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Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

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Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Ann Dee on 8/12/2012, 4:13 am

I have searched this site and still haven't found the cheaper, 3rd world friendly alternatives to vermiculite. In other methods of Intensive Gardening like Bountiful Gardens in Willits, California, they promote growing what they call "calorie crops" which yield the starchy vegetables and then after harvest, they provide cellulose heavy dry products like corn stalks which are broken up and reintroduced into the soil for aeration, support of healthy organisms, loosening the soil and a slower compost-like benefit. I am not representing it as well as I should. My background in gardening is quite diverse which started with info from Rodale. If there is any interest, I am willing to provide links to the other successful methods that seem compatible. There are good agencies in the world that are doing work comparable to SFG yet more cost efficient like: http://eli-africa.org/about-us/

I took a break from gardening while in transition and have been purchasing my produce from a CSA/local farm. I am currently restarting a home garden in portable boxes 18" x 18", in a manner that I hope to model for local Moms in a housing project. I am holding back and not buying vermiculite even though I personally like it. My best price here through Emigh Hardware (an Ace Hardware store) is $30 for 3 cubic feet. I can not promote this expensive purchase and especially since the supply is diminishing. I found bricks of Coir/acrylic polymer mix from Greenhouse Gardening (online). They advertised it as Coir/Peat mix. It cost $25 for 4 cubic feet (5 bricks, each yielding 2.5 gallons). I raise worms using the 'Can of Worms' which cost about $100 and my start up worms cost about $50. It yields liquid fertilizer and now has castings for my new soil.

I would like to see this blog about Mel's mix show the alternatives that are most cost effective and 3rd world friendly. Very Happy

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  walshevak on 8/12/2012, 6:31 am

Have you checked out the foundation's website. In it is the 3rd world objectives for squarefoot (squaremeter) gardening. It also talks about using 100% compost in areas where vermiculite and peat are not available.

coir and perlite have always been acceptable substitutes for peat and vermiculite. They are just not the optimal blend.

http://www.squarefootgardening.org/

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LET'S WORK TOGETHER TO CHART ALTERNATIVES TO VERMICULITE AND PEAT MOSS

Post  camprn on 8/12/2012, 8:31 am

@Ann Dee wrote:

I would like to see this blog about Mel's mix show the alternatives that are most cost effective and 3rd world friendly. Very Happy
Vermiculite or perlite are used to get a jumpstart on the whole gardening process. As written in the ANSFG book, folks can forego V or P and use just compost. Compost, as you mention above, is the key.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  RoOsTeR on 8/12/2012, 11:29 am

Mel spent years perfecting a system that works and is easy for beginning gardeners. Each step and ingredient serves a particular and proven purpose. Mel has also given alternatives in his book: All New Square Foot Gardening
for those in 3rd world countries who don't have access to things like peat moss and vermiculite. As walshevak and camprn have mentioned, 100% compost is an acceptable alternative if need be.
If you have alternatives to the method, with proven results, I'm sure Mel and the foundation would love to hear from you! Here's a link to Mel's blog: http://www.melbartholomew.com/ I'm sure he would be happy to explain the purpose and reasoning behind each of the ingredients used in Mel's Mix.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Turan on 8/12/2012, 1:26 pm

I think you are describing SFG with not buying anything done on balconies?

The cost problems in America seem to be more of trying to avoid too much peat rather than have trouble finding it. But still that is buying stuff and I assume you are looking for scroungable alternatives. In that case you need to start with compost, as was mentioned earlier. You can compost and worm farming using paper and kitchen stuffs etc. For the vermiculite you can use sand, probably only 1/4th though. It won't help hold water and it is not as light a mix but it keeps aeration and friability. Just leave out the peat, as was mentioned earlier.

Is urban chicken raising at all part of the inner city? Because 2 hens coupled with kitchen stuffs and paper would make excellent compost for rubbertote sized (I am guessing that is your 18X18") gardens. And the eggs would be good too. You do not have to buy a lot of chicken food, use old bread/ left overs/ greens/ dairy/ get on the good side of the green grocer or a McDs for stuff they throw out.

A couple hens and rabbits raised on balconies is not as strange as we think. My grandmother remembers that from Germany and a Turkish friend does that in Istanbul now. Buying specialized feeds is new thing, not always needed to do just fine.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  camprn on 8/12/2012, 1:38 pm

Sand and vermiculite are NOT the same thing. Sand will not hold water nor nutrients nor assist with ion exchange. I would recommend avoiding sand in the SFG.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Turan on 8/12/2012, 1:46 pm

@camprn wrote:Sand and vermiculite are NOT the same thing. Sand will not hold water nor nutrients nor assist with ion exchange. I would recommend avoiding sand in the SFG.

I realize that. Look at the whole of what I was trying to address. If you are trying to make as close to MM as you can with out buying anything V & P are out. Sand can be found for free and it will do some functions that are useful for an other wise all compost soil, it lets in air and keeps it friable.

I might be totally misreading the original posts intent.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  RoOsTeR on 8/12/2012, 1:50 pm

As stated in the posts above, if the OP is looking for a viable option, Mel has given them one by using 100% compost.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  floyd1440 on 8/12/2012, 7:30 pm

I understand your frustration with vermiculite but peat moss is both readily available and cheap. Found my best price for vermiculite at Agway; still $21per 4cu ft. Both are a one time investment and compost is the key to SFGing going forward.

As mentioned by others you could go with 100% but how many cubic feet do you need?

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  rowena___. on 8/12/2012, 7:44 pm

i personally am concerned about the environmental impact of peat moss harvesting, as well as being very concerned about the impact of the mining of mica/vermiculite. for these reasons it does in fact trouble me to recommend these ingredients for use in a garden, even though it is clear that they have value. for this reason, i counsel any clients who express similar concerns to do as the foundation teaches in the third world, which is straight compost. this is a very good "compromise", in fact i consider it a superior option. after all, mother nature doesn't apply amendments of any sort--she lets things pile up and then lets her "children" turn them into humus, AKA finished compost.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  floyd1440 on 8/12/2012, 8:45 pm

i personally am concerned about the environmental impact of peat moss harvesting, as well as being very concerned about the impact of the mining of mica/vermiculite.
Unfortunately I don't think that my small use of these products, none I have used in my 60 years, so I found no regret in using these products in small quantities. As I mentioned earlier the majority of my SFG is home made compost which is recycling and enviromentally sensitive.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  LittleGardener on 8/13/2012, 3:01 am

@rowena___. wrote:i personally am concerned about the environmental impact of peat moss harvesting, as well as being very concerned about the impact of the mining of mica/vermiculite. for these reasons it does in fact trouble me to recommend these ingredients for use in a garden, even though it is clear that they have value. for this reason, i counsel any clients who express similar concerns to do as the foundation teaches in the third world, which is straight compost. this is a very good "compromise", in fact i consider it a superior option. after all, mother nature doesn't apply amendments of any sort--she lets things pile up and then lets her "children" turn them into humus, AKA finished compost.
Wow, was under the impression we were not allowed to express such opinions here,
so Thank Smile you for saying it, as that is also how I think about this matter. - Nice to know others here also have such thoughts.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  CharlesB on 8/13/2012, 6:38 am

Good thread.

Saying to someone, "use straight compost" doesn't do them any good if they have to spend two years making their own compost before they get enough to fill all their boxes. It is still making an assumption there is a gardening infrastructure in place to provide for the purchase of compost.

Most of the people on Earth don't have the mining infrastructure in place to get them Vermiculite and Peat Moss. If they don't have the infrastructure for that they likely don't have the infrastructure for loads of compost.

SFG book takes a U.S. centric view and there is nothing wrong with that. It is where most of the waste and excess is occurring. So people need the method.

I think the OP is getting people to think about what methods and crops one can use to basically grow your own soil amendments. Or use items to add to the soil that one can gather for free that are readily available in most locations.


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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  RoOsTeR on 8/13/2012, 7:19 am

@LittleGardener wrote:
@rowena___. wrote:i personally am concerned about the environmental impact of peat moss harvesting, as well as being very concerned about the impact of the mining of mica/vermiculite. for these reasons it does in fact trouble me to recommend these ingredients for use in a garden, even though it is clear that they have value. for this reason, i counsel any clients who express similar concerns to do as the foundation teaches in the third world, which is straight compost. this is a very good "compromise", in fact i consider it a superior option. after all, mother nature doesn't apply amendments of any sort--she lets things pile up and then lets her "children" turn them into humus, AKA finished compost.
Wow, was under the impression we were not allowed to express such opinions here,
so Thank Smile you for saying it, as that is also how I think about this matter. - Nice to know others here also have such thoughts.

Littlegardener, there are proper ways of expressing opinions without sounding to/so "opinionated" ( Very Happy ) or intrusive.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  landarch on 8/13/2012, 9:36 am

I am lucky to live in Kansas and have access to some really great sandy loam soil. My SFG beds have settled nearly 50% since spring and what I thought was a relatively large compost pile may not be enough to replenish the beds after all...may have to add some really good native soil to get me through.

I've always been warned about trying to amend soil with sand. In nature, sandy loam is the best stuff around, however, if there is any clay present, adding sand can turn soil hard as concrete, having the opposite affect as one would think.

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Coconut coir

Post  sfgteachers on 8/13/2012, 9:40 am

Heres a good article from USU extension service about coconut coir as a substitute for peat. http://www.usu.edu/cpl/PDF/CoconutCoirPaper.pdf

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  littlesapphire on 8/13/2012, 9:47 am

Landarch, have you checked how deep your MM goes? I ask this because I have a similar problem with my boxes settling a lot. But upon further inspection, it turns out the soil below my boxes have also settled, so my MM now rests partially below where the boards start. So even though it looks like I only have four inches of MM, in truth I have another inch or two below the wooden boards. Also, MM just settles! Give it a good fluff in the spring and it'll be good to go. I wouldn't add soil to my mix if someone paid me to.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  southern gardener on 8/13/2012, 9:59 am

@CharlesB wrote:Good thread.

Saying to someone, "use straight compost" doesn't do them any good if they have to spend two years making their own compost before they get enough to fill all their boxes. It is still making an assumption there is a gardening infrastructure in place to provide for the purchase of compost.

Most of the people on Earth don't have the mining infrastructure in place to get them Vermiculite and Peat Moss. If they don't have the infrastructure for that they likely don't have the infrastructure for loads of compost.

SFG book takes a U.S. centric view and there is nothing wrong with that. It is where most of the waste and excess is occurring. So people need the method.

I think the OP is getting people to think about what methods and crops one can use to basically grow your own soil amendments. Or use items to add to the soil that one can gather for free that are readily available in most locations.


I agree about the compost quantities. We have several hundred SF, and it takes a LONG time to make enough to top off all the beds. I have attempted to SFG in straight compost. It works well, but BOY it dries out FAST! On hot days my areas were drying out in 1/2 a day. That's not gonna work! Good Topic

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  landarch on 8/13/2012, 11:30 am

@littlesapphire - my existing soil hasn't settled as far as I can tell. Logically, I am seeing the most settling in my deepest boxes.

Not to step on anyone's toes, but our native sandy loam has all the characteristics that Mels Mix tries to re-create (good drainage, organic content, etc.). It's like having an original painting compared to a print.

This year, my plants have done better in my non-Mels Mix beds. The native clay loam held more moisture and I think that was important with our drought, 107 degree temps for a couple weeks, high night time temps, and drying winds. I will continue to experiment. I currently have the equivalent of eight 4x4 boxes. Two have clay loam amended with composted bur oak leaves, lawn clippings, and coffee grounds. Two have native clay loam amended with left over Mels Mix. Four have Mels Mix per the book. I am planning on topping off my clay loam boxes with native sandy loam (not "contaminating" my Mels Mix) and see how the fall garden responds.


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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  donnainzone5 on 8/13/2012, 12:19 pm

Belinda,

I read the USU study and plan to share it with a local nursery that favors coir over peat. The results were quite convincing!

In fact, one of the managers there initially appeared to be somewhat hostile toward SFG, but the last time I was there, she inquired about the advantage of the method. I briefly explained.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  No_Such_Reality on 8/13/2012, 2:18 pm

@RoOsTeR wrote:As stated in the posts above, if the OP is looking for a viable option, Mel has given them one by using 100% compost.

100% compost should do great. Whenever I have open tubs of finished or finishing compost, I can't keep things from growing in it. Every seed, uncooked seed or whatever is blowing in the wind seems to instantly spring to action.

100% store bought compost is garbage and will probably be 75% wood chips and peat anyway unless you buy the expensive stuff or stinky stuff. Plus you need to stay on your toes to avoid bio-solids which can hide under innocent names like 'compost'. That said, the stuff they've tested for, bio-solids are completely safe. But I don't think they test for everything.

As for lack of infrastructure in the 3rd world, they lack the infrastructure to buy the stuff, which is mostly junk anyway, but they probably have access to the basics for a fast compost anyway. All you need is straw or leaves and animal manure. Cow, goat, sheep, chicken, donkey. That's the good stuff and we in the industrial world are sadly lacking in it.



Last edited by RoOsTeR on 8/13/2012, 6:30 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : language)

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  floyd1440 on 8/13/2012, 8:28 pm

I would suggest we move past our different opinions on how much we, SFGers, are adversely effecting the enviroment and move to sharing ideas as been the backbone of this forum. I am attempting to create my first successful batch of home made compost........


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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  Daniel9999 on 8/20/2012, 10:44 pm

The problem is that its not simply a matter of substiting peat/vermiculite for something cheaper .....because while many substances can perform similar functions to either none of the alternatives perform exactlly like them.

Turan mentioned sand for instance...sand does provide areation and drainage like vermculite does but it does so differently than vemculite because sand particles are much smaller.

1/3 sand in a mix is likely too much drainage and you risk having your nutrients washed out.

Could you come up with your own formula that works just as good as MM...possibly. If you had a few thousand dollars and hundreds of hours of free time plus a few years to grow a couple of trial seasons with all the possible ingredient combinations and ratios...which is exactally what Mel did by the way.

Do you have all that available to you in a third world situation? Probally not.

Is it a good idea to experiment with something that's is probally going to be a major source of food to an desperately poor family anyway? No.

Stick with something that's you know will work.






Keep in mind that you don't usually have eithet

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What about homemade peat moss?

Post  Damon on 8/29/2012, 11:16 am

What about this: Use sand for a vermiculite replacement; use shredded leaves for a peat moss replacement?

If you have the time, check out the Homemade Peat Moss videos over on my YouTube Channel.

The good thing about this approach is that it doesn't take two years. Just shred lots of leaves during the autumn and use them directly in the garden. They'll do just as well.

I read John Jeavons' book as well, and I use his methods a lot. I don't do the whole double digging thing because my back it too worn out for that kind of work, but the cover crop methods he uses and the edition of lots of earthworms has done wonder for my garden.

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Re: Let's Work Together to Chart Alternatives to Vermiculite and Peat Moss

Post  camprn on 8/29/2012, 11:40 am

Sand and vermiculite are not replacements for each other in a SFG.
They just aren't. Please see previous posts about why this is true.

Shredded leaves as part of compost would be something you may be able to swap for the peat, according to Mel. But just shredded leaves are not going to be able to provide directly accessible nutrition to the garden plants.

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