Make Your Own Potting Mix with Topsoil!

We all know the importance topsoil plays in making your garden and plants thrive, but there are alternative uses as well for topsoil. In the following, we’ll be covering some alternative uses for topsoil.

Using topsoil as a potting mixture

most gardeners are unaware that they can use topsoil as a potting mixture – but it is a simple exercise for utilizing any topsoil you may have left over from other gardening projects.

Making Potting Mix from Topsoil

  1. If you have already used the soil before you realized that you had too much, it is important to screen it before using it as a potting mixture – this will get rid of any pesky rocks or roots that may be in it. This technique can also be used for topsoil that you have taken from your garden whilst landscaping.
  2. Once screened, your topsoil should be mixed with compost and peat moss (one part topsoil, one part compost and one part peat moss) – again this can be done with topsoil straight from your garden or topsoil that you have purchased for other gardening projects.
  3. Moisten your new mix and add a slow release fertilizers to ensure that your plants will get all the nutrients it requires.

You should now have a great potting mixture for your plants and less left over topsoil!

Other ideas for using excess topsoil are:

  • Use it for growing small herbs indoors – basil, dill and other herbs love the nutrients that are in topsoil.
  • Why not use it for leveling your garden. Simply shovel the soil into the areas where your garden is uneven and roll it out using a roller. Repeat this until you have a level lawn and then throw some new grass seed on to your newly leveled areas to promote new lawn growth.
  • Try growing vegetables and tomatoes, for vegetable gardens and raised flower beds.
  • Sell it – you can often sell quality topsoil for a good price! If you have a good amount of land, it is a good idea to invest in a topsoil screener to bring in a little extra income.

There is a wealth of uses for your excess topsoil and hopefully this article will have helped you come with a few ideas of what to do with yours!

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How a Trommel Screen Works

People use screening equipment to separate different grades of material such as soil, gravel, mulch, and sand. These machines work great when they are working with dry material, even if bits and pieces are large in size. A notable weakness, however, is the difficulty that traditional screeners have with wet materials such as moist soil, wet sand, and compost. These substances tend to clump together when they are wet, which reduces the efficiency of the machine. In addition, moist material can clog up the machine and stick to the screen. This can be difficult to dislodge and will cost a lot of time. Fortunately, trommel screen sifters are available to make these tasks much simpler.

A trommel is a screen that is curved into a cylinder. The machine spins the cylindrical screen in order to sort through the material as it is fed through. During this process, the wet material tumbles around. Air is added and the soil, mulch, or sand becomes lighter and drier. The tumbling action also allows maximum contact time with the screen so that the fine material gets through quickly. A trommel screen can sort through dry substances quickly as well, even though it is designed with wet material specifically in mind.

These sifters come in different sizes, but in general they are portable enough to be moved by truck. This is very handy if you need to screen soil or mulch in more than one area of a homestead or if you need to move the machine to a different location entirely. Due to the materials that trommel screens specialize in, they are particularly popular with landscapers and excavating contractors. When things need to get done quickly, you cannot depend on your material being dry enough for a standard screening machine. Every handyman knows the importance of bringing the right tool for the job. The bigger the job, the more important the tool.

Cities can often find a lot of uses for screening machines. Trommel machines are particularly useful because they can handle a variety of tasks with speed. A quality screener pays for itself quickly when there are several tasks at hand. They are a beast that can take on a lot of work, but be sure not to overfill the machine. With a trommel, additional material beyond the designed capacity will only slow things down. The surface area of the screen is the limiting factor, so clogging the center of the rotary with more dirt or mulch will not accomplish anything. These machines are top notch quality, so it is important to remember that they should be allowed to work at their set pace. Even if there is a lot of labor to be done, the trommel will cut through it at a healthy speed, so let it run its course.

EZ-409 TrommelLike with many heavy duty machines, it is best to buy a trommel screen directly from a manufacturer. Far and away, this will get you the best price. By cutting out the middleman, you will also avoid all the overhead costs of a separate store and any salesman commissions. You pay the freight costs, but you would be indirectly paying for that anyway. The only issue with dealing directly with the manufacturer is that you need to do a bit of research. Luckily, the internet has made this issue all but disappear. Manufacturers that sell directly to customers have websites that explain the details of their products and provide informative videos and descriptions. By comparing different screeners and companies, you can find the highest quality machines at the best possible prices. If you are fairly good at performing online searches, the entire process will take less than an hour. If you need to sift and sort wet materials, purchasing a trommel machine straight from the manufacturer is the way to go.

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Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster Contaminates West-Coast Topsoil

Fukushima Disaster Threatens West Coast TopsoilThe Natural News reports that an engineer from Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Department of Civil & Environemntal Engineering says that radioactive cesium in US topsoil has reached levels up to 10,000 percent higher than before the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. It is no secret that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster is still spewing into and contaminating the environment.

Marco Kaltofen, PE, has been investigating nuclear material release as part of his dissertation, entitled Radiation Exposure to the Population in Japan After the Earthquake. And samples of US topsoil he recently collected and analyzed revealed levels of radioactive cesium up to eight nanoCuries per kilogram (nCi/Kg), which is about 10,000 percent higher than levels previously assumed in a study by the University of California, Berkeley (UCB).

The UCB study included soil samples taken from various locations throughout California. The sample containing the highest level of radioactive cesium came from Sacramento, and registered at a mere 0.0739 nCi/Kg. But Kaltofen’s readings, which are believed to have come from somewhere near the Cascade mountain range in the Pacific Northwest, were more than 108 times this amount.

Topsoil SampingWhat this means is that individuals living in areas like the Pacific Northwest and California continue to be heavily exposed to high levels of Fukushima radiation that are blowing over from Japan. And if Kaltofen’s readings are accurate and indicative of exposure levels throughout the region, the food supply coming from that region is most likely also highly contaminated with deadly radiation.

Today, Japan was struck by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake near Fukushima. If for some reason seismic activities continue in that particular region of Japan, there is a greater risk of higher levels of contamination. Many believe that another earthquake near Fukushima could result in the evacuation of the entire west coast of the United States. Let’s pray that this doesn’t happen.

Topsoil Semi-Truck TrainA method that can be used to delude the levels of radioactive cesium in topsoil on the west coast is screening topsoil on the East coast and shipping it out west to use for farming and gardening. Given that this is a very serious topic and action should be taken immediately to decontaminate the topsoil on the west coast; those that live on the west coast that maintain a farm, vineyard, or home garden should consider buying screened topsoil from as far as Michigan or Ohio to avoid contamination.

To further avoid contaminating the freshly screened, east coast topsoil; it is recommended that three to four feet of earth be removed before laying fresh soil. Many believe it should be taken a step further and a protective liner be laid down after removing the contaminated soil.

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What If the World’s Soil Runs Out?

Below is a very interesting article from TIME about how our planet could be running out of usable soil! It goes into great detail about who all will be effected if we do in fact, run out of soil.

It’s a strange notion, but some experts fear the world, at its current pace of consumption, is running out of useable topsoil. The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with TIME, talked to University of Sydney professor John Crawford on the seismic implications soil erosion and degradation may have in the decades to come.

Is soil really in danger of running out?

A rough calculation of current rates of soil degradation suggests we have about 60 years of topsoil left. Some 40% of soil used for agriculture around the world is classed as either degraded or seriously degraded – the latter means that 70% of the topsoil, the layer allowing plants to grow, is gone. Because of various farming methods that strip the soil of carbon and make it less robust as well as weaker in nutrients, soil is being lost at between 10 and 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replenished. Even the well-maintained farming land in Europe, which may look idyllic, is being lost at unsustainable rates.

Why haven’t we heard more about this?

Probably because soil isn’t sexy. People don’t always think about how it’s connected with so many other things: health, the environment, security, climate, water. For example, agriculture accounts for 70% of our fresh water use: we pour most of our water straight onto the ground. If soil is not fit for purpose, that water will be wasted, because it washes right through degraded soil and past the root system. Given the enormous potential for conflict over water in the next 20-30 years, you don’t want to exacerbate things by continuing to damage the soil, which is exactly what’s happening now.


How does soil erosion happen?

Soil is a living material: if you hold a handful of soil, there will be more microorganisms in there than the number of people who have ever lived on the planet. These microbes recycle organic material, which underpins the cycle of life on earth, and also engineer the soil on a tiny level to make it more resilient and better at holding onto water.  Microbes need carbon for food, but carbon is being lost from the soil in a number of ways. Simply put, we take too much from the soil and don’t put enough back. Whereas the classic approach would have been to leave stubble in the field after harvest, this is now often being burnt off, which can make it easier to grow the next crop, or it’s being removed and used for animal feed. Second, carbon is lost by too much disturbance of the soil by over plowing and by the misuse of certain fertilizers. And the third problem is overgrazing. If there are too many animals, they eat all the plant growth, and one of the most important ways of getting carbon into the soil is through photosynthesis.


What happens if this isn’t addressed?

There are two key issues. One is the loss of soil productivity. Under a business as usual scenario, degraded soil will mean that we will produce 30% less food over the next 20-50 years. This is against a background of projected demand requiring us to grow 50% more food, as the population grows and wealthier people in countries like China and India eat more meat, which takes more land to produce weight-for-weight than, say, rice.

Second, water will reach a crisis point. This issue is already causing conflicts in India, China, Pakistan and the Middle East and before climate change and food security really hit, the next wars are likely to be fought over unsustainable irrigation. Even moderately degraded soil will hold less than half of the water than healthy soil in the same location. If you’re irrigating a crop, you need water to stay in the soil close to the plant roots. However, a staggering paper was published recently indicating that nearly half of the sea level rise since 1960 is due to irrigation water flowing straight past the crops and washing out to sea.


Who will be impacted the most?

Soil erosion is most serious in China, Africa, India and parts of South America. If the food supply goes down, then obviously, the price goes up. The crisis points will hit the poorest countries hardest, in particular those which rely on imports: Egypt, for example, is almost entirely dependent on imports of wheat. The capacity of the planet to produce food is already causing conflict. A lot of people argue that food price hikes caused the Arab spring, and may even have contributed to the recent violence following the release of an anti-Islam film.


What about richer countries?

They will have to deal with more refugees fleeing from truly desperate situations. Then there’s the fact that this is happening at a time of economic difficulty in the West, with growing disparities across society and some people already having to resort to charity to feed themselves.  The connection here with health is significant. Cheap food tends to be low in protein and high in carbohydrate, which is exactly the wrong balance for a healthy society. By reducing food to a mere commodity, we have created a system that is degrading the global capacity to continue to produce food, and is fuelling a global epidemic of diabetes and related chronic disease. Obesity in the US cost 150 billion dollars – 20% of the health budget  – in 2008, the latest figures available, and this huge cost will rise as the broken food system takes its toll.


Why is the food system broken?

The big picture is that the amount of land per person has been shrinking over the last 100 years: we now have about a quarter of a hectare per person on the planet and we’re using half of the total land area on the globe for agriculture. If you think of that little quarter hectare, we’re asking more of it than ever before, largely because of population and the modern diet, which is totally inappropriate. Governments have not got this right. We’re subsidizing unsustainable food production systems at the cost of our health and our environment. Soil is not costed into food, which means that farmers don’t have the financial capacity to invest in their soil to turn the situation around. Crop breeding is exacerbating this situation. Modern wheat varieties, for example, have half the micro nutrients of older strains, and it’s pretty much the same for fruit and vegetables. The focus has been on breeding high-yield crops which can survive on degraded soil, so it’s hardly surprising that 60% of the world’s population is deficient in nutrients like iron. If it’s not in the soil, it’s not in our food.


What should be done about this?

Significant progress is technically quite straightforward. There’s a lot we can do, we just have to choose to do it and provide the right support where it is needed. First-off I’d focus on getting carbon back into the soil, by reversing bad farming practices like tillage, nutrient mismanagement, removing stubble and over-grazing. We can add manure and consider using human waste from cities as fertilizer, instead of just flushing it all out to sea.

In the longer term, breeding targets need to focus more on human nutrition as well as productivity, and on traits that improve the soil. We need to find new ways of bringing together scientists and farmers to harness the expertise of both. From a policy standpoint, probably the most important thing is to find pricing mechanisms that take into account the environmental, health and other costs of a broken system. Farmers need to be appropriately rewarded for regenerating the environment and producing food that supports a healthier society.

Finally we need to recognize that this is a global problem that would benefit from a global approach. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel in each country, and we don’t have time to do so. It takes decades to regenerate soil.  I find it quite ironic that while the Mars Curiosity Rover is poking around looking for life in Martian soil, we’re in the process of extinguishing life in our own.
By World Economic Forum

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