Sharon Johnson of Columbia, S.C., is a passionate gardener, a point that is made obvious by the fact that she lives on a small lot, full of concrete pads, yet she has found a way to have a beautiful garden full of flowers, fruits, vegetable and herbs. Some are in containers, some are not. Her blog will document the adventures of gardening in pots, fending off deer and small animals and the trials of organic gardening.


The Dark Side of Refurbishing your Container Soil
by Sharon Johnson - posted 04/15/12

Well, I know we’ve had all these late frosts and tomatoes should NOT be in the ground yet; however, Mother Nature knows best and she has planted tomatoes and other “foreign” seed into every container I own.  Welcome to the dark side of being green by reusing your container soil: unexpected seed germination.

Sweet Baby Girl is one of my favorite tomatoes.  She’s as close to a grape tomato as you can get, both sweet and prolific…perhaps too prolific, as she has reseeded my entire container collection and the seedlings are popping up now, in the midst of 38 degree mornings and 60 degree days with no ill effect. I also have something resembling sunflower seedlings competing with my salad garden.  I surely didn’t plant any of these plants THIS season. 

This is the problem of refurbishing container soil instead of replacing it: mystery plants.  I happen to like mystery plants, but not when they steal nutrients from my intended plantings.  So, you have two options for dealing with these intrepid interlopers.

  1. Just pull them out by the roots.  If they are too close to your other seedlings, then cut the tops off with a pair of scissors. Or you could:
  2. Transplant them to a more desirable location.  Use a trowel and dig a good two inches around the seedling.  Using your hand, carefully pull the seedling from the soil.  You may want to dip the roots in water (this lessens the stress of transplanting) and then gently plant in its new home.

So how do we prevent this issue while still being green and conserving our container soil as much as possible?  In a dirt garden, we would mulch the soil, but even there we don’t mulch until the soil warms.  In a dirt garden, you can also turn the soil over three times, at intervals of 10-15 days prior to planting, but we already know that destroys soil ecosystems.  In both dirt and container gardens, you  can solarize your soil by covering it with black plastic mulch for a week or two.  Then turn all the, shall we say, unplanned plantings under.  This also disturbs the soil ecosystem though perhaps not as much as multiple tillings.

In our containers, we can add new soil to just the top of our containers, making sure to add at least three inches of new soil, earthworm castings or well-aged compost.  We can also embrace the adventure of mystery seedlings, trim or move them as necessary and see what happens.   

Take advantage of this inevitable cavalcade of seedlings with your herbal pots.  I have not planted cilantro, parsley or basil for several years now.  I let it flower as it will, and  voila, perpetual  pungency for my pantry!   

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Aquaponics Big & Small….the next step
by Sharon Johnson - posted 04/01/12

Well, we managed to cut the top out of the shipping-tote-turned-fish-tank and bought the third stock tank to act as a sump, worked out locations for everything, moved my old garden out of the way (don’t worry, if the veggies do well in aquaponics, we will have flowers and root veggies in the pots!) and bought all the lumber needed this weekend.

To cut the tote, we did the following:

1) Removed the top metal bars with a screwdriver

2) Used a framing square and a permanent marker to draw a cutting line all the way around the top of the tank

3) Cut the tank using a jig saw

4) filed the rough edges of the tank

5) rinsed the tank

We also checked for leaks AFTER we cut. I would recommend doing this first.  We had no leaks but assuming does no one any good.

My miniponics system is up and running WITH fish now. Spent a hilarious hour laughing with mom as we dipped net after net of water weeds before FINALLY capturing 7 tiny minnows. They’ve been in the tank for 5 days now and seem to be adjusting well. They still get skittish when I come to the tank but are quickly figuring out that food mysteriously appears with me. Have no idea what kind of fish they are and will probably have to re-release them back to their pond at some point in the future because they will quickly outgrow the 3 gallon tank.

In the meantime, I pulled lettuce from half of the planting cups on top of the tiny aquarium, placed a camellia cutting, a tomato cutting and started corn and sunflower seeds there instead.
Harvested the last of my winter carrots and my 2-year old asparagus this past week. Made delicious honey glazed carrots. Cherry trees continue to grow and my blueberries are starting to ripen if the deer don’t eat them first!

Next weekend is good Friday. I’ll hopefully be building shelves for the big aquaponic system grow-beds and I will be cleaning harnesses for a family picnic complete with carriage rides. Happy Planting everyone!

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Refurbishing Old Potting Soil
by Sharon Johnson - posted 03/17/12

So all this nice warm weather and rain gets us all in the mood to garden, but what about all that old, compacted soil in our containers?  Your containers will not be productive if you don’t refresh the soil.  Let’s talk about 3 different ways to do this:

1. Throw out the old (on the compost pile or on garden beds maybe), bring in the new.  Nice idea, but expensive and doesn’t work for balcony and other small gardens with nowhere to dump the old soil.  I have used my old soil in my small landscaped islands.  It still has the moisture crystals in it and of course, my islands are “builder sand” so any little bit of organic matter helps.


2. Dump the old into a container, mix 50/50 with compost (mushroom and earthworm castings preferred).  This method works great for plants that need repotting and for empty pots.  I use a medium size Rubbermaid container for mixing my soil and for holding extra soil at the end of the season.  The lid keeps the soil from getting too soggy if it rains.


3. Poke holes in the surface with a dibble or hand rake to loosen the soil.  Add container re-booster product from your favorite gardening supply store.  This is a great solution for large plants you don’t want to repot every year (like fruit cocktail trees!). You could also add earthworm castings instead.

There is a fourth method yet to be perfected for container gardens and that is the no-till method of growing 5 or more cover crops together while over-wintering.  This is a new-old method of farming may or may not work for our containers, but the biochemistry is undeniably successful on larger gardens and fields. 

Don’t forget to start your seeds now for summer vegetables.  You can find out more about that here:

I’ve already got mine going for the year and have already transplanted tomatoes, eggplants and artichokes into larger pots.  Love these new seed starting containers, the biodomes, as they allow me to ventilate my seedlings while keeping the cat at bay!

The mini-ponics system has FINALLY started growing nitrites…which means we are on our way to completing the nitrogen cycle and adding fish…more about that next week.  Thanks so much for dropping by, don’t forget to fertilize and deadhead your bulbs if you haven’t already and start checking your asparagus plants for those delicious little stalks!

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