bad smalling soil in...

Berkeley, CA(Zone 9a)

I planted all of my tomatoes and some other veggies in the large buckets with an inverted colander and drain tube. I'm finally getting around to cleaning up my veggie garden & cleaning up my buckets. The soil inside, which I replace every year but incorporate old into planted beds, smells rather "sour". Is this soil still good to till into my beds?
I was also thinking that perhaps some charcoal in the bottom might sweeten the smell. What do you all think?

Magnolia, TX(Zone 8b)

Hmmm, sour isnt good, needed better drainage i would bet- and my compost always smells sour-but gets washed by the rain we get. activted charcoal- not sure. Have you read thrru any of these old threads and seen that tried?

Charlotte, NC(Zone 7b)

Two words come to mind... Aerobic Anaerobic

I can never remember which is which, but one of them makes seeds grow and the other does not. When soil smells "sour" it's the word that won't let seeds grow. I tried and experiment once; sowing seeds into sour soil. None of the seeds sprouted.

Your mileage may vary :)

Durhamville, NY(Zone 5b)

Aero means air. An as a prefix means not.
So you have aerobic air loving and
Anaerobic not air loving.

I believe than once you dump it out it will get air and sweet up.

Madras, OR

Start over with new soil in your buckets, I would let the old like in the open a year, then throw it in the compost pile. Too much water, no air, too much or not enough fertilizer, dirt compacting and rotting roots all come to mind

SE Houston (Hobby), TX(Zone 9a)

First off, NEVER, EVER put soil in an eBucket. It will eventually compact hard as concrete. Only use Potting Mix, or Tapla's 5-1-1 container mix in your eBuckets.

I grew veggies in eBuckets from 2006-2011, and only used Miracle Grow Potting Mix. In 2010-2011 I built the colander eBuckets and had to fill almost 60 with MG, which was cost prohibitive. So i used a modified version of Tapla's 5-1-1 container mix. Saved me a boatload of $$$.

Potting soil in a container will compress. The 5-1-1 mix allows for great oxygenation and excellent drainage. I modified my version to either 3-2-1 or 4-2-1, depending on the wicking i needed for certain veggies.

My first thought was that your colander collapsed under the wet soil weight, and the soil was constantly sitting in your reservoir with no air exchange. Anaerobic=smelly.

I had that happen to an eBucket of bell peppers. Collapsed colander , which is why I place them upside down on the floor, kneel down, and lean my weight on every colander before i buy it. If it doesn't collapse under my weight, good chance it'll not collapse under wet Potting soil AND an 8', loaded tomato plant!


This message was edited Jan 26, 2013 1:16 PM

Everett, WA(Zone 8a)

By the way, the nasty smell is caused by fermentation. When the soil doesn't get enough air (oxygen), some microbes shift from "respiration" to "fermentation". Others die or become spores, if they don't know how to ferment. Also, undesirable microbes multiply in the anaerobic (airless) soil.

With respiration, they consume oxygen and organic stuff, then release carbon dioxide. No smell. An y nitrogen or sulfur, they consume and use internally.

Without oxygen, they can't break down the organic stuff all the way. They can only ferment it part way and release the fermentation products. Mainly alcohols and organic acids like acetic and formic acids. Maybe even some aldehydes and ketones, which really stink! My guess is that they release nitrogen and sulfur in even less palatable forms.


This is also why you don't want to use WET pine bark fines or mulch if they smell gunky. There was fermentation inside that plastic bag, and fermentation products built along with organic acids. You have tol flush it and/or air it out, and maybe even lime it a little to neutralize the acid.

BTW, technically, to a microbiologist, "anaerobic" means "no oxygen" or barely any. Most soils can't get that bad unless they're buried under feet of clay or totally water-logged soil. Mostly when we create the conditions that gardeners call "anaerobic", a microbiologist would probably call them "hypoxic" c onditionslike the medical term "hypoxia".

Usually our plants roots in hypoxic soil are just gasping and choking and slowly turning blue. Not dropping dead straightaway as they would in totally anaerobic conditions.

I like the word "hypoxic" because it sounds like "toxic" and is easier to spell than "anaerobic".

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