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phytolator

emulating limestone desert soil for lophs

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So, early in November (2013) I was inspired to try and recreate the natural habitat soils of Central America. - going only by what I have read and seen in photos of lophs in natural habitat.
this article gave me some examples that tipped me over the edge! >> http://www.cactusconservation.org/CCI/library/2009_Snicer_TheLittlestLophophora.pdf

Apart from wanting to provide an optimal grow medium, I am also totally taken by the creamy limestone "clay" with the deep cracks emanating from each plant.

I have often seen limestone chunks dropped on top of soil in pots but it looks clumsy and I doubt that the low surface area is effective in distributing mineral from the limestone (especially if bottom-watering). Limestone is not freely available where I am and I wanted to use something locally and easily available, so basically I wanted to make a limestone soil, without limestone.

Limestone is essentially calcium carbonate CaCO3, so are seashells, so are eggshells, so that's what I used.
I decided the medium should be ground finely if it was to produce a smooth consistency that would crack between waterings.

The eggshells were by far easier to grind in the mortar and pestle than the seashells (of which I washed the salt off first) but the seashell "flour" is absolutely divine, sings like porcelain when you stir it with a teaspoon! :-)
I had also been recommended gypsum, for it's calcium content and ability to turn clay friable. But because of it's neutral pH it would not be a substitute for the slightly alkaline sea and egg shells. (alkaline like limestone)
Gypsum did however prove useful in enhancing the cracking effect on the surface...

The final mix included:

seashells
eggshells
gypsum
clay

I kept a fair amount of the plants' previous mix around the roots so as not to shock them, including pumice, scoria, "cactus mix", and coco-coir.
I was a bit worried that I was almost setting them in plaster! the medium dries quite hard, but can be broken apart when wet...

They are watered with worm tea, and are looking pretty healthy almost 2 months on...

here is an example of growth below

post-13622-0-26398300-1389344018_thumb.p

^November
post-13622-0-73838200-1389344041_thumb.p
^January

others...
post-13622-0-51876300-1389344354_thumb.ppost-13622-0-43525400-1389344364_thumb.ppost-13622-0-63355600-1389344370_thumb.p

The only variation I have used since, is adding some perlite to avoid compaction, but I didn't like the grey colour it gave... although I am germinating 100 fricii seeds in it with a 41/100 rate so far and all are looking delightfully bright...

If anyone has some tips or cautionary advice, please lay it on me! :-)

Thanks for looking!





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the P.H will b cranking in that mix . is that good?? :scratchhead::wacko:

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the P.H will b cranking in that mix . is that good?? :scratchhead::wacko:

last test, it was at about 8, maybe slightly over, but definitely below 9...

I've read optimal is like 7.9 ~ 8.3 which is what I'm aiming for.

The only thing so far that could be evidence of it going poorly would be that the plant that flowered last season, hasn't this season - but that might be cos I robbed 2 pups off...

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They seem to be growing nicely,

I think finding the right mix for my plants is pretty important & I have personally seen the benefits with my plants (better growth rates, more pest resistant etc...).

I had a couple of questions about your mix mate, like are the four things you listed all that is in your mix? If so do you remember ratios? Also how well does your mix drain & dry.

I love reading about peoples experiments like this & look forward to hearing more about this topic. Nice work phytolator.

Cheers

Jox

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That's an awesome innovation you've got going on there, the plants seem to be doing very well in that mix. I love the way they recede into the mix like they do in their natural conditions & the surface has that cracked appearance.

I prefer to grow in a more neutral myself & I'd suggest the feeds with worm tea would be buffering the mix to a lower PH to enable more efficient nutrient uptake while the soil mix is wet.

After seeing this I'm tempted to do some experiments with similar soil mixes & maybe add small of rock dust & chips and possibly even a small amount of biochar to buffer the PH down slightly.

I noticed a bit of orange on one pic and something similar on another, so you might want to let let them go through an extended dry cycle or possibly excavate around them a bit to ensure it's just superficial & Lophs really don't need much feeding so I'd hold back until the orange is under control.

All that said that's a fucking awesome looking capping mix especially for someone without access to the soil they'd naturally grow in.

Nice work man, thanks for sharing.

Edited by Sally

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That looks very nice. I've recently been looking for a mix to transition my seedlings that are in 80/20 sand/worm castings to. I'll take this into consideration. I love the natural look it has. :) I would love to see one of my lophophora alberto-vojtechii poking their heads through that.

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I had a couple of questions about your mix mate, like are the four things you listed all that is in your mix? If so do you remember ratios? Also how well does your mix drain & dry.

There is a bit of scoria and coco-coir in he base, the shell mix sits mostly in the top inch or 2 (depending on the size of pot/plant)

unfortunately I didn't record my ratios but my process was >

mix the clay and gypsum first, adding just a enough G to the C to lighten it a bit.

then stir in a few healthy teaspoons of ground seashell, eggshell, or both.

I was reasonably unrestrained in the amount of shell I put in, and I was careful not to put in too much gypsum.

There was a bit of larger pieces of shell or scoria that I popped in too.

It is not terribly fast draining! They will not be bone dry again for a day or more but I do make sure they are totally dry between waterings, and won't normally water more often than fortnightly.

I have just moved them out of full sun last week. They would dry quite quickly on the sill but I worried about their sun exposure.

So now they are a few feet back, getting dappled light only for less hours - but still in a bright room with white painted walls...

I noticed a bit of orange on one pic and something similar on another, so you might want to let let them go through an extended dry cycle or possibly excavate around them a bit to ensure it's just superficial & Lophs really don't need much feeding so I'd hold back until the orange is under control.

I will take your advice Sally and abstain from watering the oranged ones for at least 3 weeks :-) thanks!

the orange has been there for a while and has actually improved, but when I touched some of it with the butt of a teaspoon it did seem soft... I'm hoping it's just a superficial husk, healed from a previous wound that has gotten soft with water.

That looks very nice. I've recently been looking for a mix to transition my seedlings that are in 80/20 sand/worm castings to. I'll take this into consideration. I love the natural look it has. :) I would love to see one of my lophophora alberto-vojtechii poking their heads through that.

thanks! I currently have 3/10 germinated albertos getting through some right now! wish I had more, but those seeds are spenno...

are yours grown from seed?

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Mine are seed grown. I have some from koehres that are a little older. I just planted 50 more seeds though.

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Those look awesome Phytolator! I really like the effect!

Where did you source the gypsum and clay?

Please keep us updated on how this works out for you.

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Where did you source the gypsum and clay?

the clay I scraped from the base of a cliff, it is quite a grey-brown clay.

the gypsum was scraped from cast plaster.

*plaster of paris is gypsum that has had the water cooked out of it, plaster that has been wetted again (such as done in plaster casting) returns it to gypsum. <that is my understanding anyway! :-)

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