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Mel Mix Alternative?

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Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  MrsLisaT on 3/20/2012, 11:02 am

Hello everyone!  I am planning on trying out square foot gardening for the first time this year.  In fact, this will be my first year EVER doing any type of gardening.  I am really feeling like I am over my head with this one!  

Anyway, I hope to get my two 4x4 garden beds made this weekend and get some things planted and have been trying to price things that I will need.  While I knew that Mel's Mix was considered expensive, I think my eyes still bugged out a little once I actually calculated roughly how much I would need to spend to fill my two beds.  I'm not sure if that is really doable at the moment.  Are there any good soil alternatives?  I pretty much want to go as cheap as possible without sacrificing too much on the hopefully good results of my veggies.  Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


Last edited by camprn on 8/1/2013, 7:54 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Title adjustment)

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  llama momma on 3/20/2012, 11:09 am

First fill one box with Mel's mix. Then fill the other box as inexpensively as you can. The comparison later on will be quite telling. (my money is hands down on mel's mix)
You could also wait, save up and fill the second box later on with mel's mix.

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  sfgteachers on 3/20/2012, 11:14 am

You can always use 100% compost like we do in other countries where the vermiculite and peat moss are not available

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  RoOsTeR on 3/20/2012, 11:22 am

@sfgteachers wrote:You can always use 100% compost like we do in other countries where the vermiculite and peat moss are not available
+1

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  mageice3 on 3/20/2012, 11:27 am

@sfgteachers wrote:You can always use 100% compost like we do in other countries where the vermiculite and peat moss are not available

Question about this: Will the plants suffer at all from being in just compost? It seems that the compost would be very heavy when wet.

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  morganfam7 on 3/20/2012, 11:29 am

I've been wondering the same thing due to cost and concern about keeping the peat hydrated in summer (many days over 100 last summer). My box is deeper than 6 inches. I think what I'm going to try to do is make up however much Mel's Mix I can afford and then put 100% compost underneath that. In other words, I'm going to top the compost with as much Mel Mix as I can afford. I have another older bed without MM, so that should make interesting comparisons.

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  MrsLisaT on 3/20/2012, 11:35 am

Thanks for all the advice so far. My poor brain has been on information overload these past few weeks as I'm trying to plan my garden out! I might consider cutting down to just one 4x4 bed this year to save on costs so maybe I will be able to keep the Mel Mix more accurate.

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  llama momma on 3/20/2012, 11:44 am

mageice.3 --
I think the answer to your compost question is that compost has so much going for it, organic content which improves texture, drainage, fertility, ability to anchor roots. It provides nutrients, moisture, and habitat for a huge range of beneficial life forms. It also enhances plants' resistance to pests and diseases, and it also helps them with weather extremes. So yes, you can get away with compost as the only ingredient. All of those benefits I just listed were from The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, by Pleasant and Martin.

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  mageice3 on 3/20/2012, 11:49 am

Nice, tho I just checked my local library and they don't have a copy... time to request a new book cheers Compost is easy for me to get and Vermiculite is being a pain I think the medium grade isn't going to cut the mustard so I may have to go to straight compost for my outdoor beds this year and make a special order for vermiculite next year. two weeks till I know for sure tho on the coarse.

James

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  Grandpop on 3/20/2012, 12:33 pm

This is my first year, also. I built three 4x8 raised beds last year due to drainage problems and over the winter saw info about SFG. My first box is filled with composted manure and top soil that I paid $2 a bag (Evergreen brand) for that my grocery store was selling. I did that before I read about MM. My second box is filled with the same PLUS peat and vermiculite I found in a 4 cu ft bag for $22. I have since found a farmer who has offered me all the compost I want for free - can't beat that price - that my third box will be filled with + the peat and vermiculite. I will also use this mix to slowly replace in box 1 and 2 as needed. My boxes have gotten cheaper as I have progressed, so you might find the same thing happens with you.

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Cheap Mel's Mix Alternative

Post  donnainzone5 on 3/20/2012, 2:25 pm

Mageice 3,

Have you checked the vermiculite database on this site? U-Line has a warehouse in Seattle that ships to Idaho and neighboring states. I don't know what the current shipping rates are, but if you plan a trip to that area, you could call ahead and order.

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  Dunkinjean on 3/20/2012, 2:33 pm

I started with only one 4x4 Sq Ft Box my 1st year since I was new at it and a little apprehensive. It is going to be my 3rd year this spring and I now have 3 4x4 boxes and hubby is going to add 2 more boxes that will be 2 x 6. I found starting small worked for me. Now I am totally addicted. I did order my Vermiculite through ULine and then also found some at a farm nursery this year. Do whatever works for you.

Best of luck!sunny

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  AvaDGardner on 3/20/2012, 2:54 pm

@Grandpop wrote:{snip} I have since found a farmer who has offered me all the compost I want for free - can't beat that price - that my third box will be filled with + the peat and vermiculite. I will also use this mix to slowly replace in box 1 and 2 as needed. My boxes have gotten cheaper as I have progressed, so you might find the same thing happens with you.

Grandpop...make sure it's mature (composted) manure, not just 'fresh from the animal!'

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  efirvin on 3/20/2012, 4:36 pm

This is a very interesting discussion to me! I am building my first sfg with raised beds and finding the 3 ingredients for Mel's Mix has been time consuming and potentially very costly. I was fortunate to finally locate the vermiculite at Menards, listed as Sunglo coarse vermiculite insulation, for $13 per 3 cf bag. That was the best possible price I had found anywhere. Peat moss was $9 per 3 cf compressed bag from Home Depot. Still working on finding the best options for the compost. I can get some from the city for $18 per sq yard. I'm not sure about the quality of it though so will probably add more varieties to it.

For me the MM has been the least cost because I bought 115 4x8x16 cinderboxes to build the raised beds! I know all of this initial expense will be well worth it when I can enjoy my new garden this year and for many years to come. Thank God for income tax returns! And my expenses next year will be mostly just seeds and plants!

Good luck finding all of your supplies for your MM. I think starting with 1 4x4 box is a great economical plan and you can still get lots of veggies this year!

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  mageice3 on 3/20/2012, 4:51 pm

donnainzone10 wrote:Mageice 3,

Have you checked the vermiculite database on this site? U-Line has a warehouse in Seattle that ships to Idaho and neighboring states. I don't know what the current shipping rates are, but if you plan a trip to that area, you could call ahead and order.

I did check the database, it lists a local store HOWEVER they do not carry coarse vermiculite, and will not special order it. As for a trip across two states not going to happen I can barley get across the city right now Sad

I did find one Greenhouse Mega-warehouse online that sells coarse for 20ish plus its about 15 shipping to my location, the medium thermorock vermiculite is 18$$ at the Lowe's by my house...

Am currently testing Compost VS Medium Verm MM to see which one works better, should know in 12-15 days, and if the straight compost does work I may go that route, if its only semi-workable I will continue my search but at this point I'm not willing or able to pay 30-50$$ a bag for Vermiculite.

James

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  RoOsTeR on 3/20/2012, 5:22 pm

100% compost is an out. Mel gave us that option in the book, and pointed out again by Belinda. One thing I would really try to do is find at least 5 different kinds of compost. Unless you're making and using your own compost. This will at least give you a well rounded planting medium. You can always add peat and vermiculite as funds permit. Cool

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  plantoid on 3/20/2012, 6:30 pm

There's compost and " Compost " .

If you're thinking of doing 100 % home made compost you'll be more likely to have success than using a five type mix purchased as five separate bagged commercial types.

Commercialy made stuff tends to be a bit lean on the lighter stuff like urine soaked straw but high on ground up wood . The dung content may well also have been made wet and drained off to get a concentrated liquid fertilizer that will have ben sold off .. what you'll often get in the end with commercial mixes is this weakened drained off dung in the mix which will be of dubious quality..



Out of six bags of so called composted horse manure I found almost a 5 gallon bucket of wood up to an inch and 1/2 thick by six or seven inches long . Is the horse of Troy still alive or did it come from a rocking horse? Laughing Laughing

The cobbles of horse dung were still totally indentifiable by shape so much for composting in a commercal manner.

I also had six bags of so called " well rotted farmyard manure " .. the liquid that came out of it would have filled two five gallon buckets and the ammonia was eyewateringly strong.



I don't know what the so called farmyard manure was but all the straw was fully identifiable as 8 or 9 inch long wet smelly dark brown flattened tubes.



So make your own , try and make up a recipe using the materials Mel suggests in the ANSFG book and add your own pee diluted at 20 water to one part pee to help break down the cellulose in the plant fibres.



Remember if you add shavings , chipped wood or hedge clippings they will take ages to fully compost and stop robbing nitrogen out the bed ....if it is in thick shavings or shredded wood / chips it can be as long as seven years before it is completely neutralized.

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  morganfam7 on 3/20/2012, 6:52 pm

The Moo-nure that I got at Home Depot recently seems ok - it was definitely black and crumbly.

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Vermiculite: coarse or medium?

Post  tomperrin on 3/20/2012, 7:06 pm

I have purchased vermiculite from two different manufacturers. One was relatively fine, the other labeled, and was, coarse.

Both work, IMHO. The way I figure it, any vermiculite is better than none. Keeping the cost down is always going to be a problem. Get as many quotes as you can before buying.

  • check the vermiculite database
  • check local horticultural supply houses
  • check manufacturers for local distributors
And then


  • buy in fall or winter when prices might be lower.
  • get together with other SFG gardeners in your area to combine purchases. Everything is negotiable.
  • use your discount cards: military discount, senior citizen discount, loyalty cards, etc.
A $15.00 shipping fee per bag might be more expensive than 4 gallons of gas/120 miles round trip when you can get several bags in a car.
Don't store the bags in the sunlight. This goes for mulch, vermiculite, top soil, compost. The bags are designed to decompose in sunlight (UV). Put them under a tarp or under cover. In addition, the bags from some manufacturers might be thinner than others.
Tom

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  RoOsTeR on 3/20/2012, 7:31 pm

the medium thermorock vermiculite is 18$$ at the Lowe's by my house...

I have purchased vermiculite from two different manufacturers. One was relatively fine, the other labeled, and was, coarse.

Tom, brings up a good point. I actually saw the Thermo-rock vermiculite at my local Lowes. It was labeled as medium. One of the bags had a hole in it and I compared it to the coarse stuff I bought. I honestly couldn't tell much of a difference. I've also heard of others buying coarse and it being WAY to coarse/large.

I did find one Greenhouse Mega-warehouse online that sells coarse for 20ish plus its about 15 shipping to my location, the medium thermorock vermiculite is 18$$ at the Lowe's by my house...

One thing to keep in mind, the medium vermiculite at Lowes are only 2 cu foot bags. If the stuff you can get shipped is coarse and 4 cu foot, that sounds like a better deal Very Happy

The one thing you don't want to do is skimp on the compost or Mel's Mix. It's the heart and soul of your Square Foot Garden: http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t7452-mel-s-mix-how-strong-is-your-backbone

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  AvaDGardner on 3/20/2012, 10:06 pm

James, there are others hear from ID Falls. They could tell you where they got their supplies.

Maybe someone with more experience can tell you how to search for them.


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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  mageice3 on 3/20/2012, 11:53 pm

@AvaDGardner wrote:James, there are others hear from ID Falls. They could tell you where they got their supplies.

Maybe someone with more experience can tell you how to search for them.

Would love to hear from them, I've mixed up some MM with the medium and started tomatoes in it, I'm getting some drying of the leaves at the bottom and they kind of resemble scarecrows but the tops look beautiful, of course the roots were trapped in a 3in pot and the plant was 13inches tall. (this might be most of the problem I'm having with those two, but others are also having some kind of issue with brown leaves.)

Any thoughts or suggestions on Vermiculite would be wonderful or on my possible tomato issue.

James

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  B maier on 3/21/2012, 4:50 am

----- WARNING ----- Get other opinions on this before acting on it


Lava rock in place of vermiculite?

http://www.homedepot.com/Outdoors-Landscaping-Supplies/h_d1/N-5yc1vZ1xh4Zbrl8/R-100427379/h_d2/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10053&langId=-1&storeId=10051

Its cheap and widely available

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  walshevak on 3/21/2012, 7:35 am

I've use lava rock as mulch, but it seems very chunky to use in planting soil.

Kay

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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

Post  AvaDGardner on 3/21/2012, 4:39 pm

No, lava rock has a different function from vermiculite.

Lava rock (the finer varieties) or pumice can be add to soil (not MM) to help aerate and break up clay. Pumice will probably decompose more than lava (ever been Lassen National Park in CA?).



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Re: Mel Mix Alternative?

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