Potting mix is the most essential part of growing tomatoes in portable mediums like pots, buckets, containers, plastic bags, and baskets.
The best way to curtain your cost is by making your own potting mix. Many cost-conscious gardeners do it themselves to reduce their costs in half rather than buying an expensive commercial potting mix from the garden center.
It is an easy mix, and you can modify the mixes as you require.
Potting mix or soil is different from garden soil. Potting mixes perform well in containers and raised beds. On the other hand, garden soil performs better on the ground.
Typically, you can find two types of potting mix such as soil-based or soil-less.
Soil-based potting medium
This is an old classic method that contains sterilized loamy soil or garden soil, peat moss, coarse sand, or builder and is often used for ready-mix concrete and perlite or vermiculite. Some slow-released organic fertilizer is also added to the mix.
Add an equal part of the ingredients for your soil-based potting mixes.
Soilless potting medium:
Modern methods are followed by soilless or peat-based potting mixes, which contain peat moss or coconut coir, perlite, bone meal, ground limestone, and fertilizers. Mixing these additives with proper portions will make a perfect soil-less potting mix for you.
Ingredients of store-brought potting mixes and their works
Store-bought potting mixes usually provide the following ingredients in their packets. Besides, you will also get sterilized, and diseases free potting mix if you only buy some branded and expensive potting mix.
Sphagnum peat moss is one of the major components of a commercial potting mix. This is a lightweight potting mix. Besides, it is well drained, well aerated, and has good water-holding capacity.
However, it has a low nutrient value and pH level also lower than average. Typically, it has a pH level between 3.5 to 4.5 on the scale.
Coco coir or coco fiber is a by-product of coconuts and a great substitute for peat moss. This won’t be available unless you live in Central America or India.
Coconut coir has a well water-holding capacity and lasts longer than peat moss. It contains more nutrient value, is well-drained, and has a pH level of around 6 to 6.5 on a scale.
Coco coir is a little bit more expensive than peat moss.
Perlite is a white color volcanic rock, very lightweight but has good water-holding capacity. It ensures good drainage and aeration system. This is an inorganic material and has a neutral pH of 6.5 to 7.5.
This is another ingredient commonly found in store brought potting mix.
Vermiculite is a spongy inorganic substance that can soak water 3 to 4 times its size. It is dark brown to golden brown in color. Vermiculite is created from magnesium-aluminum-iron-silicate minerals.
It helps to develop a good drainage system and retain water but
Vermiculite is not available naturally unless you spend money.
Coarse sand develops a drainage system and increases the aeration of the potting mix. It also adds some weight to the mix.
In your store, bring potting mix you may get some sterilized coarse sand.
Limestone helps to neutralize the pH level and calcium deficiency in potting mix.
This is undoubtedly the most vital ingredient for the potting mix to supply necessary nutrients. Besides, it has a well water holding capacity which ensures healthy plant growth.
Only the branded potting mixes provide good quality fertilizer in the potting mix.
Ingredients for organic homemade potting mix and their works
Composted wood chips:
Composted wood chips ensure the aeration system of your potting mixes. It also lightens up the mixes and slowly broken-down into them down as well as increases the pore sizes.
Wooden chips absorb enough nitrogen from the mixes when broken down, so adding a small amount of fish emulsion, blood meal, or alfalfa meal helps to fulfill the nitrogen deficiency during composting chips.
You can make your homemade compost from your kitchen garbage, and it will be a wonderful nutrient source for your potting mix.
You can also use old-aged poultry manure or cow manure to make your own compost. Besides, garden weeds are nice ingredients to make your homemade compost.
Leaf mold or rotted leaves are excellent ingredients for homemade potting mix. This is a good substitute for peat moss or coco coir. It also works like vermiculite or perlite.
Making leaf mold is a lengthy process. It will take around two years to get a well-decomposed potting mix.
So, once you get your leaf mold ready, it will save you enough money.
Rice and other grain hulls (wheat and oat) also work like leaf mold for potting mix. Follow the same process as leaf mold to decompose them.
Sawdust is an excellent lightweight ingredient for homemade potting mix after rotted. In that case, you just need to collect sawdust from untreated wood. Sawdust from treated wood contains chemicals that are harmful to plants.
Sterilized sand ensures the proper drainage system of your homemade potting mix. You can sterilize your coarse sand in an oven at 160 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour or directly fry the sand in an old fry pan for an hour.
Garden loam is a balanced ingredient. It absorbs the water slowly to take the plants’ water from the soil but avoids waterlogging. So, sterilized garden loam is a good ingredient for your organic potting mix.
How to mix up your own homemade potting mix for tomatoes:
Tomatoes are one of the hungry plants among the other vegetables. So, you need to add more nutrients and other organic matter when mixing up the potting soil.
However, according to gardener experts, a good potting mix would be lightweight, well-drained, well aerate, retain moisture, and provides the supply of the necessary nutrients.
So, based on the above conditions, you can make your own potting mix and ensure a healthy harvest as follows:
Step 1: Pasteurization:
Branded commercial potting mixes are well sterilized, so they don’t contain any diseases.
As well as, when you make your homemade potting mix, you should pasteurize the ingredients before mixing them together. It will confirm a disease-free potting mix like a commercial mixture.
Step 2: Combine the mixture
The best benefit of homemade fertilizer is you can control the mixture as you require.
- Three-part compost
- One-part topsoil or garden loam
- One-part wood chips or sawdust or leaf mold or grain hulls
Mix the above ingredients properly and fill up your containers. Thoroughly mixing the ingredients will give you a good result.
If your potting mix has a poor drainage system, add some coarse sand and leaf mold to develop drainage.
To develop the aeration system and water retention capacity, add more sawdust or leaf mold, or wood chips into the mixture.
To make a lightweight potting mix, add one-part wood chips, one-part leaf mold, one-part compost, and one-part garden loam.
You can add a different combination of ingredients for different types of potting mixes based on your garden’s needs.
Step 3: Provide liquid fertilizer
The potting mix doesn’t contain enough nutrients to feed your plants over the season. Moreover, feeding your tomatoes continuously may decrease nutrients from the potting mix.
So, providing some liquid fertilizer in different parts of the plant’s growth will ensure you a healthy harvest.
Store-bought or homemade potting mix: Which one is suitable for home gardeners?
As a beginner gardener, I recommend you choose the store-brought potting mix for a smooth startup.
To make your own homemade potting mix with organic ingredients, you just need to wait for a long time. Besides, you have to face some challenges and consider some other issues. Such as proper knowledge, enough place in your garden, available ingredients, enough time, and, most important, patience.
As a result, you may lose hope to continue gardening next time.
Typically, it will take around two years to produce your homemade organic ingredients, which are a good substitute for the commercial potting mix, like peat moss, coco coir, perlite, vermiculite, and compost.
Besides, starting on a small scale with 2-4 containers with your preferred plants will help you to understand the growing circle. After the end of the season, you will learn with practical experience, which nobody can tell you.
So, I think the store-brought potting mix is suitable for beginner gardeners.
On the other hand, you can choose homemade potting mix from the beginning if you are-
- An experienced gardener
- Try to experiment with new things
- Want to save money
- Enough space in your garden
- Available ingredients
- Enough patience to wait for at least two years
- Wish to work hard to prepare the ingredients for potting mix
- And want to produce medium to large level harvest.
Is that possible to save money by making my own potting mix?
My answer is yes!
No matter how big or small your garden is, you can save money by making your own potting mix.
But you need to wait for a certain period of time (around two years) to start your own potting mix with your homemade organic ingredients.
Once you finish making your homemade ingredients (like rotted leaf mold, wood chips, or sawdust), you can easily minimize your cost by making an organic potting mix using those rotted ingredients.
Now, in the two years gap before getting your own potting mix, you may use store brought potting mix for your tomato plants.
Obviously, it will cost some money but consider it as the process of minimizing the cost of making your own potting mix.
### Difference between garden soil and the potting soil
The difference between garden soil and potting soil can be determined by considering the following factors:
Garden soil is heavier, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t have to move it randomly.
On the other hand, the potting mix is lightweight and easy to move if you need it.
Water holding capacity:
Garden soil has better water-holding capacity than potting mix. On the contrary, the potting mix needs good aeration and drainage system. It doesn’t hold water for very long.
Potting mix comparatively has a better drainage system. Soaking water in containers encourages diseases. As well as you can also ensure a better drainage system in the ground soil with an amendment.
Garden soil contains enough nutrients and holds some organic matter naturally on it. On the other hand, the potting mix doesn’t contain available nutrients unless you add some.
Garden soil tends to affect more by some diseases on the other side; the potting mix is less affected by the diseases than garden soil.
Every time you have to prepare potting mix for your tomatoes and other plants.
As well as garden soil also need some amendment to get better performance.
Both types of soil need a soil test to measure the nutrient value. A soil test helps to determine how much nutrients your plants demand.
Making homemade organic potting mix is a lengthy process and kills your valuable time. But making a successful pile of organic ingredients will help you dramatically reduce your gardening cost.