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Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

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Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Coelli on 4/30/2012, 4:29 pm

Hi everyone, I hope you can help. Smile

I'm totally new to SFG and to gardening outside, really. I have the older (2005) version of SFG and yesterday filled my first 4x4, 12" bed with the mix he outlines in the book, although after reading a couple of posts I found online from people in hot climates I swapped 3cf of compost for 3 of the peat moss. I'm on the north side of LA in the foothills of the Angeles forest. So my total mix was:

6cf compost
3cf peat moss
4cf vermiculite
3cf sand
plus the fertilizers and lime.

Here's where I think I may have gone wrong, and I would love some input! I used play sand, and 3cf worked out to be 6, 50# .5cf bags. The mix seems SO SANDY. Sandy enough that when I soaked the bed down yesterday after filling it, there were patches of sand across the top. I double-checked the book and the amount of sand seems correct, but...? I'm wondering if it's going to dry out too fast when our weather gets really hot?

Should I have used less sand, more compost? Was there a different type of sand I should have used? I am definitely not up for removing and remixing all of it (that was a big job!) but could probably manage part of it, at least the top half.

Thanks for any advice you might have!



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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  givvmistamps on 4/30/2012, 5:08 pm

Hi Coelli! Welcome to the forum!

I've read both the 2006 (All New Square Foot Gardening) and the 1981 (Square Foot Gardening) editions of Mel's books, and I don't remember anything about adding sand. Play sand is too course to use in any soil mix. The ANSFG book says to put 1/3 compost (using 5 different compost sources) 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 peat moss. The sand is going to make your mix drain much too quickly and reduce the water-saving capacity of the soil.

If you can't take it out and re-mix, the best thing to do would be to mix more in the correct manner, take out as much as you're willing to of the current mix, and top it with the 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite 1/3 peat moss mixture, then mix it all the best you can in the box to get the sand content down as low as possible. Your other, less expensive option would be to go with amending your mix with straight compost.

Mel recommends that people who can't afford or don't have access to vermiculite and peat moss use straight compost rather than adding anything else...although coconut coir is an alternative to peat moss and perlite can be used in place of vermiculite.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  efirvin on 4/30/2012, 6:15 pm

To my understanding Mel doesn't include sand or lime to Mel's Mix. I would recommend you try to increase your peat moss and compost and hopefully this will help to retain more moisture in your sfg.

Good luck and happy gardening!

Evelyn from zone 4

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Chopper on 4/30/2012, 6:17 pm

Where did you get that formula? I am curious.

Formula - 1/3 each:
vermiculite
peat
5 types of compost

No lime. no sand, no fertilizer although that isn't the worst thing.

Sand will make it heavy and not the light fluffy mixture you want. And no need for lime. That is for eastern dirt gardens that are usually very high acid. Here in So Cal acid is the least of our problems and with Mel's Mix not at all.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  camprn on 4/30/2012, 6:22 pm

No sand....Sand is not an ingredient in Mel's mix.... Did you use 5 different types of compost? Do you have the full version of the All New Square Foot Gardening book (2006) by Mel Bartholemew? This is not the version sold in the dollar stores.
I am curious what book you are using, can you post the ISBN Number, it is found with the bar code.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Chopper on 4/30/2012, 6:23 pm

Ah - did not see you were using the old book. Do yourself a huge favor and drop everything and go to the library or book store and get a copy of the All New Square Foot Gardening. That is our reference on this site and it will have you talking apples and apples with us.

Sorry you didn't know. The improvements (as engineers like Mel are wont to do) are tremendous and SO MUCH EASIER. It is well worth your time to see.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Coelli on 4/30/2012, 7:20 pm

Oh no! Yup, I had a feeling something wasn't right. This is what I get for reading Amazon reviews saying the older book was better, and ordering it rather than the new one!

I'll have to figure out what to do really fast (especially as I have seeds already soaking, and I work full time so time is short). Considering how much the initial mix cost I may go the cheaper route and pull out half and mix the remaining half with compost (and save the other half for a second bed). Or buy the pre-mixed stuff (it's SO expensive though - $12/1.3cf at Lowe's!) and replace the top half of the bed. Would love some thoughts about whether it would be okay to leave the bottom half sandy.

What a bummer! I guess it's better to find out now, though, than after planting...

I'm looking forward to reading back through the older threads when I get home from work! Thanks again!


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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Chopper on 4/30/2012, 7:24 pm

I think with what you have to work with that sounds like a decent compromise. I am shocked that the Amazon reviews said that! The new book is SOOOOOOOOO much easier! And better and easier to read.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Coelli on 4/30/2012, 8:36 pm

I just spoke to the other half and he's on board with building another bed, making the right mix, and splitting the current mix between the two beds and topping them with the right one. What a guy. Very Happy

Hopefully that works; the bottom will still be sandy, but only about 4" of it.

Thanks again!

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  camprn on 4/30/2012, 8:51 pm

OOOOH! That will be perfect!
If I may make a suggestion, go to the front page of the forum and in the upper left hand corner of the screen is the word HOVER. read the stuff that pops out! Lots of great info there. Also, if you can get your hands on the 2006 book, that will be a great help as well. Good luck!! you had a very good question and the timing was good!

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There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. ~ Henry David Thoreau

http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t1306-other-gardening-books

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  quiltbea on 4/30/2012, 9:34 pm

Maybe the book was referring to a square for growing carrots. Sand can be a good thing in that case, but in general, sand in the bed will drain your water, that's for sure.

Case in point: Our community garden is built over a former golf course. They built golf courses with a deep sand base to prevent weeds in their pristine grasses. To this day, even after years of composting, sowing winter rye each year and manuring, we still have to water our crops just about daily unless we get an inch of rain that particular day. The water drains thru the soil with amazing speed. Happily, we have been getting bountiful crops but it takes more work than necessary if the sand wasn't there in such abundance.

My recommendation would be to try to remove as much of that sand as you can.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Coelli on 4/30/2012, 10:49 pm

@quiltbea wrote:Maybe the book was referring to a square for growing carrots. Sand can be a good thing in that case, but in general, sand in the bed will drain your water, that's for sure.

Hi quiltbea!

The formula is for the entire bed, no mistake. On page 61 of this edition, he talks about preparing your own soil by digging out your square and amending it. Then he says, "If you want to create perfect soil for positively peak growth and don't mind doing some extra work, see 'How to Mix the Perfect Soil for the Perfect Garden' on page 62 for details."

That section on page 62 gives the approximate volumes you'll need for different bed depths, then gives the following for ingredients:

INGREDIENTS
----------------
Mix thoroughly:

1 bale of peat moss: 6 cu. ft.
1 large bag of coarse vermiculite: 4 cu. ft.
10 pails (2 1/2 gallon size) of sand: 3 cu. ft.
10 pails (2 1/2 gallon size) of compost: 3 cu. ft.
1 coffee can full of lime
1 coffee can full of organic fertilizers

Total volume of mixture: 16 cu. ft.

This amount will fill one garden block to a depth of 12 inches, or two blocks to a depth of 6 inches.

----------------

I followed all of this, but swapped 3 cu. ft. of peat moss for 3 cu. ft. of compost. What I wound up with is a big, sandy pile of soil. Sad

I stopped and got compost and vermiculite on the way home and will get peat moss tomorrow or the next day. It's unlikely we'll be able to build the new bed until this weekend at the soonest. In the meantime I'm going to try to salvage some of the seeds that have been soaking by transferring them to Jiffy pots. The radishes are a total loss already (man do they sprout fast!) and the carrots and onions will probably get tossed out. I'm still debating about the peas (I guess they're not good for SoCal summers anyway?). I popped the peppers and tomatoes in Jiffy pots this morning anyway. That leaves the marigolds, nasturtium, beets (I know it's late but wanted to try), chard, melons, and zucchini.

Oh well. Very Happy

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Turan on 4/30/2012, 11:45 pm

I like putting sand in my beds. The best soils in the world are usually sandy loam, that is what he is trying to mimic. I think that that is way too much sand though. I sometimes put a 60 pound bag on a 4X8 bed as top dressing, followed by some compost and then mixed in for the year. I suspect the lime is in that recipe to mellow the peat. If you are using native soils of the west in your bed you won't need it. Your cure sounds about right, spread it between 2 beds and add compost. I wouldn't add peet if I can help it, that stuff adds no nutrients and seems to be behind a lot of water woes I read on this site. But if peet is cheaper than compost use some of both. It is just filler.


I still like the old 1981 version better than the 2006. Shocked

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Coelli on 4/30/2012, 11:59 pm

@Turan wrote:I like putting sand in my beds. The best soils in the world are usually sandy loam, that is what he is trying to mimic. I think that that is way too much sand though. I sometimes put a 60 pound bag on a 4X8 bed as top dressing, followed by some compost and then mixed in for the year. I suspect the lime is in that recipe to mellow the peat. If you are using native soils of the west in your bed you won't need it. Your cure sounds about right, spread it between 2 beds and add compost. I wouldn't add peet if I can help it, that stuff adds no nutrients and seems to be behind a lot of water woes I read on this site. But if peet is cheaper than compost use some of both. It is just filler.


I still like the old 1981 version better than the 2006. Shocked

Haha yes, I kept hearing that in reviews, so I decided to get the older version that was available. Smile Does that version not have sand? My version doesn't have a "Mel's Mix" either - it just talks about how to make it. In fact, the thing that really decided me on getting the older version was feedback that the new one is very "commercial" and seems to be geared toward getting people to buy stuff. *shrug* Well, now I wound up buying twice the stuff! Razz

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Chopper on 5/1/2012, 12:29 am

I really take exception to your classifying peat as filler.

From this blog:
We learned that the peat and vermiculite help by holding in moisture
while still allowing for good drainage, oxygenating the soil and keeping
it loose and friable (crumbly). Think of a sponge. When you slowly add
water it reaches a point where it is full saturated. After that, if you
add any more water, it just runs out.


and from ANSFG:


This is not something that was thrown together to create more opportunity to market products. It was something an engineer came up with as an improvement to the original. That is what engineers do. They observe and improve. Add sand, but it is not needed and in my opinion, not a plus.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Turan on 5/1/2012, 12:34 am

@Coelli wrote:

Haha yes, I kept hearing that in reviews, so I decided to get the older version that was available. Smile Does that version not have sand? My version doesn't have a "Mel's Mix" either - it just talks about how to make it. In fact, the thing that really decided me on getting the older version was feedback that the new one is very "commercial" and seems to be geared toward getting people to buy stuff. *shrug* Well, now I wound up buying twice the stuff! Razz

There are no soil recipes just a good basic description of what soil is and the various kinds and how to amend them working towards the ideal. He is telling one to focus on one bed, and then plant it intensively, instead of a whole plot. That by focusing ones efforts one saves on all fronts. Basically he is teaching intensive raised bed/row gardening but in a way that is very easy to follow. That organizational simplification is the honey nugget of these books.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Turan on 5/1/2012, 12:59 am

@Chopper wrote:I really take exception to your classifying peat as filler.



This is not something that was thrown together to create more opportunity to market products. It was something an engineer came up with as an improvement to the original. That is what engineers do. They observe and improve. Add sand, but it is not needed and in my opinion, not a plus.

I do not mean to put down peat or ANSQF. There are many ways to garden and all have their pros and cons and best suitability for certain circumstance. I like the algebraic quality of SQF applied to horticulture and I like its organizing rigors.
Peat is a filler as is most soil parts, that is a useful part of the soil. In this case though, with too much sand and already a quantity of peat, compost will add both the moisture sponge and nutrients. Peat is basically a certain compost that has composted to such a point it has no nutrients left.
In my garden sand does the role of vermiculite/perlite in keeping the soil friable. It has the added advantage of being local, cheap, and I buy a bag every winter from the Boy Scouts as a weight for my pick up truck. In my circumstance it is a good additive, in yours it might be totally wrong. (Also there are personal reasons a Montanan might be suspicious of vermiculite)

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  givvmistamps on 5/1/2012, 1:55 am

I disagree that peat moss is just a filler, and that it isn't necessary to include this in amending the sandy mix the OP has. Peat moss is a natural/organic soil conditioner that helps absorb and maintain moisture levels while still holding healthy oxygen levels in the soil.

While it is difficult to get the peat moss saturated when first installing a new SFG, once it's been saturated it is extremely useful in maintaining moisture levels, particularly in sandy soil, because it does not decompose easily and therefore will be around to do the job Mel intended for a long time. Too much peat moss will indeed acidify the soil, but MM is designed such that the acidity in peat moss will be balanced by the other components. The following information will help to better understand why Mel chose it as 1/3 of his ideal mix:

This website http://www.peatmoss.com/pm-lawn.php on using peat moss to amend lawn soil says the following:
Peat moss:

  • Aerates plant roots by loosening heavy soil.
  • Adds body to sandy soil.
  • Saves water by absorbing and holding moisture.
  • Reduces leaching of nutrients present in or added to the soil, releasing them slowly over time.
If you're interested, Wickipedia gives a more detailed explanation on why peat moss might be useful here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sphagnum The following is a quote from that site that is pertinent to our discussion:
...Bogs are dependent on precipitation as their main source of nutrients, thus making them a favourable habitat for sphagnum as it can retain water and air quite well. Members of this genus can hold large quantities of water inside their cells; some species can hold up to 20 times their dry weight in water, which is why peat moss is commonly sold as a soil conditioner. The empty cells help retain water in drier conditions. In wetter conditions, the spaces contain air and help the moss float for photosynthetic purposes. Sphagnum and the peat formed from it do not decay readily because of the phenolic compounds embedded in the moss's cell walls. An additional reason is that the bogs in which Sphagnum grows are submerged, deoxygenated, and favor slower anaerobic decay rather than aerobic microbial action...

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  quiltbea on 5/1/2012, 11:51 am

@Coelli.......I just found an older version of Mel's book I bought thru Rodale Books and you are right about the ingredient list. I found it, too, on pg 62.

At the time I had just bought 5 yards of good garden loam so made up my own version of raised bed soil from watching an old 'Gardening Naturally' video by Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, by adding peat moss and lots of compost and some organic amendments like limestone, bloodmeal, greensand, bonemeal, rock phosphate. I'm afraid I was from the old school and happened to need actual soil in my beds. After reading your woes, now I'm glad I did. I've since improved it by adding lots of fresh compost a couple times a year.

In your place I would try to diminish the sand in those beds by digging lots of it out to put in other beds and replacing with good compost. I hope it works out for you.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Turan on 5/1/2012, 11:58 am

One of the joys of the SQF books is that you can use them as is, or delve back to see how Mel has put the horticultural variables into his formula. In this thread the variable is soil.

That is an interesting wiki article, a lot I did not know, and yes, I see how peat is a useful amendment into a soil. I have used it myself as part of the filler for a bed (after doing a potato tower with it). To be honest I noticed that that bed has cracking issues though not as much as the bed with coir in it; compost, soil, sand beds do not have this trouble. What I notice in this forum is that there is too much peat in MM. It behaves better as a growing medium the second year, after more compost has been added. From the spaghum article ~ "Peat moss can also acidify its surroundings by taking up cations such as calcium and magnesium and releasing hydrogen ions." That explains the mineral deficiencys that sometimes show up that are cured by some bonemeal/greensand and extra compost. I suspect if the compost part includes some high mineral composts like crab shell that that mellows the peat.

From wikipedia~

Loam is soil composed of sand, silt, and clay in relatively even concentration (about 40-40-20% concentration respectively).[1] Loam soils generally contain more nutrients and humus than sandy soils, have better drainage and infiltration of water and air than silty soils, and are easier to till than clay soils.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loam

Mel and potting soil mixes are imitating this using peat, sand, compost and perlite/vermiculite. Peat in potting soils has the added virtue of inhibiting fungal and bacterial growth, which is useful for seed starting but not so much for a living soil medium. Thus the 1/3+ compost in the beds.

In an earlier post I said that the original book does not have soil recipes, well I was wrong. I just did not remember nor find it when skimming. pg 62. The recipe makes 16cu.ft. and uses 3 cu.ft. of sand. That is 18% sand. The vermiculite portion is an added 25% and those together make the 40% part of sand in loam. Peat is another 37% and then compost. He is leaving out the clay part.

As per the original subject of this thread. I agree that peat will mellow the sand. It might be the easiest fix. But I would add compost, as much as I can. Compost is living and full of nutrients for life and is excellent at holding water.

Coelli, good luck and remember that life wants to grow. Ma Nature does her best to make it work some how or other. If you add nothing at all, plants will surely grow. Maybe just mulching heavily will do enough. Report back, obviously we are all very interested Smile

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Coelli on 5/1/2012, 12:06 pm

I will definitely post again, and I really appreciate the discussion! I've already learned a lot.

I think I'm going to leave the bottom layer as-is (with the 18% sand mixture) and top with the 3-component mixture and go from there. I had filled a cement mixing tub with the leftover sandy mix, planning to plant a zucchini in it, but I'll amend that one with compost. I expect when all is said and done there will be 4-5" of the old mix at the bottom of each bed and then 6-7" of the new mix on top. If nothing else, the box won't get wet feet when El Nino rolls around. Razz

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Coelli on 5/5/2012, 4:39 pm

Just a little update if anyone's interested!

I spent a bit of time last week trying to source a bunch of different composts and wasn't able to find too much in my limited free time. In the end I wound up with a pretty poor selection but decided I'm just going to go with it and see what happens.

In the new mix, for the compost I mixed 1 bale of N'Rich compost (which is supposed to be a blend of different composts, but man, it's woody, and I'm sure of dubious sources), 2 bags of chicken manure, 2 bags of steer manure, and 2 (big) bags of worm castings. Technically that's only 4 kinds, but since the N'Rich is blended I'm calling it good enough. Razz

When mixing with the peat and vermiculite I went a little heavier on the compost than the peat moss - about 60 compost/40 peat. People are not kidding about peat repelling water! When we built the new 4x4 and dug out the other, there were a few dry spots here and there where the peat didn't absorb anything, and I SOAKED that bed. That worries me a bit considering how hot summers here are.

This time I was careful with proportions and used a bucket to make smaller batches at a time. When I'd dump a batch in a bed, I'd soak it down, and then soak the other one again for good measure. After both were full I dug through them to make sure everything was saturated.

The beds now have about 4-5" of the old mix at the bottom and 5-6" of the new mix at the top. I wish I could fill the 12" beds another inch or so but my bank account is SCREAMING at the cost of this whole project so far, which got out of hand very quickly. Smile

My dogs LOVE the new beds and it's been a struggle to keep them out of them because they want the tasty treats in there (my younger guy delighted in rubbing himself all over the bags of steer manure, and chewed a hole in one when we weren't looking) - what IS it with dogs and poop? Razz My other guy can barely see over the tops of the beds but that doesn't stop him from trying. So fencing is also in order. Sad

Most of the peas I stuck in Jiffy pots have come up, in fact a couple are really thriving, but I'm going to start over rather than trying to harden them off. The Tigger melon seeds have one clear champion and I'm not sure whether to also toss that little guy and start over too. I'm not giving up on the peppers and tomatoes though - they take so long to sprout that I am not starting over and will stick with it! Sad

Now to build the trellises (we got all the conduit) and I think I'm also going to put up hoops to cover the whole thing with plastic to protect it from birds at first. We have a TON of birds around here, especially crows, and can't use our side yard very much right now because there's a mama bluejay with a baby in a nest in the hedge next to the walkway and we're trying not to disturb her more than necessary.

Thanks again for all of the advice! It was very much appreciated, and I'll keep muddling along and learning. Smile


Coelli

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Turan on 5/5/2012, 8:49 pm

Thanks for the update! Good to hear you are to a place you can plant now.
How is the temperatures now? Plastic covering will create a greenhouse effect and might bake stuff. How about a mesh of some sort? THat Ross bird netting maybe? Some here use tulle or cheese cloth a lot.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Coelli on 5/6/2012, 3:01 am

It's been really warm! And will be even warmer next week (high 80's on Tuesday). I was more concerned about the loss of moisture because of the warm weather and hoping the plastic, vented at the corners, would help keep the soil from drying out while I'm at work. I wonder if a white sheet or shade cloth would be better for the germination stage?

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

Post  Chopper on 5/6/2012, 4:55 pm

I would get bird netting too. Otherwise, like you said, too hot. I found I only needed it for the strawberries.

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Re: Before I plant.. did I make a mistake?!

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