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

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

Post  Damon on 8/29/2012, 11:56 am

Why would anyone depend on leaves to supply nutrition to plants? I use them as a conditioner only. For those of us from more traditional gardening backgrounds, we're used to having a variety of methods to get the job done.

This is the non-Squarefoot Gardening forum correct? Of course there isn't a direct substitute just as a multivitamin is not a direct substitute for real food. That doesn't mean it isn't effective, and it doesn't mean other methods don't work.

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

Post  CharlesB on 8/29/2012, 12:58 pm

Thanks Damon. I'll check out your YT channel when I get home from work.

What is your method for shredding up the leaves? I have been keeping leaves in big yard bags each fall for use in compost and the garden each year. I'd like a good way to shred them though. I see Harbor Freight has some reasonable shredders. Not sure how long they would last though.

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

Post  landarch on 8/29/2012, 1:06 pm

I mow my leaves with a Honda Quadra-cut mulching mower (with bag attachment). One pass shreds them pretty well.

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

Post  CapeCoddess on 8/29/2012, 1:07 pm

Charles, even if the lawn doesn't need mowing I mow my leaves as they fall, let them collect in the mower bag, then dump the full bag into a new pile. It sits out all winter and I continue to add kitchen scraps and such. For spots I can't rake onto the lawn, I have a Toro electric blower/sucker/shredder thingy.

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

Post  camprn on 8/29/2012, 1:30 pm

@Damon wrote: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.

@Damon wrote:Why would anyone depend on leaves to supply nutrition to plants? I use them as a conditioner only. For those of us from more traditional gardening backgrounds, we're used to having a variety of methods to get the job done.

This is the non-Squarefoot Gardening forum correct? Of course there isn't a direct substitute just as a multivitamin is not a direct substitute for real food. That doesn't mean it isn't effective, and it doesn't mean other methods don't work.

Damon, you can toot your horn as loud as you want, as long as it is FACT. What I was saying, particularly for the folks new to this site or gardening, is the fact that sand and vermiculite are not synonymous and are simply physically not equal replacements for each other.

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

Post  Turan on 8/29/2012, 1:34 pm

In my buckets of orphan tomato plants this year I started with 100% my compost. It bloated like a sponge with water and would not drain and got stagnate like mini swamps. So I mixed in about 25% sand maybe less. That took care of that.

In many of these alternative situations Mels old book is better suited.

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

Post  southern gardener on 8/29/2012, 1:42 pm

@CharlesB wrote:Thanks Damon. I'll check out your YT channel when I get home from work.

What is your method for shredding up the leaves? I have been keeping leaves in big yard bags each fall for use in compost and the garden each year. I'd like a good way to shred them though. I see Harbor Freight has some reasonable shredders. Not sure how long they would last though.

I haven't done this, but I've heard of people putting their dry leaves in a trash can, and "whipping them" with a weed whacker until they're pulverized. Sounds like it would work to me? We don't get tons of leaves here, so I haven't tried it. Good luck with your leaves Smile

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

Post  Damon on 8/29/2012, 1:47 pm

@CharlesB wrote:Thanks Damon. I'll check out your YT channel when I get home from work.

What is your method for shredding up the leaves? I have been keeping leaves in big yard bags each fall for use in compost and the garden each year. I'd like a good way to shred them though. I see Harbor Freight has some reasonable shredders. Not sure how long they would last though.

Well, I run them through the lawnmower with a bag attachment twice. This will a give you a consistency similar to peat moss. If I don't have the time I will pile them up as you have an shred them only when I need them.

Basically I use an electric lawn mower Black & Decker MM1800. Here's a review on the mower I bought well: http://youtu.be/4Zbt_X372XQ

Have you tried to shred leaves with any other methods?

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

Post  bwaynef on 8/29/2012, 2:16 pm

@Ann Dee wrote: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.

There is a product called Turface that might substitute well for vermiculite. It is used on ball fields and around golf courses. Its sold in 50# bags for $11-20 from what I've seen ...and can be purchased from your local (?) John Deere supplier. Also consider haydite for similar particle size and properties at potentially less cost.

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

Post  Turan on 8/29/2012, 2:20 pm

@Turan wrote:In many of these alternative situations Mels old book is better suited.

Actually I retract that. I have not read both books closely enough to say that for sure.

I do think that using home made compost as a growing medium is probably the cheapest and most sustainable soil mix useful for some one who is not buying anything. It might need to be amended with sand for good drainage, that amount would be determined by the qualities of the compost and what ever it is held in.

Chopped leaves should have similar qualities as peat or coir. At lest they seem rather similar especially to coir. Can any one find a study comparing them? Maybe with rice hulls as well.

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

Post  Damon on 8/29/2012, 3:32 pm

Hmm, I don't know of any side-by-side studies. But I did try to look up some articles by our extension system:

http://www.extension.org/pages/61062/improving-water-retention-in-soil

I may be wrong, but I've always thought the point of organic matter was to help with water retention and improve soil structure, not to supply nutrients, that whatever nutrients are available are just a bonus.

In order to supply adequate nutrition you will have to supplement to the point of optimization: cover crops, green manures, organic fertilizers like cottonseed meal. Honestly I've never had success with a straight Mel's Mix. Not enough of the materials SFQ requires are available in my area. So I've had to adopt other methods.

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

Post  CharlesB on 8/29/2012, 4:29 pm

Organic matter helps with structure/drainage/retention but it is also food for the microbes. We don't feed the plants we feed the soil. Just as human beings have a small intestine full of microbes that composts really fast for us to make use of the food the top layers of soil given organic matter and water make use of the organic matter for the plants to use.

Good healthy top soil (full of microbes and organic matter) is the small intestine of the plant world.

With MM you simply do all that digesting else where and add the finished product(s) to the mix (The five composts). It allows for intensive gardening in a small space in a short time.

Damon, I purchased a Toro Leaf Shredder/Blower ($55). I'll give it a try tonight on the leaves and see how the shredding goes. Has a two year warranty so it should pay for itself in two years with how much mulch I need.

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

Post  Damon on 8/29/2012, 5:07 pm

Yeah, I guess that's the mismatch. I'm not trying to garden intensively, in a short time, or do my digesting elsewhere.

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

Post  plantoid on 8/29/2012, 6:49 pm

@Turan wrote:In my buckets of orphan tomato plants this year I started with 100% my compost. It bloated like a sponge with water and would not drain and got stagnate like mini swamps. So I mixed in about 25% sand maybe less. That took care of that.

In many of these alternative situations Mels old book is better suited.

I overcame that state by using florist shop buckets etc and putting a 3/4 inch hole about 1 1/2 inches uop the side of the bucket and watered less after the inital big soaking ..
I've got some decent tomatoes & capsicums coming along .


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

Post  plantoid on 8/29/2012, 6:56 pm

@Damon wrote:Hmm, I don't know of any side-by-side studies. But I did try to look up some articles by our extension system:

http://www.extension.org/pages/61062/improving-water-retention-in-soil

I may be wrong, but I've always thought the point of organic matter was to help with water retention and improve soil structure, not to supply nutrients, that whatever nutrients are available are just a bonus.

In order to supply adequate nutrition you will have to supplement to the point of optimization: cover crops, green manures, organic fertilizers like cottonseed meal. Honestly I've never had success with a straight Mel's Mix. Not enough of the materials SFQ requires are available in my area. So I've had to adopt other methods.

The organic matter will provide fibre to help support the plant , allow drainage and allow oxygen down to the hair roots of the plant and supply various nutrients as the compost decays till eventualy three are no more nutrients available which is around seven years in a mother earth soil based garden if you do not replenish it when needed.

You'd be amazed at what you can compost effectively and you don't need a big space either nor does it need to stink or attract flies etc..

Stay with the site , use the bobbly bit on th left side of the home page to invrstigate subjects that are helpful to squarefoot gardening and it will all become much clearer for you.
you'll discover that you can have a low grade soil improver compost mix or a high grade nutrient compost mix , it all depends on what you use for the composting materials and how long you compost it.


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

Post  plantoid on 8/29/2012, 7:01 pm

@Turan wrote:
@Turan wrote:In many of these alternative situations Mels old book is better suited.

Actually I retract that. I have not read both books closely enough to say that for sure.

I do think that using home made compost as a growing medium is probably the cheapest and most sustainable soil mix useful for some one who is not buying anything. It might need to be amended with sand for good drainage, that amount would be determined by the qualities of the compost and what ever it is held in.

Chopped leaves should have similar qualities as peat or coir. At lest they seem rather similar especially to coir. Can any one find a study comparing them? Maybe with rice hulls as well.

Years ago for one of my first earth based gardens i ask the vicar of the nearest church if i could clean up the area where everyone had dumped many years worth of spent wreaths and flowers off graves.

I got some fantastic coarse slow decaying basic low nutrient compost once I'd fished out all the wire & metal card holders with a big magnet

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

Post  floyd1440 on 8/29/2012, 8:37 pm

It seems as if some want to garden, as we have for centuries, and those that embrace mel's simple theory. One idea proposed is to replace vermiculite with sand which makes no sense as sand compacts and shreading leaves to replace peat moss?

Read Mel's book as I think he put a LOT of thought on his method and once your SFG is established you just need to add compost each time you replant but if you want to grow cover crops, replace ingredients, you fall outside the realm of SFGing and could adversely effect new people attempting to learn this method.....

Like me!

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

Post  CharlesB on 8/29/2012, 9:26 pm

Floyd, did you realise you are posting in the "Non-SFG Gardening discussion" forum?

People are here talking about the principles of good gardening and how to implement them in different ways based on the resources available and desired outcomes.

Non-SFG discussion is allowed in this forum (hence the title).

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

Post  Damon on 8/29/2012, 9:48 pm

@CharlesB wrote:Floyd, did you realise you are posting in the "Non-SFG Gardening discussion" forum?

People are here talking about the principles of good gardening and how to implement them in different ways based on the resources available and desired outcomes.

Non-SFG discussion is allowed in this forum (hence the title).

You nailed it, Charles. Every time I post in the non-SFG section people start responding as if anything that isn't "party line" must be excommunicated or something even though this is the place to discuss general principles of good gardening, particularly non-SFG methods.

Charles, $55 sounds like a good deal. Let me know how it works.

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

Post  camprn on 8/29/2012, 9:55 pm

Floyd's point of being a person new to gardening and easily confused by a lot of information is noted. Thanks for posting Floyd.

Damon, despite your perception, there is currently no witch hunt because of your posts, but I would encourage you again to post factual information.
Charles made some very good points about leaf matter being soil conditioning and feeding the soil due to it's nutrient content.

Feeding the growing medium is what it's all about; with that or healthy soil, growing great vegetables is the reward. What a Face


Last edited by camprn on 8/29/2012, 10:02 pm; edited 1 time in total

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

Post  Damon on 8/29/2012, 10:02 pm

Again that's exactly what I do with cover crops, green manures, organic fertilizers, soil tests and the like to be sure I am feeding the soil.

I also want factual information. I have no idea if my compost is rich enough to sustain vegetable plant growth with out a soil test. That's empirical data that I've built my gardens on, not anyone's formula or method.

Seriously, read my signature.

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

Post  SFGHQSTAFF on 8/29/2012, 10:23 pm

This has been a great discussion. I really enjoy how you all are trying to look for ways to improve the system. We are always looking for ways to improve, so if you do find something, let me know!. By the way, I do travel extensively to 3rd world countries for SFG and Yes, I teach 100% compost as that is all that is available there.

However, the point that it takes a while to make enough compost to use is also true. So I combine ideas here. I tell people to set up compost bins and start composting immediately. However, I also tell them to get planting in whatever they can get. If they only have dirt available, let's see what we can add now(husks, leaves, to increase aeration, friability,etc) and add diluted human urine or wood ash (which are fantastic fertilzers) for instant 'improved soil' (consistent use of Urea has shown to double the yield on many crops!) I then have families use the SFG system to plant efficiently.

Yes, there will be weeds in this improved mix while the compost builds, but they have handled that for generations, so that is not as big a turnoff. Once they see the crop sizes and yields compared to the amount of space they used, they are converted. Then when the compost is ready, we add that and increase the yield even more. I thought you guys might like some real like experiences here. Alan Wink

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

Post  CharlesB on 8/30/2012, 9:26 am

Thanks for the summary SquareFoot. I garden here near Philadelphia but I also have family getting started gardening in the Philippines. So I appreciate the tips. If your resources are only the jungle, you work with what you have.

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

Post  plantoid on 8/30/2012, 11:19 am

One thing that you have to watch out for when looking for substitutes to peat and vermiculite is that the substitute does not tip the basic balance of a decent fertilizer over to excess nutrients or trace elements.
if you look up the " Berkley 18 day hot composting method " you can achieve an excellent compost to use almost anywhere in a relativly short time .

Putting stone /sand in a soil also tends to make it stay cooler than a much higher fibre growth medium content as the stone /sand had no real long term heat absorbtion or insulation properties because it does not contains air unlike like high fibre or the high volumed vermiculite and high . Yes ...light sandy soils heat up quicker but they also cool much quicker than high fibre loam soils , they also need a lot more watering as they drain fast..
Chalk has some good properties like air capture and water absorbtion but is usually too alkaline .

. I had looked at the idea of trying to obtain expanded glass particles or fly ash out of a coal burning power station as the grains contain air spaces and the materials is almost inert.. then I realised that any particles embedded in or left on the veg skins or leaves could be injurous to humans stomaches and also be gritty to chew.

One thing I have ached to look at & experiment with is the manmade brown or white nuggets that you often find in the big plant pots in corperate buildings & big restaurants where the pots hold palm trees , Banana palnts and cacti etc .
They are inert, and hold air and water ..... they are also now used in the Uk as an insulation infill below the concrete floor bases directly above the waterproof membrane and just below the concrete ..usually laid down still in their plastic bags.

Another thing that might be of some use is broken ground up biscuit fired clay like the old red plant pots used to be made of or old broken up very porous red bricks.
Many is the time when I've demolished 2-300 yr old brick work and put the broken down lime mortar and tiny bits of brick over the gardens , they seemed to benefit from the additions after they had been incorporated in the soils.
Though it could be the lime in the mortar releasing the nutrients from the already well worked gardens instead.

All these additions are much heavier than adding vermiculite or well finished compost and when you're zapped like me lightness and ease of use is one of the top priorities for being able to carry on gardening.

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

Post  Turan on 8/30/2012, 11:57 am

@plantoid wrote:
Another thing that might be of some use is broken ground up biscuit fired clay like the old red plant pots used to be made of or old broken up very porous red bricks.

Did you see the post made about Turface?
"Turface is a porous ceramic soil conditioner which lends itself to many uses. Resembling crushed terra cotta, its unique ability to absorb moisture and prevent compaction puts it in a league of its own."
http://www.protimelawnseed.com/pages/turface

O, and Haydite. Similar product made from shale. http://www.hpbhaydite.com/land_uses/nursery_uses.html

I am just guessing here.... but doesn't clay that is fired and made porous seem more enviromentaly friendly than vermiculite and perlite? I wonder, not knowing enough about the processes used. But I do know clay is more broadly available and that the grade would be determined by the manufacturing rather than the place of origin.

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

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