Homemade potting mix for 5 gallon buckets?

muskymojoMay 2, 2011

I plan on growing all my tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets this year and am looking for a good recipe for a suitable potting mix. I have an endless supply of aged horse manure and good compost, so hopefully I can use them in the mix. Also, I am looking for something with cheap and easily attainable ingredients. Any advice from people who make their own mixes would be great.

Thanks in advance and happy growing to all!

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Google Als 5-1-1 mix or go to the other forums listed at top and find container gardening.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 4:50AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I agree that the Container Gardening forum will be your best source for this information. Several recipes are often discussed there but I don't recall any of them including manures.

Personally I would never use either aged manure or compost in my containers, especially if I used containers that small. Far too many potential problems and 5 gallon containers for tomatoes are difficult enough as is.

Use one of the many high quality soil-less mixes instead and save the compost and manure for mulching and/or top dressing your containers.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 10:54AM
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I did 2x5 gal pails last year and did not have much success.

Good luck with the pails and the mix.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2011 at 11:23AM
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korney19(z6a Buffalo, NY)

Musky, how will you be watering? By hand or drip?

I grow about 30 plants in raised beds and 36 in 4 & 5 gallon buckets using drip fertigation. My methods may be in the back pages, it was pretty complicated, but generally 1/3rd to 1/2 compost and much of the rest is Pro-Mix. Also add time release fertilizer like Osmocote 14-14-14 or Miracle-Gro Shake N Feed for Roses. Drench with Neptune's Harvest 2-4-1, use a high phosphorus water soluble (10-52-8 or 15-30-15) for strong roots and heavy flowering the first month, then switch to MG for Tomatoes or a more balanced fertilizer weekly, or daily weakly.

This is the short version, hope this helps.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 12:27AM
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I use 2/3 Pro Mix BX and 1/3 compost. I used 5 gal pots when I first started but now use 15 gallon containers for tomatoes and they are larger, more productive and healthier.

I use a 5-6-5 ferlilizer when planting and again mid-season.

Pro Mix comes in large bales and run about $35 per bale.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 1:24PM
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Thanks for the speedy replies! I would buy bigger containers if I could afford it, but 5 gallon buckets are free and I would like about 20 plants. The same goes for using a high quality soil-less mix. It's the obvious choice, but I was hoping to get by as cheap as possible. I will be hand watering as well to keep costs to a minimum. I've read through the container forum, but it's a lot of information to process! Also most aren't tomato specific. I guess I will keep digging around a bit before making a final choice. If anyone has something more to add it would be greatly appreciated!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 1:45AM
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taz6122(N.W. AR.6b)

I used a 50/50 mix of milled sphagnum/perlite in 5 gallon buckets last year with some osmocote added and they did ok. I've been trying to find bark fines with no luck so I may be doing the 50/50 mix again this year in a few containers. It's much cheaper than bagged potting mix and has better drainage and aeration plus you can control what type fertilizer and the amount.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 2:26AM
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Personally I would make a mix of :
33% Composted manure
33% Pete moss
33% river sand
additionally I would also throw in a bit of yard soil- preferably clay based
touch of agricultural lime
touch of bone meal

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 4:03AM
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taz6122(N.W. AR.6b)
    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 5:08PM
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zabby17(z5/6 Ontario)


I've used

5 parts compost
1 part peat
1 part vermiculite or perlite
1 part sand

This recipe came from a great old book I got from the library once called MOVEABLE FEASTS with lots of info on growing edibles in containers.

They suggest filling the container 1/3 of the way, then mixing in a half-cup (for a 5 gallon container) of 5-10-10 fertilizer, then filling the rest of the way. This way the plant gets a shot of fertilizer when it gets bigger and its roots get down there---when it needs it most.

I see no reason you couldn't use your manure for the compost, as long as it's well rotted. You might want to break up clumps to get a good texture.

The sand should be "sharp"---it should be kind of "crunchy" when you push on it, not smooth. Cheap builder's sand is usually fine; I mention this though because sometimes all I can find easily at a garden centre is sand labelled "play sand," which may or may not be appropriate--some play sand is really smooth (I note a previous poster said "river sand"---maybe the really soft stuff is beach sand?).

A 5-gallon bucket is a little small for a full-sized tomato plant but it's definitely do-able; you will just get not quite as big plants. The main challenge with container tomatoes is keeping them watered enough. They'll need it DAILY on hot summer days.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 9:31PM
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taz6122(N.W. AR.6b)

You might as well use cement because half way through the season it will be so compact the roots won't continue to grow and will rot in place because of the lack of drainage or aeration.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 1:53AM
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5 parts compost
1 part peat moss
1 part perlite
1/2 cup lime per 5 gal
1 cup slow release fert per 5 gal

forget the sand
mix well and take a load off your brain.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 9:27AM
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zabby17(z5/6 Ontario)


I suspect the truth is that the exact contents of the soil mix don't matter much. Biggest issues, from my experience & reading, are

--- plenty of nutrients (usually comes from compost and/or fertilizer); tomatoes are heavy "feeders"
--- decent drainage (not too clay-y of a soil) (perlite, vermiculite, and sand all help with this)
--- water (peat moss helps retain water, but regular watering in a small [for tomatoes] container is KEY; mulching the surface of the bucket I also found helpful

Lee Valley Tools, which sells gardening supplies, once wrote about a test of some gardening supplies in which they used half and half compost and sand to grow tomatoes, with good success.

My friend used purchased container soil and added liquid fertilizer every week and got pretty good harvests.

Whatever you use, good luck!


    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 11:48AM
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tomncath(St Pete Z10a Heat 10)

Study this post to get a good feel for container soil dynamics....

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 1:02PM
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My potted tomato plants produced enormous amount of tomatoes but doesn't seem they are maturing. What did I do wrong?

    Bookmark   June 7, 2011 at 5:02PM
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I have used 100% dirt from my yard in a 5 gallon bucket and the plant did fine. I am sure the production would have been improved with another mix but I think you have all that you need on hand. People in our society are so driven to be consumers. For me, part of the enjoyment of gardening is truly living off the land (at least a little bit).

    Bookmark   June 9, 2011 at 12:30AM
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my above recipe, i should have said bark and steer compost.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2011 at 9:39AM
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Bets(z6A S ID)

Carla asked, "My potted tomato plants produced enormous amount of tomatoes but doesn't seem they are maturing. What did I do wrong?"

Quite possibly, nothing.

What varieties of tomatoes are you growing and when did you put them into their final homes?

DTM is short for Days to Maturity. It is an ESTIMATE of how long it takes to get ripe tomatoes, or any other produce, from the time you transplant the tomato or other plant, or plant the seeds in the garden. Since you don't have your zone or location showing with your user name, I have no idea when that would be. You also didn't give us any information about when you transplanted, or what the conditions have been like in your area, etc., etc.

So, if your DTM is 75, and you put the plant in its "home" in mid-May, your first ripe fruits should breaking color about the end of July, approximately 10 weeks after transplanting.


    Bookmark   June 9, 2011 at 12:12PM
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