!

I looked at the EB Stone product, no manure but it had feather meal and feather meal was loaded with arsenic in one report on the poultry/arsenic situation. Always something...grrr!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 7:10PM
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Thanks for all the information Hoovb. I hadn't thought about feather meal having arsenic, but I guess that just makes sense. I guess I will get a large garbage can and mix my own soil. The Kellogg's people called me and wanted to talk to me but would not answer my email questions. Probably the only sure way to really be sure that chicken garden products do not have arsenic, antibiotics, and other undesirable chemicals is for them to be labeled "organic", so no chicken or mushroom products for my soil.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 8:27PM
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zeuspaul(9b SoCal)

The Stone product lists mushroom compost. A common ingrediant in mushroom compost is chicken manure.

The Univercity of California list has a lot of products with compost listed. Some of the compost products are actually derived from humanure. Compost sells better.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 10:02PM
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I wouldn't mind buying humanure except it has all the drugs we ingest, anitbiotics plus arsenic from eating chicken, beef, farmed fish, etc., AND GMO from food. Other than that I have no problem with it :)

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 11:13PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

Try 60% pumice, 10% sand, 30% peat moss OR
33% pumice, 33% sand, 33% peat moss.

Better moisture retention and the pumice provides more oxygen to the roots than pure sand, and much less heavy than pure sand. Regular and frequent fertilizer. Washed sand or masonry sand (coarse). Do not use silica sand (health hazard to human lungs).

GMO-- if you ever eat corn or soy, you are likely eating GMO. 94% of US soy, 88% of corn is GMO, 90% of canola oil, 95% of sugar beets...

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 4:17PM
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I eat primarily organic to avoid GMO and other nasties. Thanks for the soil recipe Hoovb! i will follow it.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 4:23PM
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jxbrown(z10/24 SD, CA)

I don't think it will be too easy to mix soil in a garbage can. I use a painter's drop cloth for the job. I like the mix that is recommended on the container forum.

    Bookmark   March 26, 2013 at 12:42PM
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