Monday, September 16, 2019

The Dirt Locker

For several years now I have wished that I had a place to store lightly used soil.  Anyone who does a lot of gardening in containers will know what I mean.  Sometimes when you dump a container, there seems to be no soil left in there.  There is nothing but a mass of roots, and the dirt has completely disappeared.  Other times you have a large container half or three quarters full of slightly tired soil.

The Dirt Locker
Now there are a few things you can do with it.  You can dump it into gardening areas to improve the native soil, you can put it into your compost pile or you can leave it in the container for next year.  For my large whiskey barrel planters, of course I leave it in.  They are too big to dump over, and they are large enough to mix in new ingredients.   Before I plant again I will add a balanced fertilizer, and then top it off with fresh potting mix to replace what was removed with the roots as I pulled out the dead plants last year.  

A mass of roots, some empty plastic pots for filler,
but still some usable potting mix to reclaim
But my raised beds cannot take large quantities of new material each year.  Putting it into the compost seems a bit of a waste since it is still light and fluffy and full of peat and vermiculite and perlite.  As for leaving a bunch of half filled pots around - well I like to scrub out my containers and store them away each winter.  We have a lot of autumn leaves to deal with and we need a clean slate.  Stacks of containers everywhere just collects leaves.  And the winter weather will continue to age the planters unnecessarily.

Some of the ingredients that go into mixing your own potting mix
Absent from photo: large quantities of compost and peat or coir
Another plus of saving and reusing potting mix is the cost savings.  Whether you buy it by the bag or mix your own, potting mix can represent a large portion of your gardening budget.  You can go broke pretty quick growing a year's worth of potatoes in containers of brand new medium.  It never hurts to have a quantity of lightweight, clean potting mix on hand.  Often you just need it as a filler at the bottom of a large container.  I also have used straight compost for filler, since we usually have a substantial amount of that cooking, but that could be considered a waste of good compost.  In the cases where I've used compost, I always try to return it to the compost pile when I dump the pot.

So this weekend my husband treated me to a 73 gallon deck box.  Now I can store a useful amount of used potting mix for the filling of large containers.  I will still buy bags of new potting mix for topping off each pot, and those dump neatly into a large Rubbermaid container so I can tote it around and store it temporarily in a dry place instead of having half full opened bags of soil setting about.

My typical potting day set-up
I'm pretty tickled with my dirt locker.  It is just one more step towards getting all of my potting activities in one spot.  Next year the plan is to add a greenhouse where I can have all of my pots and supplies stored together near where I actually keep my plants and pot them up.  Right now I have containers and the potting bench stored way back in a canvas storage building.  My compost pile and messy work area where I store half filled containers is in another spot.  My cold frame for tender plants is up by the garden shed.  And my soil additives and hand tools in the garden shed.  I spend a lot of time in the spring bent over a wheelbarrow filling pots.  In good weather I bring the potting bench up to the garden.  On cold rainy spring days I round up everything and take it back to the potting bench and then haul it all back to the cold frame. I can put in a lot of steps in a work day.  Yet another way that gardening is good for your health!


  1. I love this idea. I ALWAYS have bags with just a little in the bottom or then dumping containers. You are right you can go broke buying those bags when you could have your own by repurposing. I have one question about the locker. How waterproof is it? I mean, if it's in an area that gets full rain will you end up with mud or do you put it in a spot with some cover?

  2. It is out in the open and waterproof. We have had two of the larger sized boxes for several years where we keep chair cushions and shade umbrellas and we have had no trouble with moisture. All of ours are the Rubbermaid brand purchased at Home Depot