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Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

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Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

Post  Dromeno on 3/31/2012, 12:32 pm

Hi forum,

I am new here (as well as a complete garden newbie) and about to make my first SFG. I have just read the book. I understand that the compost is the most important part of the mix but I would like to know more about some details. Like... how did the conclusion about the 5 types of compost come about? Which 5 and why not 4 or 6 for example. What needs to be in the compost?

The reason I ask is that I live in an apartment. I have a balcony but no garden. I have no source of leafy matter, and when I look at the plant based leftover I produce each week (fruit skins, food leftovers, coffee grounds, teabags, old houseplants etc) it looks a bit to wet/slimy/stinky to use in any mel's mix.

Still I would love to have nother option than buying compost.

A combination of wood pellets, boling water (to break up the pellets) and coffee grounds looks much more promising. Are coffee grounds a good compost substitute?


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Re: Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

Post  martha on 3/31/2012, 12:56 pm

Coffee grounds are good as part of compost, not as the complete thing. And I definitely wouldn't use wood pellets - I don't think they would have any nutrients for the plants. I am going to let someone like Camprn answer the question, because although I understand the reason, I own a restaurant, and Saturday afternoons aren't the best time for me to try to be coherent!

But, welcome, and a good answer will be along in no time!


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Re: Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

Post  januaryX on 3/31/2012, 1:22 pm

About your first question, this clarified things for me



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Re: Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

Post  chjbr63 on 3/31/2012, 1:42 pm

Welcome to the forum.

The idea behind 5 or more composts is to make sure your plants are getting all the nutrients they need. One type may have more of some and less of another so you'll have a more balanced mix with different types.

The best place for you to start is on the home page. Move you mouse to the left side and a pop up has all the basic info on the "How and Why" Mel's Mix works. Just start reading from the top of that list and work your way down.

As far as starting now you would need to buy as many kinds of compost that you can find. 5 is the minimum but more is better. Being that it is on your balcony you wouldn't have to buy big bags. Then start a small garbage can compost bin or a worm bin for future needs.

Good Luck and Happy gardening


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Re: Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

Post  jpatti on 3/31/2012, 3:57 pm

I started gardening in pots on a balcony too - and had no yard at all. I had to haul EVERYTHING upstairs.

And if your balcony is like mine, there would be no way to mix 5 composts, vermiculite, and peat moss, even if you only had a quart of each compost - the only place I'd have had to do such a thing would be in my LIVING ROOM, which would not have been an option.

There are some places selling premixed stuff, with 5 composts and the vermiculite and peat, premixed, so you might see if you can get some of that.

If you can't... well, I didn't know ANYTHING when I started, but knowing what I know now, I'd get a small bag of vermiculite, a small bag of peat moss, a small bag of composted manure, and azomite. Add a handful of the first three into each pot as you fill them and then a few tablespoons of azomite. Mix within the pot, then plant.

It may not be quite as good as Mel's mix, but it'll be darned close.

I knew MUCH LESS than that and still managed to grow tomatoes, peppers, mesclun mix and many herbs and such on my tiny balcony just in the cheapest potting soil I found.


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Re: Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

Post  plantoid on 3/31/2012, 6:51 pm

Hi Dromeno

Welcome to the site.

If you can get two plant pots & a bucket on your balcony you can make a soiless growth medium one hand full at a time out of small purchased bags of ingredients.

Five hands of peat , five hands of vermiculite and five lots of a handful each of a different compost type mix it in the bucket when dry and then add water to get it evenly damp through out before you start growing in it .

As has been said the idea of setting up and using a MINIMUM of five different types of purchased stuff is to get as many valuable nutients as you can rather than depend on a single source that may be defficient of some trace element that your plants will need for good growth . It is all to do with getting enough Nitrogen Potassium & Potash ( NPK ) and esential trace elements needed for sound plant growth

As you progress in your research you'll discover that most shop purchased composts ae a bit heavy on cheap part composted woody waste . Whereas home produced stuff if correctly made will be far better , contain many more varied plant fibres & usually have a lot more trace elements .

Look up the many worm threads on site to get an idea of how to start a wormery using shredded paper and Find clues as to where & how you can capture your own composting worms if you don't want to buy any .

If you don't have Mel Bartholomew's 2006 edition book " All New Square Foot Gardening ", may I suggest you get one , for it will contain much of what you will need to know to get going with square foot gardening.

The wood you mentioned is not composted and will therfore rob the growth medium of all nitrogen as it breaks down and turns into compost ...using it so it would be self defeating.

In Mel's book there are lists of all sorts of things that can be used for composting .

I've just had a thought , can you get the ready made up tomato / vegetable grow bags /planter bags in Holland ..if so I'd use some of that for the peat content then add your sourced manure & vermiculite , for most of the grow bags have enough nutrients to grow tomatoes or salad crops for six weeks.

At least that way would allow you to start growing stuff quickly and then give you time to develop things.


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Re: Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

Post  jpatti on 3/31/2012, 7:21 pm

Yeah, I couldn't have fit 7 small bags on the balcony I started with, let alone a bucket on top of it. The living room would've been the only place to do that. Not to mention the 7 trips it'd have taken on the bus to get that stuff home since I didn't have a car.

I'm glad there was no such thing as the new book back then as it'd have been sad to have people tell me I couldn't garden at all if I couldn't haul 7 bags home on the bus and didn't have room for 7 bags on my balcony. That would've been impossible for me.

I have real Mel's mix in my raised bed NOW cause I live in the country, own a car, and have a yard to mix it up in.

But the fact is that SFG worked with the old book too, and gardening in general worked even before SFG... I started with just the instructions on seed packets.


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Re: Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

Post  Roseinarosecity on 4/1/2012, 12:15 am

Welcome, Dromeno!

You have half the wonderful material for your compost in your wet/slimey/sticky plant based leftover because that material is called your 'greens.' Now, your 'browns,' the other half of your compost, are going to be newspaper, cardboard, maybe some pine needles or other dry leaves you might collect in your walks outside. Don't be afraid to pick it up; some of us stop our cars to collect dry leaves. A mixture of browns and greens, time, and a little stirring up will turn into the most wonderful homemade compost! If you can find some space for two 5 gallon containers you can compost instead of buying the 5 different compost. Make your own, then you can set up some container planters for your veggie plants in your balcony.

I found this to guide you: "Build a Compost Box in your Apartment"
Good luck and please tells us how you are progressing.


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Re: Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

Post  Dromeno on 4/1/2012, 5:03 am

Wow - what a helpful forum. Thanks for the warm welcome!I have not even
read all the answers, but let me explain a bit more about the
woodpellet / coffee ground mixture idea. The idea is that the coffee
grounds provide the nitrogen. A formula of

  • one volume part of wood
  • one volume part of dried (oven baked) coffee grounds powder and
  • three volume parts boiling water'
Provide in a very fluffy / moist 'soil'. It is also a mixture which works as basis substrate for the cultivation of elm oyster mushrooms. In the book Mycelium Running (author Paul Stamets) is a chapter about the companion cultivation of elm oysters and vegetables. The elm oyster mycelium uses the pellets to make compost. According to Mycelium Running brussels sprouts and broccoli produced bigger yields with elm oyster mycelium mixed in the substrate. I wonder how it is with other vegetables. Mushrooms also love vermiculite (especially as casing layer of soil mix)

So I was thinking... if the mycelium converts the wood pellets into compost and yummy mushrooms, can I plant vegetables in the substrate as well? And boost the mixture with the leftovers (grounds) of my coffee drinking... and perhaps later reuse the vegetable leftovers as substrate ingredient again. Etc. It would make a nice permaculture like circle. And woodplellets + vermiculite + coffee grounds are all very easy storable / not smelly etc. Composting with mushroom mycelium has a sweet odor.

Composting is a form of fungi cultivation but then without the mushrooms.


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Re: Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

Post  shannon1 on 4/1/2012, 5:07 am

I still believe worm composting will be the way to go for you to make compost inside but it takes time, so more for future use when you need to add a scoop of compost after harvesting. For now try to find some free compost on freecycle, craigs list and at the ag. center. You can also see if there are any SFG's in the area that would be willing to split some with you. I mix mine in small batches on a tarp in the carpark irt does not take long and if you had to use a side walk even it would be done in no time. You may even be able to wrangle in some helpers:twisted: . It realy is worth the expence and work to do it up right at the very start, no kidding. and good growing!!!!!!!


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Re: Why 5 types of compost and not 4 or 6?

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