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General discussion regarding the techniques and methods used to successfully grow tomato plants in containers.

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Old August 4, 2017   #1
Join Date: May 2017
Location: Kitsap County, WA
Posts: 4
Default Using compost-in-progress in bottom 1/3 of huge container

Hi guys (and gals )
I am needing to fill one more container to plant a couple of bush bean transplants I got on clearance at the nursery this past week...

The container I have to use is humongous —— it's actually the bottom part of an old, Rubbermaid trunk-style storage container... there is no way I have enough native soil to fill it and really can't justify the expense of buying soil for it when I don't even know for sure that the plants are salvageable at this point .... for the price, it was worth giving it a shot to save them, but not if the expense will outweigh the effort.

Anyway, I have been using the container to temporarily hold some compostables until my husband built my permanent bin, but it's taking a lot longer than I originally thought it would. So as of now the Rubbermaid container is about a third full of partially-composted stuffs.... I'd say the compost is probably about half-finished, save for a few branches I threw in a couple days ago.

So I guess my question is, can I leave the partly finished compost at the bottom of the bin, and fill the remainder with a blend native soil and finished compost? There would be end up being about 12-14 inches of soil above the level of the compost. (Probably only 12, so I can have room for mulch)

Would I be better off doing a "Permaculture"- type process, filling the bottom half with branches pruned from bushes around the property, and then fill with soil ?

My native soil is very dark, rich humus, but comes from an area that is almost 100% shaded (it gets some dappled sunlight for about 1 to 2 hours a day).... so I can't put the transplants directly in the ground there, unfortunately....

I've got to get these things planted today --- I'm leaving the homestead in the hands of my husband for a week and the beans will be dead for sure by the time I get back if I don't get them situated today.

I'll be grateful for whatever guidance I can get.


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Old August 4, 2017   #2
oakley's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2015
Location: NewYork 5a
Posts: 2,252

Not a container expert, but only one way to find out. Go for it.
Fill with what you have, willow, branch cuttings, etc in the manner you posted.
Beans/peas don't have deep root needs.

I just filled a Hugel bed a couple weeks ago and tossed in a few dozen peas I had been
soaking...really prepping for next year but had just enough finished compost and soil
for half of it...a foot of soil on top.
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Old August 4, 2017   #3
jtjmartin's Avatar
Join Date: May 2016
Location: Williamsburg VA Zone 7b
Posts: 1,096

I tried hugel pots this year for my dwarf tomatoes and they did great. I used the really punky wood that I piled up though.

I removed a couple of the dwarfs that didn't tolerate the heat and then dug down. The roots seemed to love the rotten wood - it was moist when the soil was dry.

I am not an expert, but I was worried about causing a nitrogen deficit if I used new wood. I detected none with the old wood. The only downside was that it was harder to sink the cages around the tomatoes.

Please tell us how your experiment goes!
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Old August 4, 2017   #4
Join Date: Jul 2016
Location: Georgia
Posts: 161

I am not an expert but I think that since they are beans which are nitrogen fixing, if there is unfinished compost still siphoning nitrogen that it would not be as risky. If it was another plant I would still say go for it and add a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content.

Also the fact that you have 12 inches of soil above the unfinished compost mitigates things.

My question is are you adding anything for aeration and drainage like perlite?

Last edited by agee12; August 5, 2017 at 08:21 AM.
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Old August 4, 2017   #5
Join Date: May 2017
Location: Kitsap County, WA
Posts: 4

Thanks guys.
Yeah, I figured it was worth a shot but I wanted to ask first. I'm glad others have had a similar experience -- at least I have something to draw on. Beans/legumes are nitrogen fixers (aren't they?) so if I add a tiny sprinkle of nitrogen before I fill the bin with soil, my thinking is that I shouldn't create a nitrogen deficiency....

Well, here goes... I'll be back in a few weeks to let everyone know how things are turning out.
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Old August 4, 2017   #6
Join Date: May 2017
Location: Kitsap County, WA
Posts: 4

My soil has a lot of "roughness" to it. Lots of different sizes of bits and pieces. It's not all fine and homogenous. Plus with the finished compost I'll be mixing in, that will help as well. I think that will likely be enough but I could also put a couple scoops of vermiculite in there too...

Oh yeah and the giant Rubbermaid bin also has a ton of 1/4" holes drilled all over the bottom and a couple of inches up the sides, as well as several big cracks along the bottom-- which is why it got donated to the garden--- it was either the garden or the landfill. It's outlived its useful life as a storage container.

Thanks for the input.

Last edited by Duranie; August 4, 2017 at 08:26 PM. Reason: Added a sentence...
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Old August 4, 2017   #7
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Newfoundland, Canada
Posts: 6,586

I've done similar things in large containers and not a problem. 12-24 inches on top you'll be fine. I have not used branches and not sure what benefit they would provide in a container for bush beans, I would expect them to slow down the breakdown of the compost? Things break down really slowly here in my climate... If you're expecting weather to be hot, branches might be a good thing to reduce the heat in the compost itself. But if you expect weather to be cool, beans will benefit more from warmth in the soil, then leave branches out in that case?
The compost will shrink btw, expect your plants to end up some inches lower than when you started.
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