As a vegetable gardener, I tend to grow my vegetables in the ground if I can, but there are times when I have need to grow in pots and other containers. In my backyard right up next to my house, I have a shadier area where it doesn’t make sense to put in permanent beds, especially since I’m a renter (it’s better to grow stuff in my designated garden area 150 feet out from the back door). This spring I decided to load up a pair of black plastic containers I was gifted several years back. They are 2 feet wide by 3 feet long by 9 inches high and are perfect for growing salad veggies such as lettuce, radishes, spinach, green onions, and kale. With holes drilled into the bottoms, these containers can be moved around so I can take advantage of sunnier spots while minimizing dead grass zones.
2-by-3 containers with little tiny lettuce starts. The EcoScraps mix is on the right.
In years past, I’ve used basic potting soil for my container gardening, but this time I wanted to try something different, so I filled one with potting soil and the other with EcoScraps Raised Bed Garden Mix. This mix is cool because it’s specifically formulated for raised beds. It’s made up of a mixture of “food waste compost blend, coco coir, perlite and tree bark,” all of which help to give excellent drainage while still retaining water. As you can tell from the below picture, the EcoScraps mix is lighter and has a nice brownish color, while the potting soil is heavier with sticks and other wood mixed in. Another feature of the EcoScraps product is that its compost blend is made up of food scrap compost versus other composts that are normally produced from who knows what, including animal manures. When buying composted manure, I’m always concerned with what animals the compost came from. For example, I assume composted cow manure comes from CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations). I had the misfortune to tour a commercial dairy farm a few years ago and I can still remember that place’s stench. With EcoScraps, since their compost has “no poop added,” I don’t have to worry about that, plus this product is certified organic and reduces landfill waste, so it helps my conscience all the way around.
Potting soil on the left and EcoScraps Raised Bed Garden Mix on the right
A few weeks ago, I planted both beds with pelleted Salanova lettuce seed from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, with the hope of trialing the new soil against my tried and true. Unfortunately, nature, in its infinite wisdom and randomness, decided to throw me a curve. You see, we have a neighborhood orange cat named Sammy who often hunts Snarky Acres and the wooded lot next door. Well, it seems that she really appreciated the EcoScrap Raised Bed Garden Mix, as when on the dry side it resembles sand. On the plus side, Sammy only used my bed to add some nitrogen in the form of kitty pee, but in doing so, she moved the soil around and disturbed the seeds. Some of the seeds have germinated in both beds, but the side-by-side test that looked so neat and orderly in my mind was then null and void. I thought my experiment was over, but decided to let what seed hadn’t been disturbed continue growing. I also cast some radish seed to fill in the empty spots on both beds to see how they would do.
Sammy — our neighborhood kitty, experiment stopper, and mouse catcher.
As you can see from the picture below that I took three weeks later, the EcoScraps Raised Bed Garden mix (on the left) was much more successful compared to the plain old potting soil. To be honest, I’ve used potting soil in my raised beds before with better results than you see on the right. I also used this specific brand to start my Swiss chard this season and had the same stunted growth. I’m not sure what the issue is with this specific brand/version of potting soil, but I know I’ll be using EcoScraps in the future for such applications. We’ve been eating lots of lettuce and a few radishes from the EcoScraps bed, though the warmer summer temperatures have slowed down the emergence of much of the seed I’ve added since.
Raised beds with EcoScraps mix on the left and plain old potting soil on the right.
Don Abbott (aka The Snarky Gardener) is a gardener, blogger, author, educator, speaker, reluctant activist, and permaculture practitioner from Kent, Ohio. Professionally, he's a software developer but spends his spare time producing food at Snarky Acres, his rented 0.91-acre urban farm. He is also the founder of the Kent, Ohio, chapter of Food Not Lawns and received his Permaculture Design Certification from Cleveland-based Green Triangle. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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