Saturday, December 1, 2012

Absence of Earth?

I went to the forest in search of dirt.

Test subjects in takeout pie keeper!

I took a small hand-shovel and went mining for rich earth beneath an old pine, a grove of cedar trees, a decomposed moss-covered stump, the final remains of a fallen log and years of leaf decay beneath piles of rocks. "Real Dirt!"

An experiment.
A substitute for Canadian Peat Moss.
Would my African Violets benefit from a little bit of earth?

When I first came to the internet to explore the  mystery of "What keeps an African Violet alive & blooming?" I embraced the "soil-less mix" concept and practiced the art of 1:1:1 potting mix recipes.
Equal parts of Peat Moss, Perlite and Vermiculite. 
Forest Compost/dish has test mixture.

Except, I generally settled on a 2:1½:1 mixture. 
I'm a determined, if careful water-from-the-top grower. 
1:1:1 seemed meant for growers who wick-water and my plants always seemed to need watering.  

So, it's after the fact once again. 
Plantlets above have been separated from their mama, only to be experimented upon.  In container ~ planted in my "earth-mix":
(3) Mickey Mouse (Center pot has peat moss-mix, separated a week earlier; largest plantlet.)
(1) Darling Blue Trail
(2) Storybook Princess 
(2 in pot*) Grandmother's Halo
(3 in pot*) Maverick's Faded Jeans
* Very small - will separate if they live! 
I asked a friend for advice. More to come on her blog I'm sure, as we have things up our collective sleeves for the coming months!!

I dug a book out to do a little more research. 
African Violets: A Gift from Nature by Melvin Robey. (1988)

I searched & searched for this book soon after discovering African Violets have names (the first time I grew them) and finally found a reasonably priced copy. It's a very interesting resource.
"CHAPTER 6 - Understanding your Potting Mixture."
Mr. Robey explores the ongoing quest for the "perfect potting mixture" recipe and then concludes there is NO ONE PERFECT MIX. If 100 people in a room were asked for their "perfect" mix, he surmised there would be 129 recipes!

(Someone in the room clearly was not following instructions.  
Hey. Don't look at me!)

He does however suggest "earth" is obsolete in light of the "new soil-less way of doing things" and does NOT recommend using "dirt". But if you must he explains the method for pasteurizing it. 
NOT sterilizing it, as that kills everything good. 
(I did find this info online, although the temperature for the oven and length of cooking times varied a bit.) 

My favorite section of this chapter was his theory on WHY we experiment with different mixes:
"Why does someone suddenly switch from one potting mix to another? There are 5 basic reasons I can think of  for this odd behavior in African Violet enthusiasts." Melvin Robey 
1. Change for change's sake. (Possibly worriers, looking for solutions?)
2. Trying a friend's mixture. (It worked for them, so why not try it too?)
3. Trying out new ideas. (The experimenters!)
4. New products introduced. (A new marketing fad?)
5. New Cultural Practices. (Change to wick or matting, for examples.) 
(His list is actually quite a bit wordier...)
So, disregarding an expert, I went for a walk to the back corner of our property and returned with bags of "dirt".  
(And cooked it a little while, like the internet said.)

This is an experiment
Do NOT try this at home . . .
Well, unless you like to experiment too!


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