Survival Skills for Real People
Real Earth Solutions
Real Earth Solutions

The Real Dirt! A Secret Recipe!

I never thought I would be writing about dirt, but I promised. In my previous article about container gardening, I promised to give you my secret recipe for the dirt that has won me blue ribbons at state fairs across the USA. I must have had low blood sugar or something, I have never told anyone outside of my family about this. But I won’t be leaving it up for long! Print this out unless you want to buy my next book which will contain this information as well as some other tips not published here.

If you think all dirt is the same, you’re in for a wonderful surprise! And if you’ve had some disappointing results from growing plants in containers before, those days are over. This dirt works miracles.

Before you read this, go back and read my article “Container Gardening” you will be up to speed. Understand that this “growing medium” (a fancy term for dirt), is meant for use in containers and should not be used in conventional “in ground gardens”. We will be covering that later. This growing medium is reusable year after year, but it will need to be remixed and have fresh additives each year.

I have developed this medium after nearly 40 years of practice. That means I have tried every idiotic way published in many so called “Green” magazines and books, and ones with the word “Earth” in the title. Most of them wound up with a bunch of dead or sick plants. And by the way, I play all different kinds of music around my plants and they seem to like them all. So much for that moronic theory…

My way with dirt works, and I have the ribbons to prove it. If you follow my instructions exactly you will get similar results. All I ask is that you refer people to this blog and my books when they want to know how you did it. Don’t just give them the directions. I’m giving this information to you free in hopes that you will be so happy with your container garden that you will refer people to my books and blog.

I’m trying very hard to be a full time writer and blogger, and rather than advertising in a bunch of publications that all want to sell you things, I’m relying on “word of mouth” for my “advertising”  And as always, while I do refer to specific products, it’s because they work. I’m not getting any type of commission or payment for listing them.

OK, let’s get started. You will need the following tools:

It’s always fun to watch friends and family stare at your bucket garden in amazement!

  1. A large Rubbermaid tote of at least 22 gallons or larger with lid. Bigger is better. Don’t drill holes in the bottom of this one, as you will be using it to mix your soil and then to store your supplies when not in use.
  2. A set of measuring spoons and cups, going from 1/2 tsp to 2 cups.
  3. A couple of small garden shovels/ scoops to add soil with and to mix it in the tub.
  4. An inexpensive set of “garden gloves.” If you have nails or like your hands soft, then these are a must. If you’re not concerned about a little dirt, or a few calluses, then you can skip these. To us “real gardeners” dirt and callouses are a badge of honor! 🙂

Now for the ingredients. Before reading this part, look around and make sure no one is close by who might be able to see this over your shoulder. You can always go to the bathroom, lock the door, and move some furniture in front of the door to keep anyone from getting in. If you write a list to take to the store, make sure to hang on to it, then shred it when you get home and burn the shreddings. You can’t be too careful! No matter what everyone says, I’m not paranoid…

Most of these products are available at Lowes. Other stores such as “W’, Home Depot,  and others have similar products. However their blends might be different. You can buy the “Miracle Gro” products, but again they use slightly different ingredients.  I’m not saying they won’t give the same results, but they are much more expensive, and they use artificial fertilizers.  And yes that does include the so called “Organic Soil.” Just because it says that on the label is no guarantee that it’s true.  Sorry about the reality check.

If you can’t find what you need or your local town doesn’t have a Lowes, then send me an email using the “Contact Me” link at the top of this page. I’ll help you get the right stuff. Above all read the next blog for directions on how to mix this stuff up. DO NOT just start mixing randomly or according to the directions on the packages! You won’t like what happens, and you’ll think I’m an idiot.

Do it just the way I say and you will have the container garden that everyone else envies. And when they ask you how you did it, just smile mysteriously and refer them to this page. ( or at least this blog, as these directions won’t be up long. They can buy the book, and then they will have all of this, plus some other directions not shown here) On second thought, you might want to buy the books as well…

These products are the best buys I could find. If your budget doesn’t allow you to buy all of them at once, do it the deferred method. That’s a fancy way for saying, just buy one ingredient a week until you have a completed set. In the meantime, go ahead with the dirt you have. Be sure you take pictures. Then when you get all of your supplies and mix this dirt and grow your plants, compare the results with your pictures. It will knock your socks off!

Ok, lets get the ingredients: Soil. This is the most important step. I’m providing you with links to the right stuff. All of them come in 1 cubic foot or 2 cubic foot bags except for one. The 2 cubic foot bags are a slightly better price, but they are heavier and bulkier. If you are dragging them up flights of stairs, or have trouble lifting heavy items, then go with the smaller bags. (or bat your eyes at a neighbor and get them to do it.) Children make great “volunteer” workers as well… here we go:

1. Pro Mix BX Mycorrhizae General Purpose Growing Medium: Pro Mix BX General Purpose  This comes in a 3.8 Cubic ft. bag and is the very best stuff there is. Period. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth the one time investment. If your local Lowes doesn’t carry it, then try a greenhouse supply store. But it’s not the only way to go, but it will always get the best results.  It will still be used to blend with other soils, so one bag will go a long ways.

2.Sta-Green 1-cu ft Flower and Vegetable Soil: Sta Green Garden Soil This is sold as actual soil, but I only use it as an additive. One bag will be plenty for up to 10- 5 gallon buckets.

3.Glacial-Bay-40-lb-Organic-Potting-Soil: Glacial Bay Potting Soil   This is another one sold as soil, but we will use it as an additive only.  Some people have reported difficulty in finding it. If you can’t, I’ll include instructions on substitution. One bag is plenty.You may notice that several of the soils I’ve listed have less than stellar reviews. That’s because they were used improperly. People bought them because they were confused by the labeling. When used as I’m directing, they work great.

4. Timberline Top Soil:  Timberline Top Soil Yet another poorly reviewed product that works great when used properly. Extremely low price is a plus! One bag only.

5.Buy this one ONLY if you can’t find the Pro Mix BX: Sta Green 64 Quart Potting Mix:  Sta-Green Potting Soil 3 bags of this is the almost the same as one bag of the Pro Mix BX. Almost.  The Pro Mix is a better deal, even if it costs a little more up front.

Ok, that’s all the dirt. I know this seems like a lot but remember that this will make a lot of  my “SuperSoil”, and you can reuse it year after year. And when you move out to the country, you will be able to till it into your “in ground garden.” Or you can keep using it in containers for things like herbs and other smaller quantity items. Now for a couple more items, and then we’ll start mixing.

Next we have the “amendments.”  Just as the name implies, they change the soil in some beneficial ways. When using these make sure to follow my directions exactly. If you don’t then you are on your own. Every single time I have had to deal with someone complaining that my system didn’t work it turns out that they decided to change up the amounts used. If you think your way is better, fine. Just don’t come crying to me!

1. Hapi-Gro Soil Amendment:Hapi-Gro Great stuff, all organic, great price! One bag is plenty to start with.

2. Timberline Soil Doctor Pulverized Garden Lime: Soil Doctor  At my store it only comes in 40 lb. bags, but it’s cheap and it’s important. Share it with friends, or store it for use later at your “country home”

3.  Perlite or Vermiculite; while totally different products are often used interchangeably. HUGE MISCONCEPTION!!! Both are used to lighten and keep soil from compacting. Also to help retain moisture. That’s where the similarities end. Perlite lowers the ph of soil while Vermiculite is closer to neutral. For tomatoes and acid loving plants Perlite is better. Make sure to get Horticultural Grade Perlite such as: Miracle Gro Perlite  For most other plants Vermiculite is a better choice such as: Sta Green Vermiculite Both of these are in 8 quart bags which is very small. Go to a Nursery or GreenHouse Supply to get larger bags at great prices.

4. Epsom Salts. Don’t buy the ridiculously high priced stuff at a garden center, just go to the pharmacy section of your local “W” or box store and buy it for way less: Walmart Epsom Salt ( and you can still use it for medical purposes as well)

5. Bone Meal: Bone Meal  A little goes a long ways here. Just buy the one listed in the link. Avoid high powered stuff such as salmon bone meal or fish bone meal. They cost more and can burn the plants.

6. Marble Chips: Walmart Marble Chips These will go in the bottom of each bucket or other container. Just enough to cover the bottom, in order to keep the soil from washing out. Each bag will do about 7-5 gallon buckets. They also help retain moisture, so don’t scrimp and buy cheaper gravel.

7. And finally(Thank Goodness!) Fertilizer: Jobe’s Organic Vegetable Food  This is the best bang for your buck. Remember, everything I’ve listed is designed to work together, so if you decide to use your own stuff, then you might as well just not do any of this. I know what does and doesn’t work. So make changes with the full knowledge that I told you not to! And I really, really want you to succeed, because nothing makes better advertising than word of mouth!

Whew, I’m worn out. This is one of the most difficult articles I’ve written to date, not only because of how long it is, but because of all the links. But it’s still a labor of love, because I have found container gardening to be one of the most personally and financially satisfying hobbies I’ve ever had. But if you don’t have good dirt, your results will disappoint you.

There is nothing like serving a complete meal composed entirely of products of my gardens and livestock (rabbits and chickens). Even the spices and seasonings are almost all from our gardens, except for salt. While we still buy sugar, flour, rice, coffee and tea, we have managed to cut our annual grocery bills down by over 75%. And you can too.

Next week we’ll get our soils mixed into the most beautiful dirt you’ve ever seen!  Thanks for being here!



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