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Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

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Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  ArmyWife on 8/10/2012, 10:07 am

Good morning!

I am new to Colorado, so I don't yet have any experience with SFG in this area, which is Zone 3 or 4. I used the method for two years previously in New Mexico with raised beds that had solid bottoms. I recently inherited 9 black plastic 3' x 3' raised beds like what Gardener's Supply sells. Those do not have bottoms, just sides.

I've read the SFG book and thought I was ready to get a few beds ready to plant asparagus, garlic and rhubarb. However, a local Master Gardener tells me that I have to double dig the ground where I'll place my raised beds and mix in some of the native soil or my garden will fail. This goes against everything I know about SFG!

She said I have to do this digging and mixing is because the native soil is very sandy and I will have drainage problems in the raised beds if I don't. If the beds had solid bottoms, this would not be an issue. She also said that adding native soil is crucial because of the organisims in it that are abscent from a soilless mix.

I'd planned on using landscape fabric under the beds to keep the grass that already growing on the site from invading my beds. Then I was just going to fill my beds with Mel's Mix and start growing. This Master Gardener is making me doubt the effectiveness of SFG.

Does anyone here have any thoughts on the matter? Have you placed raised beds on top of sandy native soil without double digging and mixing native soil in? How has that worked with respects to drainage and overall garden success?

Many, many thanks!

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  littlesapphire on 8/10/2012, 10:20 am

Welcome to the forum! I'm really glad that you came here to ask your question, because this forum is full of SFG veterans with tons of experience, and I'm sure there will be lots of people who want to help you out.

I don't have any experience with sandy soil, I'm sorry to say. Instead, my soil is clayey like you wouldn't believe. Instead of draining too quickly, it stays soggy for weeks. But I can tell you that just because my Mel's Mix is on a slow draining soil doesn't mean that my SFG boxes are slow draining. The vermiculite, peat moss and compost are perfect at both draining and holding moisture, if that makes sense. It's like a sponge. It drains excess water but still stays moist.

Do not, ever, put native soil or any soil into your Mel's Mix. The mix is perfectly made for intensive gardening. Your native soil can't handle the demands you'll be putting on it. The master gardener was righht when she said the mix won't have the microscopic organisms essential to gardening if you make the mix out of commercial compost. However, that's only temporary. The microbes will come. They'll come even faster if you use home made compost! Plus I've see in seed catalogs that you can actually buy a powdered form of some of these little creatures to get the Mel's mix off to a good start. But I wouldn't worry about it, honesly. Just go by the book and youll be doing better than a lot of gardeners. With a lot less work.

One more thing... I would actually plant your rhubarb outside of your SFG. I've heard that those things are huge and can quickly take over your garden!

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  CapeCoddess on 8/10/2012, 10:48 am

I have sandy soil. I used cardboard on my grass under my boxes and have experienced zero drainage problems.

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  RoOsTeR on 8/10/2012, 11:37 am

@ArmyWife wrote:Good morning!

I am new to Colorado, so I don't yet have any experience with SFG in this area, which is Zone 3 or 4. I used the method for two years previously in New Mexico with raised beds that had solid bottoms. I recently inherited 9 black plastic 3' x 3' raised beds like what Gardener's Supply sells. Those do not have bottoms, just sides.

I've read the SFG book and thought I was ready to get a few beds ready to plant asparagus, garlic and rhubarb. However, a local Master Gardener tells me that I have to double dig the ground where I'll place my raised beds and mix in some of the native soil or my garden will fail. This goes against everything I know about SFG!

She said I have to do this digging and mixing is because the native soil is very sandy and I will have drainage problems in the raised beds if I don't. If the beds had solid bottoms, this would not be an issue. She also said that adding native soil is crucial because of the organisims in it that are abscent from a soilless mix.

I'd planned on using landscape fabric under the beds to keep the grass that already growing on the site from invading my beds. Then I was just going to fill my beds with Mel's Mix and start growing. This Master Gardener is making me doubt the effectiveness of SFG.

Does anyone here have any thoughts on the matter? Have you placed raised beds on top of sandy native soil without double digging and mixing native soil in? How has that worked with respects to drainage and overall garden success?

Many, many thanks!

Which SFG book did you read? Is it the All New Square Foot Gardening book?
http://www.squarefootgardening.com/books/all-new-square-foot-gardening/
I hate to disagree with a "Master" gardener, but they are absolutely wrong about having to double dig and use native soil. Part of the ANSFG method is debunking all these stereo typical methods of gardening. This is an intensive method of gardening with proven results! Follow the newest SFG book and it's methods and you'll be just fine.

And welcome to the forum

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  ArmyWife on 8/10/2012, 11:51 am

Thank you all for confirming what my gut was telling me! I have the new edition of the SFG book and thought that the beauty of this system is that it doesn't matter what kind of native soil you have, since it has nothing to do with the raised beds.

As a side note, the master gardener also told me that the correct filler for raised beds is a blend of topsoil, native soil and some "sheep and peat" which is a bagged compost mix of some sort. She said that peat moss and vermiculite will just blow away in the winds we get here. I should have known she isn't aware of what true square foot gardening is all about.

I'm going to go ahead and set up my beds with the landscape fabric on the bottom to keep the grass from coming up through, fill them with Mel's Mix and get my asparagus and all started.

Again, thank you!



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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  Turan on 8/10/2012, 11:52 am

Follow her advice in preparing a place for the asparagus and rhubarb. They are perennials that love deep sandy soil with lots of compost mixed in it and they do not hold to the restraint of SFG.

Use what you were planning for your annual vegetables and a strawberry bed.

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  RoOsTeR on 8/10/2012, 11:54 am

Go with your gut feeling on this one Wink

For extra protection, you could also lay down some cardboard and layer in some newspaper.

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  RoOsTeR on 8/10/2012, 11:56 am

@Turan wrote:Follow her advice in preparing a place for the asparagus and rhubarb. They are perennials that love deep sandy soil with lots of compost mixed in it and they do not hold to the restraint of SFG.

Use what you were planning for your annual vegetables and a strawberry bed.

I disagree.

Here's what Mel says on the website:

Q: Can you grow asparagus in a SFG ?
A: Yes, asparagus can be easily grown in a square foot garden.
Because it is a perennial and takes several years to even get started before the first harvest and since people like a lot of asparagus and it only produces one crop a year, we suggest you assign or plant an entire 4x4 in only asparagus. Have you ever grown it before? The plants get very bushy throughout the summer and need quite a bit of room to spread out so leave good aisle space around it. (After you have harvested the asparagus, consider using the feathery leaves as filler in flower arrangements.)
Traditionally, you plant one per square foot, but I've found that if you can afford enough of the roots, four per square foot will produce a much bigger crop earlier and I think you know the conventional way of planting them is to put about half or 3 inches of your Mel's Mix down, determine your spacing, make little mounds of Mel's Mix at each plant location and then you drape the roots, which you buy in the nursery or through mail order, over each one of those little mounds and then pour in the rest of the 3 inches of Mel's Mix. That would cover the roots an inch or two and that is about all you have to do.
On all the rest of your square foot garden, remember we advocate a different crop in every square foot and that has as many different advantages as explained in the "What Is SFG?" and "How to SFG".
Mel B.

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  Turan on 8/10/2012, 12:05 pm

@RoOsTeR wrote:
@Turan wrote:Follow her advice in preparing a place for the asparagus and rhubarb. They are perennials that love deep sandy soil with lots of compost mixed in it and they do not hold to the restraint of SFG.

Use what you were planning for your annual vegetables and a strawberry bed.

I disagree.

Why?

A double dug bed of amended sandy soil is prefect for those large deep rooted perennials. They would over whelm and be frustrating in a SFG. Instead focus the raised bed, barrier, MM for the plants that will be best pleased with that. It is not a bad thing to be adaptable and recognize the differences between plant growths.

Are you growing asparagus or rhubarb in a SFG with weed barrier?

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  Turan on 8/10/2012, 12:21 pm

Thanks for the clarification, Rooster.

Before I put that much effort into that set up I would want to know if any one has success growing asparagus in such shallow conditions in zone 3/4? I killed one batch of asparagus roots by planting them too shallowly. The ones that do best for me are in rather rocky sandy soil double dug with a load of manure added.

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  RoOsTeR on 8/10/2012, 12:43 pm

Turan, I have no doubts you're a great and very knowledgeable gardener, and other methods do in fact work extremely well. Some better than others. But if a person is questioning the capabilities of the method and Mel's Mix, I feel it's part of my duty to cut down on some of the confusion and let folks know that in fact the methods involved do work. This is especially important for beginners who don't have a lot of gardening experience. Part of Mel's theory is to make things as simple as possible.

You're a great gardener and valued member Turan. Please know I mean you no disrespect.


Last edited by RoOsTeR on 8/10/2012, 2:19 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  CharlesB on 8/10/2012, 12:59 pm

I agree with the others, put down cardboard, start your boxes with Mel's Mix and you are off.

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  CapeCoddess on 8/10/2012, 1:01 pm

I also have extremely windy conditions, sometimes 30+ mph on a regular day, up to 45+ on a windy day. Don't even want to discuss stormy days. None of my MM has ever blown away...well, maybe when I was mixing it on the tarp it tried to, along with the tarp. Whatta hoot that was. But once I started wetting it while mixing it, it stayed put & mixed up properly. I also wet it while I was adding it to the boxes and it pretty much stays moist. Nothing blows out of my boxes, altho I do have 3-6 inch rims on my raised boxes.

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  Turan on 8/10/2012, 2:26 pm

@RoOsTeR wrote:Turan, I have no doubts you're a great and very knowledgeable gardener, and other methods do in fact work extremely well. Some better than others. But if a person is questioning the capabilities of the method and Mel's Mix, I feel it's part of my duty to cut down on some of the confusion and let folks know that in fact the methods involved do work. This is especially important for beginners who don't have a lot of gardening experience. Part of Mel's theory is to make things as simple as possible.

You're a great gardener and valued member Turan. Please know I mean you no disrespect. I've learned lots from you here on the forum

Rooster, I respect your duty and the purpose of this forum. I thanked you for your clarification. I don't know if that was part of your original post to me? If so if did not appear for me, I some times do not have the band width for pictures either which is really annoying.

I would not have posted at all except the original post is from some one who had experience with SFG but was now in a new area. The Master gardener is supposedly knowledgeable about their area even if not so much about SFG. So after some mulling I guessed that the Master gardener was really addressing the growing of asparagus and rhubarb in a bed with a fairly impenetrable bottom that is fairly shallow. The points about drainage and sandy soil doesn't make sense if poor drainage was meant, it maybe makes sense if excessive drainage is meant? If the latter then this might be a situation where a sunken SFG would actually be ideal, which is remarkably like a double dug bed..... but I thought that was too much commentary by me so I deleted most of my post and simplified it.

You can get away with a raised bed with MM most anywhere IF you are raising annual vegetables. But would I be being honest if I did not note that shallow planted asparagus in my cold zone 4 with lots of wind freezes out when the question is from some one with what sounds like a similar climate?

I learn a lot in this forum, from those with out experience and by those with lots more than I have. It all causes me to challenge my assumptions.

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  ArmyWife on 8/10/2012, 2:46 pm

This certainly got interesting!

I'm going to try the asparagus and all in the raised beds. Otherwise, I have to rent a rototiller for all the digging. I'm building large beds for these perennials (4x12) that are 10" deep. I also have 9 3'x3'x10" plastic beds that were given to me by somebody who said SFG was "too much trouble".

I happen to have about a ton of cardboard and paper on hand, since we literally just moved here and I am up to my eyes in moving boxes and packing paper. I might as well make good use of it in the bottom of the raised beds.

You may think I'm off my rocker when I tell you this, but I moved a bunch of my Mel's Mix here from New Mexico. I shoveled it into big (clean) trash cans, loaded the cans into my truck and drove it up here. I spent the last two years amending this mix with the best homemade compost ever. It's so good I could probably put a dry stick into it and it would sprout. My husband thinks I'm crazy to move "dirt" and he will never let me live it down!


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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  CapeCoddess on 8/10/2012, 3:13 pm

AW, I have both 10" & 12" sides on my beds, with about 6"+ of MM in them. Helps protect the young plants from the wind I think. The older ones are on their own. Laughing

I think it's so lucky that you got all those beds given to you. How cool is that??? No measuring, sawing or drilling, and all that crazy stuff.

Will you be able to show us photos of your progress?

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  RoOsTeR on 8/10/2012, 3:52 pm

You may think I'm off my rocker when I tell you this, but I moved a bunch of my Mel's Mix here from New Mexico. I shoveled it into big (clean) trash cans, loaded the cans into my truck and drove it up here. I spent the last two years amending this mix with the best homemade compost ever. It's so good I could probably put a dry stick into it and it would sprout. My husband thinks I'm crazy to move "dirt" and he will never let me live it down!

I would have done the same

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  littlesapphire on 8/10/2012, 4:30 pm

@RoOsTeR wrote:
You may think I'm off my rocker when I tell you this, but I moved a bunch of my Mel's Mix here from New Mexico. I shoveled it into big (clean) trash cans, loaded the cans into my truck and drove it up here. I spent the last two years amending this mix with the best homemade compost ever. It's so good I could probably put a dry stick into it and it would sprout. My husband thinks I'm crazy to move "dirt" and he will never let me live it down!

I would have done the same

Me too!

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  cheyannarach on 8/10/2012, 5:51 pm

@littlesapphire wrote:
@RoOsTeR wrote:
You may think I'm off my rocker when I tell you this, but I moved a bunch of my Mel's Mix here from New Mexico. I shoveled it into big (clean) trash cans, loaded the cans into my truck and drove it up here. I spent the last two years amending this mix with the best homemade compost ever. It's so good I could probably put a dry stick into it and it would sprout. My husband thinks I'm crazy to move "dirt" and he will never let me live it down!

I would have done the same

Me too!

Me three!

I wish I knew someone who would give me all those boxes! That's awesome! I have never grown asparagus but my father in law does and my hubby wants to start next year. I am putting it way down the hill behind the house. It gets huge and ugly Shocked , lol, but tastes sooo great! Would love to see pictures, happy planting!

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  ArmyWife on 8/10/2012, 6:43 pm

I'm going to tell my husband that it's not so crazy after all to move "dirt". HA!

I'll start taking photos of the garden as I go along. This is a very exciting time for me. Being a military family, we've moved every four years or so. But now the hubster is retiring and we bought a ten acre horse property. I can actually plant things like asparagus and be around to enjoy eating them! WooHoo!


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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  littlejo on 8/10/2012, 6:45 pm

I have my asparagus in a 4 x 8 , SFG, and it does great. It is 12 in deep, but is only in about 6 in. of mm. I don't know if it grows thru the weed cloth and cardboard or not, x ray vision is broke. Mine is that deep to allow for mulch,, but, more to keep the mm from washing away with the tropical rains we get here.

I just have to jump in and say that, if I have to move, one of the 'first things' that goes on the truck, will be the mm and compost, garden beds, etc. It's to expensive to start over, it's a major investment!
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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  cheyannarach on 8/10/2012, 7:04 pm

@ArmyWife wrote:I'm going to tell my husband that it's not so crazy after all to move "dirt". HA!

I'll start taking photos of the garden as I go along. This is a very exciting time for me. Being a military family, we've moved every four years or so. But now the hubster is retiring and we bought a ten acre horse property. I can actually plant things like asparagus and be around to enjoy eating them! WooHoo!


Oh wow, that's soooo exciting! Congrats! My hubby thinks I am crazy because I talk to plants, so I jumped on here asked if anybody else does it too and showed him the responses of all the people that also talk to plants. Hubby still thinks I'm crazy Razz

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  CindiLou on 8/11/2012, 9:37 pm

First, as a Master Gardener, let me defend what she was told. We are taught what we give for advice. We are not allowed to recommend SFG. We CAN say that is what we use! We can give ADVICE on what is common practice in our area. We have rules we have to follow. If the MG was not used to SFG then they could not discuss the pros and cons of it. Remember, the MG program is developed by commercial farming backgrounds.

I, personally have asparagus started this year in a 4x4 bed with a weed barrier. It grew just fine. The roots will go right through the weed cloth or go sideways, somewhere on the forum there is a picture of a sideways growing carrot! Neat! I liked the idea of the sfg bed due to weeding issues rofl

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  Unmutual on 8/12/2012, 10:12 pm

@CindiLou wrote:First, as a Master Gardener, let me defend what she was told. We are taught what we give for advice. We are not allowed to recommend SFG. We CAN say that is what we use! We can give ADVICE on what is common practice in our area. We have rules we have to follow. If the MG was not used to SFG then they could not discuss the pros and cons of it. Remember, the MG program is developed by commercial farming backgrounds.

We can talk about SFG in Louisiana, we just can't talk about products such as the book. We also learned about SFG in our initial training, and my group did a presentation on it(it was one of the options). Our MG organization has even given classes on SFG.

@ArmyWife wrote:Good morning!

I've read the SFG book and thought I was ready to get a few beds ready to plant asparagus, garlic and rhubarb. However, a local Master Gardener tells me that I have to double dig the ground where I'll place my raised beds and mix in some of the native soil or my garden will fail. This goes against everything I know about SFG!

She said I have to do this digging and mixing is because the native soil is very sandy and I will have drainage problems in the raised beds if I don't. If the beds had solid bottoms, this would not be an issue. She also said that adding native soil is crucial because of the organisims in it that are abscent from a soilless mix.

Does anyone here have any thoughts on the matter? Have you placed raised beds on top of sandy native soil without double digging and mixing native soil in? How has that worked with respects to drainage and overall garden success?

Many, many thanks!

That doesn't quite make sense to begin with. If the soil is sandy, then you should have absolutely no drainage issues. My soil is sandy and I've never had issues.

Double digging destroys the soil ecology just by its action of breaking the ground, but it will better aerate the soil for its later ecological growth assuming the ground was compacted to begin with.

All you really have to do is wait until you get a good rainstorm and see how long it takes standing water to drain away. I think the magic number is 4 hours or less, but my internet is acting up so I can't double check that.

As for microorganisms, compost has a bunch unless it's been sterilized. But don't worry too much, your SFG will improve with age as it stabilizes and all different kinds of life begin to multiply in the mix.

While my climate isn't like yours, like I said, my soil is sandy with hard pan clay about 1.5ft below that. My house is also 1 foot below sea level, so the water table is pretty high. I've put SFG beds in low-laying spots just to soak up rain water that would have run off my property. I've never intentionally mixed in native soil to my MM, but earth worms and large root crops seem to have done a pretty good job in the lower levels.

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

Post  snibb on 8/13/2012, 10:12 am

I think this is a great example of why you don't need to be a master gardener to have a spectacular garden. As the poster states, the master gardener has been trained in the old, tradition practices and techniques of farming. That's good, and we need that. But we are home-gardeners which is a lot different. This was one of the things that drove Mel crazy when he first invented the SFG method. He started asking certain questions, like why do we do this, that or the other? All he got was "because that's the way we've always done it." SFG is so simple. Just stick to the few rules that exist and that are explained in the ANSFG book and you will do fine. This picture is of asparagus at the end of the first year of being grown from seed(maybe 5 months?). There is no weed cloth underneath, it was not double-dug, it's barely more than 6" deep with Mel's mix, I've never tested the soil, and it's as easy as that. You can imagine how this has completely filled in now after 8 years. Build your box, put it on soil, add Mel's mix, put a grid on, know the spacing, and start planting. Keep it moist and you will have tons of success with whatever you want to grow. Keep it simple.

snibb

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Re: Need clarification on advice from a Master Gardener

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