Is the 5-1-1 mix ok for SWC's?

Bob_Mc(7b)August 19, 2014

As you can see from the photo, I use a bunch of 5-gallon pail self-watering containers (SWC's). I'd like to get away from the expensive commercial mixes I'm presently using, but my previous attempts to make my own mix using pine bark fines failed to provide the wicking needed for this type container.

I've read all the past and present threads on the 5-1-1 mix, but see little reference to its use in SWC's. I'd like to go this route, but I'm looking for a little feedback from those who have used it in SWC's

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I use 5-1-1 (with minor modifications) in SWCs and get good results. My local nursery sells pine bark in several grades, and I buy a scoop (pick up load) of triple ground bark. This lasts me a few years, so it is nicely aged when I use it. I complete the 5-1-1 mix with one part apiece of perlite and peat moss. I also add one part of composted cow manure I get from a local farmer, so you could say it's a 5-1-1-1 mix. I make batches in a wheelbarrow and add 1 cup of dolomitic lime.

My SWCs are made from large (32 gal) plastic storage containers, and I use plastic pond baskets (from Home Depot) for the wicking system. Everything seems to work fine.

I'd like to make a few from the 5-gal buckets you're using. How do you make the wicking system? I haven't figured out how to do that.

Here's a picture of my SWCs from last year. One of the plants has broken from the weight of the pods!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 8:48AM
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Thanks kentishman for your reply. Any specific reason for adding the composted cow manure, other than to supply additional nutrients?

There are a ton of videos on making 5-gallon SWC's on YouTube. I pretty much follow the basic double bucket design. I use a 3" net cup (left overs from my hydroponics days) as the wick. When I initially fill the top bucket, I dampen my mix fairly well and lightly pack the net cup and the next few inches of fill. I top the bucket off with the same mix, but don't pack it down. Outside of that, it appears we are doing pretty much the same, just on a different scale. I've thought about going to a larger size container, but I get all of this size I need for 75 cents apiece.

I should mention that the earlier attempts I made using pine bark fines were no way near the 5-1-1 ratio......more like 2-1-1. I also used vermiculite, not perlite. Could be why that mix worked so poorly in my SWC's.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 5:18PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

From what I've heard / read, 5-1-1 mix is just a little too porous and fast-draining to wick water effectively from bottom to top (especially with taller containers). To increase the wicking properties, one would use a 3-2-1 ratio, if I'm remembering rightly.


    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 11:55PM
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Thanks Josh. Based on your input, I may not have been as far off on my mix ratio as I thought, but just needed to increase the peat component. I've got a couple of Caribbean Reds I picked up late this season with the intent of overwintering indoors.They are ready to transplant and might make good candidates for a side by side test between that 3-2-1 and commercial mix.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 1:23AM
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The composted manure has the consistency of loamy soil. Other than the nutrient value, I use it to make the mix a little less porous, just like Josh says.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 6:08AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

I agree Tom. Composted manure is an excellent amendment. Not only less porous, but much better growth of plant. I love peat, but it lacks nutrients, and can add too much water, it holds more water than compost. It's easier to adjust amount of compost, than peat. I grow blueberries and compost is no good there, but peat rocks. The darn PH is hard to control so easier to supply nutrients with an acidic fertilizer, organic or soluble.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 7:30AM
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I'm already using Black Cow composted manure for my raised beds. Is this the same, or do I need to source something straight from the farm? That would be easy enough to do where I live.

I also thought I'd mention that my earlier attempts to use pine bark fines wasn't a total failure. It didn't wick well, but I was able to compensate by adding top down irrigation lines. I'm still using those containers, and the harvest has been good. I feed them every otherweek with half-strength MG, and a little Witches Brew once a month (all stuff I've learned about on this forum).

I'm hoping to make a major expansion to my use of SWC's and pepper growing next year. Looks like I'll have a lot more time on my hands, now that my employer has decided to terminate me because I have cancer and reached the glorious old age of 65. My new motto....When life gives you lemons....grow peppers.

Thanks for all your help guys.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 7:56AM
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I'm not sure whether Black Cow is similar to the compost I use. It's been a while since I bought a bag of Black Cow and I can't remember exactly what it was like. The stuff I use is made by a local farmer who raises cattle and also raises a lot of produce that is sold at a roadside farm stand. He uses the compost on the vegetables he grows and also sells it by the pick up load.

I see you're in Zone 7B: whereabouts? I'm in South Carolina. Since you have access to local farms, you might want to get some cow manure and let it age over winter. It should be ready in spring when you start your SWCs. And you won't need much for a batch of 5-1-1.

Sorry to hear about your job loss and health problems. Sounds like you've got a good attitude about it all. Keep your chin up!


    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 8:40AM
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Thanks Tom. I'm in Georgia....a little town called Social Circle about 50 miles east of Atlanta. This is farm country, so shouldn't have any problem getting a load of composted cow manure. I'm already dealing with one farmer on a load or two per year of horse manure. Not the same stuff....too hot....and full of small wood chips, but I let it age and eventually use it on the rest of my garden. He's not raising any cattle, so I'll have to look around.

I try to keep a good attitude about the cancer. I've been fighting it since March. Worst part about it is that it is esophageal cancer. Haven't been allowed to eat a pepper....not even a green months. Not a good thing for someone who likes to grow and eat hot peppers. I've been giving away everything I'm growing this year, saving seeds, and looking forward to next season.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 10:02AM
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I'm in the northwest corner of SC, so I'm probably less than 100 miles from you. I hope you'll be able to eat your peppers next season. Any pepper varieties you need seeds for? I just may be growing them, and I'd be pleased to help you out.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 11:10AM
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DMForcier(8 DFW)

I know Social Circle. Cool town (not in the meteorological sense). The Covington Century (cycling) usually goes through there. A really nice part of GA.

IIRC, horse manure is prized for fertilizer. Never had a horse neigh-bor so never had the opportunity to try it, though.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 2:05PM
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Thanks Tom. I'm pretty loaded up with enough seeds to cover me for next year or two. I appreciate the offer though.

Dennis: Yes, the cycling clubs seem to love our little town. As for the horse manor, I might be able to fix you up, if your local. The guy I get this from has mountains of it piled up in the back pasture.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 2:58PM
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I'm with Dennis regarding horse manure. Aged horse manure would be great. If I had access to it the way you do, Bob, I'd be using it instead of the composted manure I'm using. Try to get some of the oldest stuff in the pile. If the pile heated up (composted), it should have killed the weed seeds.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 4:30PM
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