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Container growing basic beginner questions:

Posted by nopeda123 none (My Page) on
Tue, Jul 31, 12 at 17:31

Hi,

I'm new to tomatoe growing. I'd like to grow Rutgers because that's what my dad grew and they were awesome. It will have to be in containers because it will be on the roof of a houseboat. I've got a number of basic questions and wondering what different ideas people have about them.

I'm planning to use Miracle Grow potting soil, and so far planning on watering with Miracle Grow for tomatoes once a week. Since other waterings will wash out some of the plant food, should another type of fertilizer that breaks down more slowly (or whatever...I don't understand those types) be used in addition to that weekly feeding? Will the type of fertilizer have much influence on the flavor of the tomatoes? Does it matter much whether or not the leaves are wet from time to time with food like Miracle Grow?

As long as the container is 16" across and about that deep, will that be big enough or would there be much difference in using something larger? I've read that it's good to sprinkle oyster shells on the ground to add calcium. Is that a good thing to do and if so do the shells need to be replaced, or more added, over time? Also I read it's good to cover the dirt with grass clippings to both add nutrition and help retain moisture. Is that good advice? Should any mulch be added, and if so how does that work?

How often to water and does it matter much what time of day? Should the plants be let dry to the point of wilting a bit from time to time to keep down the chance of root rot and/or whatever else? Are there timer/solenoid valve combinations that are set up for standard hose fittings, or anything like that to make automatic watering easy? Is it best to have water run over the plants when watering them like when they get rained on, or does it matter much at all? I have both lake water and county water available. Does it matter much which type is used?

From my pov suckers often seem to be more of a branch than the larger leafy things below them, and it seems like it might be better to pinch off the leafy thing below the suckers and let the suckers develop into branches. Is there any value in persuing that thought, or is that a completely wrong interpretation? From what I've read so far it seems most people feel that it's wrong, but they look more branchy than the things below them to me for some reason.

What do you folks in general suggest we prune, and top off, etc? Should all yellow and spotted looking leaves be removed? If most of the leaves on a branch are yellow and spotted, should the entire branch be removed? Can anyone suggest some good websites where they clearly show how the plants grow and why to prune what, and when?

Thank you for any help with these questions!
David
Buford, GA


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

should another type of fertilizer that breaks down more slowly (or whatever...I don't understand those types) be used in addition to that weekly feeding?

You can but most anything will wash out sooner or later. Osmocote Slow Release fertilizers added to the soil can help.

Will the type of fertilizer have much influence on the flavor of the tomatoes?

No direct correlation between the two.

Does it matter much whether or not the leaves are wet from time to time with food like Miracle Grow?

Best to avoid wet leaves as much as possible. Feed the roots instead.

As long as the container is 16" across and about that deep, will that be big enough or would there be much difference in using something larger?

No. 2x that size will make a big difference in plant health, production, and prevent problems like BER. Especially if you want to grow Rutgers.

I've read that it's good to sprinkle oyster shells on the ground to add calcium. Is that a good thing to do and if so do the shells need to be replaced, or more added, over time?

Millions of tons of tomatoes are grown each year - many in containers - without any crushed oyster shells.

Also I read it's good to cover the dirt with grass clippings to both add nutrition and help retain moisture. Is that good advice?

Mulching plants is always a good idea. The thicker the better. Straw and hay also works very well.

If I might suggest, most all your questions are already discussed here in great detail, including the the watering issues and the pruning. Lots of good reading here and detailed FAQs on all the basic questions that should easily answer those questions.

You'll also find a great deal of helpful information over on the Container Gardening forum here at GW.

Hope this helps get you started. Good luck.

Dave

Here is a link that might be useful: Growing tomatoes FAQs


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Hi Dave of Georgia...Chris of Rhode Island here. I am not the wisest of toato growers here, but adding Bone Meal ro your mixture will help increase blossoms and flowering. Personally I do not like the Miracle Grow powdered mix for tomatos...seems really high in Nitrogen. Once you get fruit setting in I would discontinue using that, I starting to ( more n more ) like Tomato Tone... it has a nice mix of essentials + calicum. Wouldn't hurt to throw a handful of agricultural gypsum into you mix before planting...stave off the blossom end rot.

Defer to more advanced growers knowledge...just throwing in my 2 cents....

BTW - Youtube has TONS of videos on pruning and planting methods...good luck


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Definitely check out the Container Gardening forum on this site.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Here in New Hampshire, I have to water faithfully every day with my container tomatoes. I tried a poor-man's version of the container mix spoken about on the container forum and it has improved my tomatoes overall. But full sunshine, long hot days and containers means watering, watering, watering here. I expect it would be about the same in Georgia except you'd probably need much bigger containers as Dave said.

This year I'm trying two determinate varieties. Some of the plants are still enormous because they're so bushy. I'd also consider the effects of wind or asymmetrical plants: how are you going to support them so they don't fall over? I ask because my plants with the most tomatoes are on their third iteration of supports at the moment.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

I would avoid Miracle grow potting soil or other peat based mix like the plague. It is very hard to control the moisture in, especially for new growers. Check out the 5:1:1 soil discussed in the container forum. Cheap to make and far superior, and much more forgiving. Yes, you will have to water a bit more often then peat based, but it is much better for the plant due to superior aeration, and reduced salt buildup. The bigger the containers, the less often you will have to water.

Slow release fertilizers work well in containers if you wish. I usually use a half dose of 3:1:2 ratio to start and supplement as needed. Once fruit is forming I will then supply a lower nitrogen fertilizer to finish.

If you are looking to mulch, you can use pine bark, but if you really want to hold moisture in, use something less permeable such as white gravel (which also reflects light to reduce heat) or if you need it to be light weight put Hydroton on top. In 5:1:1 mix, I usually don't bother mulching. I prefer to allow evaporation and air movement to help keep things cooler on hot days, even if I have to water a bit more.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Main thing is DRAINAGE, DRAINAGE.

If I were you I would get 20 gallon Smart Pots, fill them with either the 5:1:1 mix Capoman just mentioned OR if you already have the Miracle Grow Potting MIX (not soil)like I do, then just mix in some extra pine bark fines and some large vermiculite and your good to go.
Nothing wrong with the MG potting mix, just make sure you have a LARGE like 15 gallon minimum container.

The Miracle grow fertilizer is fine, although after you have a lot of fruit set might be best to use something like Tomato Tone.
Put a good thick mulch on top, I used cypress mulch this year which worked fine although next year I think I am going to use about 3" of large vermiculite with maybe a few white rocks on top.
How often to water is going to depend on your weather.
If it rains or not, if its above 95 degrees for days on end etc.
In general I water EVERYDAY and on hot days from 90-98 maybe twice a day and on days that are 100+ sometimes 3X a day.
To keep the roots cool.

With proper drainage and well draining potting mix in a 20 gallon pot it is basically impossible to over water short of throwing the whole plant into a swimming pool.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

I have no problem with ordinary Miracle Grow soil. I would highly recommend to NOT use the moisture control. It did not work well for me, and if I remember correctly, I was not the only one who had issues with it.

Miracle Grow or not, they still will benefit from feeding regularly. Since I generally fill my pots with 60-70% of old potting soil and the rest new, I will start feeding the plants every couple weeks pretty much right from the start.

They will also require a lot of water once they really get going, say a month or so after they've been in the pot. Some people will even need to do it twice a day.

And for me, that's pretty much it for growing tomatoes in pots. Decent size pot. Good, well draining potting soil. Feed regularly, and make sure I have a good cage around them, because they end up being super healthy and happy plants if the weather cooperates with plenty of warm sun.

It's pretty easy to be successful.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

I'd second passing on the MG Moisture Control. You are definitely going to need a bigger container. At least a 5-bucket. The bigger the better but that drives up the cost of your tomatoes fast.

Miracle Gro and a 5-gallon bucket works for many.

If you have good potting mix and water and fertilizer, a tomato will grow itself. It's not as complicated as some people make it out although it can be a challenge.

I will add one thing. If you are planning on growing them this year, you better get a move on. It takes almost 3 months to grow a Rutgers tomato and ripening in October is no sure thing. Three months of tomato growing and big green tomatoes with no chance of ripening are darn frustrating.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Main thing is DRAINAGE, DRAINAGE.
If I were you I would get 10 gallon container , fill them with Miracle Grow Potting MIX (not soil and not moisture control )and then just mix in some extra pine bark fines and some perlite and your good to go.For (cheap )mulch you can use 2-4 inches deep of very,very wet shredded newspapers(not the glossy ads )
Nothing wrong with the MG potting mix, just make sure you have a LARGE like 10 gallon minimum container
Big box stores usually have 10 gallon or more containers for less than $5 and just drill holes in the bottom for drainage
I have used 5 gallon buckets for years and you'd be better off with 10 gallons or more ..and ONLY one Plant per container


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

I agree that MG potting mix can be improved by adding pine bark and perlite to improve the drainage, which essentially makes it the peat component of 5:1:1. But MG soils by themselves are too water retentive and finicky. Experienced growers can deal with it's shortcomings, but I definitely would suggest beginners amend it to make it better draining. I almost gave up on container gardening when I first got in due to issues with MG soil, until I discovered bark based soils which make container gardening SO much easier.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Another problem is people tend to overwater /.
It is near impossible to get pine bark fines at the correct size without paying a fortune.Like a dollar a quart.
So,I find ammending the Mg potting mix is the easiest way and a tad more economicaly friendly


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

I think you some great advice I would use POTTING MIX not soil,and never use MG Moisture Control potting mix. Fertilizer, not MG, Tomato-Tone is far superior.
The most important is the size of container.I would use Smart Pots 20 gal believe me the bigger the pot the better I have 6 Earth Boxes just sitting around to small.And use a Mulch I use salt hay pine bark even grass clippings and never water at night wet leave can bring on the Blight and water the the roots get a wand type sprinkler.And don't give up!! it took me three years to get one tomato and now I have some good one's on the way


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

>I would use POTTING MIX not soil,and never use
>MG Moisture Control potting mix. Fertilizer, not MG,
>Tomato-Tone is far superior. The most important is
>the size of container.I would use Smart Pots 20 gal
>believe me the bigger the pot the better

Thanks to all of you for your help! I did get a big pot, but got MG Moisture Control mix because that's all they had. What's wrong with moisture control? What's the difference between potting soil and mix? I screwed 1x1 strips of wood to the bottom of the pots, and drilled a bunch of holes in them so they should have good drainage. I put grass clippings on top for mulch, and wrapped the pots in aluminum foil to keep them from heating up. I water each day when I'm here, and plan to install and automatic water system that will water every day. The leaves are curling and yellowing a bit, and I read someplace that can happen when their in sun all day, as these are. I guess I'll put something up so they have a period of shade. Would it be better to have that happen in the middle of the day so they get direct light again later, or place it so they just have less of it in the morning or in the evening?


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

There is nothing wrong with MG Moisture control.
I have almost 500 Quarts of it in all my pots on my deck and have no problems what so ever with it.
Main thing is you need at least 15 gallon pots.
If you use MGMC in small pots then you could possibly have a problem with "perched water" about 2-3" on the bottom and the roots sitting in that perched water table for too long.

But the problem is really the POT and not the MIX.

Difference between potting MIX Vs SOIL is the mix is made for containers, it is made from various porous mediums like Pine Bark, Coconut fiber, Vermiculite, Perlite, Peat Moss etc whereas Soil is just that, DIRT which does not drain very well at all an in general will basically be like making your pot just one big perched water rot fest.

Yellowing and spotting on the leaves this time of year is probably due to some form of Blight or Bacterial wilt than too much sun.
Unless it is over 100+ degrees and you have your plants right next to a hot reflective surface like side of a house then there is really no such thing as "too much sun".

Just make sure they have enough water, VERY good drainage and you should be fine.
If your leaves yellow/spot/wilt then try spraying them with some Daconil or a copper based fungicide.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Sorry Nunyabiz, I disagree. You may be able to get growth in moisture control, but it is very difficult and finicky for most, especially for a new grower. A faster draining soil is much more forgiving. You said "VERY good drainage", but that is impossible with MGMC. Peat based soils have poor drainage, period. That being said, the OP has what he has and will have to deal with it's shortcomings.

Curling and yellowing are very common in peat based soils due to overwatering and high perched water. One reason I don't like them, especially the moisture control, which even holds more water.

Once acclimated tomatoes can take full sun. Yellowing is usually a water retention issue. Cut back on it. You are going to find it very hard to get the watering just right in that soil mix unfortunately. In peat, the range you want to be in, is a very small band between wet and totally dry. It is hard to find the middle ground, but you need to learn to find it. Add too much water and you'll be sopping wet. Not enough and your mix will be hydrophobic. Try to maintain that middle ground which will likely involve watering in sips, and keeping plants out of the rain. Due to watering in sips, you'll also likely have to flush salts out once in awhile when you start seeing a crust form on top. (Man I hate peat mix)

Blights and wilts are not that common in containers with sterile soil mix, one of the advantages of containers. I wouldn't worry too much about that. If you keep the moisture down, you'll likely have less issues with this.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Sorry Nunyabiz, I disagree. You may be able to get growth in moisture control, but it is very difficult and finicky for most, especially for a new grower. A faster draining soil is much more forgiving. You said "VERY good drainage", but that is impossible with MGMC. Peat based soils have poor drainage, period. That being said, the OP has what he has and will have to deal with it's shortcomings.

Curling and yellowing are very common in peat based soils due to overwatering and high perched water. One reason I don't like them, especially the moisture control, which even holds more water.

Once acclimated tomatoes can take full sun. Yellowing is usually a water retention issue. Cut back on it. You are going to find it very hard to get the watering just right in that soil mix unfortunately. In peat, the range you want to be in, is a very small band between wet and totally dry. It is hard to find the middle ground, but you need to learn to find it. Add too much water and you'll be sopping wet. Not enough and your mix will be hydrophobic. Try to maintain that middle ground which will likely involve watering in sips, and keeping plants out of the rain. Due to watering in sips, you'll also likely have to flush salts out once in awhile when you start seeing a crust form on top. (Man I hate peat mix)

Blights and wilts are not that common in containers with sterile soil mix, one of the advantages of containers. I wouldn't worry too much about that. If you keep the moisture down, you'll likely have less issues with this.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

I can only assume that the 10 or more 55 Qt bags I bought this year must be a local mix or something then.
Maybe it varies in different parts of the country which I believe it states on the bag.

Mine has quite a bit of pine Bark fines in it already, in fact it looks like more bark (some of it very fine though)than anything else.
Next is Peat then the "coir" and the Perlite.
It can have up to 60% pine bark and compost according to the MSDS. All the bags I have gotten seem to have about that percentage.
In 15+ gallon pots it seems to work very well for me, and in the 380 Qt Vegtrug it works great.

Also in my part of the country blight is rampant regardless what mix you start it in unless you grow in a temp/humidity controlled greenhouse.
The insane humidity here is a perfect breeding ground for it and spreads like wild fire.
In zone 5 you are correct, not that much blight there.

Craig Lehoullier just a couple miles from me just pulled all but about 30 of his 212 plants last week mostly because of blight.

MGMC works just fine as long as you use large containers so that the perched water is not that much of a problem.

I am going to pull my first 2 tomato plants probably within the next week, I will take pictures of where the perched water is in the container.
I do plan on amending this years MGMC with a few bags of Orchid Mix next year which is nothing but perfect size pine bark fines and small charcoal and fired ceramic bits just to loosen it up just a bit more.
But as long as you use at least 15+ gallon pots you should be fine with straight MGMC, at least what I get here in NC.

I water my plants every single day unless it just rained.
When over 100 degrees sometimes 2 even 3X a day.
The 3rd time is mostly just to cool the roots.

But I have never had any problems with this MGMC it drains quite good in large pots, the plants take a nice big drink, it drains right on out except for the bottom 2-3" is soaked the rest is just moist.
All of my plants have done great in it.
Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, Lettuce, Mint, Rosemary, Bok Choy, Blueberries plus all my wifes flowers all planted in MGMC all are doing great.
So I cant complain about it, even though I do think for "Tomatoes" that it should be amended with more Pine Bark and maybe some vermiculite, Perlite or what ever to lighten it up some.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

There's bark in your MG soil? That is definitely not the same as what we get here in Canada. I wouldn't have thought it would be that much different. It's a totally peat dominant mix here that is very water retentive, the reason I dislike it so much. Even at that, you said 2-3" is saturated in the bottom. Roots can't grow in that. You think that's acceptable drainage? I wouldn't. As far as mixing bark in, I've found that the size of the bark is not critical and many large pieces of bark really don't cause any issue. I would only screen it if I was making the "gritty mix".

I have gotten blights in the ground, but not once have I gotten blight in containers. The OP is looking to grow on the roof of a house boat.. Do you think they will pick up blight there?


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Yep, mostly bark actually, probably about 30-40% Peat,50- 60% bark.

2" of water soaked mix at the bottom isn't so bad in a pot that is 24" across the top and only 12" across the bottom which mine are. They are 18" tall, so 16" deep is just right
Just 2" x 12" at the very bottom is very little water retention.
I would assume that using Smart Pots which are straight up and down, same width on top as the bottom and also breathe top to bottom would probably be virtually no perched water using the same mix as it should just be sucked right out the sides.
Wish I would have known about the Smart Pots earlier this year.

All that matters is where the OP is at, if they are in an area with high humidity it is quite likely to have a high probability of getting Blight.
I know the entire state of NC is blight ridden but you don't usually have to worry about it until July.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Interesting your MG is so different then ours especially when you consider that pine bark is such a common resource here in Canada. The only thing I can think of is where they make yours, peat may be the limited resource. But any MG soil that has a high proportion of bark is going to be much better then the crap we get here. That being said, I still would prefer a peat component of less then 20% for proper drainage. Losing two to three inches in the bottom of the container is still a lot of volume loss, and a source of disease such as root rot to me. Using the 5-1-1 mix, I don't even bother with smart pots, since the soil aerates acceptably well even with cheap plastic containers.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

>I am going to pull my first 2 tomato plants probably within
>the next week, I will take pictures of where the perched
>water is in the container.
> >I do plan on amending this years MGMC with a few bags
>of Orchid Mix next year which is nothing but perfect size
>pine bark fines and small charcoal and fired ceramic bits
>just to loosen it up just a bit more.
> >But as long as you use at least 15+ gallon pots you should
>be fine with straight MGMC, at least what I get here in NC.

I'm just north of Atlanta and there's bark in the mix I got. Would it be better to try to get the none MC or the get MC and do your Orchid Mix trick? If the latter, how to know how much to use? Also, what is perched water, and how can it stay in a pot that has a bunch of holes in the bottom and is an inch above the ground? Would it be practical to put a plexiglass strip for a sight window in the side of some pots near the bottom to see if water is building up? The pots I'm using are about 18" across and about that deep as well, and I've got aluminum foil wrapped around them to help keep them cool.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

>I've found that the size of the bark is not critical and many
>large pieces of bark really don't cause any issue. I would
>only screen it if I was making the "gritty mix".

>I have gotten blights in the ground, but not once have I
>gotten blight in containers. The OP is looking to grow on
>the roof of a house boat.. Do you think they will pick up
>blight there?

I don't understand what's good about bark. Can it make the soil too acid? What is the 5-1-1 mix?

There has been some blight on my plants, but I got rid of the infected leaves and haven't seen it back yet. There are dark spots forming on the leaves and stems of one plant. Pretty small. All the soil is new and out of the bag within the past couple months, and none of the pots have been used before. The plants are on top of a houseboat so they're fairly isolated. Maybe whatever ailments they've got came with them? I'm going to try growing from seed next year, and hope to start practicing germinating and starting plants within the next week or so in the hopes of getting some mistakes out of the way before trying it for real. Any suggestions about that process would be greatly appreciated.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

Ok here goes. For a full explanation of 5-1-1 please read this post in the container forum. This contains answers to just about every question you could have about potting soil mixes. I've been using 5-1-1 for a couple of years, and it's amazing. I'll never go back. Tapla is THE man for container growing.

http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/contain/msg0214580016564.html?112

Yes, bark is acidic, but so is peat. Both require lime to stabilize pH closer to neutral. Main advantages of bark are aeration, and longevity. I find I get less pests in bark based soil as well, since you don't end up with a wet surface or crust like you do with peat based soil. But for new growers is the advantage that it's almost impossible to overwater. You can leave containers with 5-1-1 out in a three day rain and they still won't saturate. Plus without perched water (discussed in the above article), it gives the plant the effect of a larger pot since they can grow and use roots through the entire container.


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RE: Container growing basic beginner questions:

""I'm just north of Atlanta and there's bark in the mix I got. Would it be better to try to get the none MC or the get MC and do your Orchid Mix trick? If the latter, how to know how much to use? Also, what is perched water, and how can it stay in a pot that has a bunch of holes in the bottom and is an inch above the ground? Would it be practical to put a plexiglass strip for a sight window in the side of some pots near the bottom to see if water is building up? The pots I'm using are about 18" across and about that deep as well, and I've got aluminum foil wrapped around them to help keep them cool.""
=======================================================

Water will hold in soil once it reaches whatever equilibrium it takes for the particular medium, in general the looser the medium the less capillary action you will have and the soil will drain more fully.
As Capoman states the better draining the soil the better off you are.

I don't think it makes much of a difference between the regular mix vs the MC personally, especially since in our area there appears to be a higher percentage of bark in it.
I buy the MGMC solely because I can buy it at Costco for cheap, if they sold regular MG or for that matter any good growing medium I would buy that also.
All you need to do is amend the mix with bark, vermiculite, perlite, the Orchid Mix looks like a perfect choice for my area at least, I will just buy a few bags of it next year to amend the MGMC I already have.

Will probably dump all the MGMC out of the pots early next year onto a big tarp, weed out all old roots and anything like any pupa,grubs, bugs or whatever may be there and let the sun sorta sterilize it then mix it well with the Orchid Mix and probably a bit of Tomato Tone and a dash of Osmocote
then take a small pot of it and wet it then test the Ph.

Add a little lime if needed.

I have a whole unopened bag of MGMC left on my deck that I will use for seedlings, even then will probably pour a pot of boiling water through it to make sure its sterile for the seedlings.
Will most likely buy about 6, 20 Gallon Smart Pots for Tomatoes next year and take the ones I have now and wash them thoroughly with a bleach solution and plant something else in them.


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