Best Potting Soil For Edible Container Gardens

Happy Frog Potting Soil.png
There are a lot of ways you can be frugal in your garden and save some money. The potting mix you use in your container gardens should be something you feel comfortable splurging on. In my opinion, the best potting soil for edible container garden is the Happy Frog line of potting soil distributed by FoxFarm.

Here is what the FoxFarm website says, in part, about the Happy Frog potting soil:

"Happy Frog® Potting Soil is alive with beneficial microbes and fungi that help break down organic matter and feed the plant roots. Between the earthworm castings, the bat guano, and the composted forest humus, your container plants have never felt so good. And don't worry--FoxFarm uses only the highest quality, premium ingredients--no cheap fillers, no topsoil, no sludge. Never. We promise."
Sounds good right? This year I put it to the test in my container garden on the back porch. The first picture in the photo gallery is of lettuce greens on 5/08/10. The second picture is of the same lettuce greens on on 5/26/10. Now, compare the picture taken on 5/26 to the lettuce greens in the windowbox. They're the same seeds, from the same seed packet, started at the same time and growing under the same conditions on my porch. The only difference is that the greens growing in the window box were sown with a "cheap" potting soil and the larger container is filled with Happy Frog potting soil. I managed to get several salads out of the lettuce growing in the Happy Frog potting soil, while I haven't even touched the greens growing in the window box. The lettuce in the window box looks exactly the same today as it looks in that picture. If I didn't sow the seeds myself I'd swear the lettuce was fake.
How to choose a good potting soil mix
Carefully read the ingredients list on any bag of potting soil that you purchase. If you don't have time to take notes and research the ingredients; I've found that picking up the bag of soil and squeezing it helps me determine if the potting mix is good. If you squeeze the bag of soil does it feel like the soil inside is crumbling or forming a clump? If it feels like the soil is clumping together then ratio of ingredients are not suitable for container gardening. A good potting mix should be loose to allow water to drain. Finally, the price. If the bag of soil costs less than you'd pay for a cup of coffee chances are that it isn't going to be very good for your plants. Whenever I see those $2.99 bags of potting soil at drug stores I have to shake my head. Just by handling the bag I can tell gardeners will be faced with disappointment if they try to grow plants in it. Those cheap potting soils harden to the point that they're only good for building mud houses. Don't skimp on potting soil for your container garden, especially if you're growing vegetables and herbs that you plan on eating. 
Where to buy Happy Frog potting soil in Chicago. 
Last year I visited just about every independent garden center in the Chicago in search of Happy Frog potting soil. From the reactions I got when I asked for it by name I discerned that it must be popular with marijuana growers. I learned about this potting mix during a visit to the organic rooftop farm at Uncommon Ground on Devon, where their raised beds are filled with Happy Frog potting soil. It seems like the only retailer for Happy Frog potting soil in Chicago is Gethsemane, where a 2 cu ft bag set me back $20.00. 
UPDATE: For those not looking to buy container garden soil check out the post Where to Buy Garden Soil in Chicago.
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  • Glad I asked you about this earlier. I did get the Happy Frog soil and I do like it, though I didn't conduct as scientific an experiment.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    Did you really? Do you feel like you could eat it? I love the stuff, it just looks so nutritious--as potting soils go.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    I wouldn't say I was tempted to eat it, but it was so nice and {I can't think of the right adjective}-ier than other soil mixes. I even recommended it to my container gardening students t'other night. And they really liked your bottle drip irrigation with the bottom of the bottle down. I tweeted that but dunno if you saw it.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    I think I may have seen that tweet or was it an Email? Anyway, glad they found it useful!

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    I also agree that it's worth it to spend money on quality soil - it can be a false economy to get cheap soil if your plants don't thrive.

    I'm sorry they don't have Happy Frog that I've seen, here in the East - I would love to try it.

    I agree about squeezing the bag, but one caution is that I find that some potting soil has been sitting outside so the bags get wet and heavy, so the same type of soil can weigh a lot or be very light.

    Have you tried Organic Mechanics? It's great and it's made without peat. I also use Coast of Maine, which is our local brand.

  • In reply to Kerry:

    Hi,

    Good point about wet soil in bags. I've noticed that when I left my bag of Happy Frog potting soil out it never clumped up even when it. If you soak this soil and try to shape it into a ball, it will crumble really easy, unlike some cheap soils or soils that have too much peat.

    I haven't tried Organic Mechanics, but I think I've read about them on your container gardening blog. I'll have to look out for it here in Chicago.

  • In reply to Kerry:

    Does Happy Frog avoid using those little clumps of styrofoam? I think anyone adding that to any soil anywhere should be subjected to a severe penalty. I'm assuming the white bits in your photos are something like perlite, which is a mineral that will crumble if you crush it.

    When I make my own personal potting soil recipe for container flower and herb gardening, I do start with some black topsoil from the Home Depot that clumps and comes in a heavy bag that I can barely drag to the cart. But I mix it with sifted and recycled peat-based soil with styrofoam bits laboriously picked out, sand, plain clay cat litter (unused of course) and coffee grounds. By the time I get done, it's just right, which means it will weigh something. And it'll never dry out to the point where you can't ever moisten it again because water runs right through it, like that cheap stuff. The only thing missing from my recipe is guano, and I really don't want to go there!

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    The white bits you see is perlite.

    I use that cheapo HD dirt you mention for annuals, ornamentals and even houseplants. Although, I prefer their container soil because it comes with a bit of sand in it. I was going to use it this year for the edible containers, but I noticed how much "trash" it had in it. Seems like every bag I bought had pieces of plastic bags (old shopping bags?) in it. Also, if you're the kind of person who hates a certain large garden and chemical company, don't look at who produces that bag of soil. lol.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    The The FoxFarm site listed Grand Street and The Farmers Market on Elston as carrying their products-- do they not have Happy Frog?

  • In reply to Genneaux:

    Hi,

    Grand Street didn't have it last year and I just called them after I got the Email alert for your post and they said they didn't carry it. Not sure about the place on Elston.

    Hope this helps.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    The Happy Frog Soil sounds great for edibles. If you have other soil left around use it to grow the non edible TickleMe Plant.
    Thats the only house plant that will close its leaves and lower its branches when tickled. My students love their Pet TickleMe Plants and its a great way to get them excited about gardening and nature. Just search the web to see the plant in action and to get your own seed to grow them.

  • In reply to Kidsgardener:

    Hi Kidsgardener,

    Glad to hear you're teaching some kids about gardening.

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    I actually found the Happy Frog on Amazon. Some of the FoxFarm stuff is even Prime eligible, which is pretty cool

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