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How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

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How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 5/18/2013, 7:13 pm

Since the forum began, Squarefoot has encouraged forum members to submit their improvements to MM for evaluation. If the improvement could be beneficial to all SFGers, it could possibly be included in a MM upgrade, if there ever is one. I don't know if he has received ideas directly at the Foundation, but I don't recall anyone posting on the forum about their improvements.

It has occurred to me recently that I don't how to go about improving my growing medium in an objective, repeatable, feasible, practical manner that would stand up to scrutiny by a peer review process. The only guideline that I remember Squarefoot mentioning is having identically planted side-by-side boxes for comparison. One with MM by the book, and one with the 'improvement'.

Should the improvement be problem or plant specific? ie. show that Improvement A fixes a consistent weakness in Plant B. Or should the improvement target all vegetables in the MM? If the latter, how many varieties of veggies should the sample size include. Would one growing season be adequate, or would it take multiple harvests to demonstrate repeatability.

Does the improvement need to be verified by a soil testing lab, or would observation or some sort of measurement of the veggie plants/harvest be sufficient?

I don't know. What say you?

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  littlejo on 5/18/2013, 10:28 pm

Boffer and all,
I, in my little experience, would say that the formula is good. The problem is different climates, and the quality/ingredients of the compost. If Mel could figure out how to insist on a standard for compost, he would have the 'perfect' mix. Then, we would only have to deal with Mother Nature!
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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  Turan on 5/18/2013, 11:03 pm

I can not speak to the protocol for test trials so well. What I have noticed is that if one takes the discussions that come through here and sort of shake them up and blow off the chaff you could see both broad based problems and plant specific problems and solutions to these. Examples would be herbicide tainted composts and poorly labeled composts. Too high of nitrogen for some fruiting crops, too low of nitrogen for some leafy crops. I think the most common advice given here is probably to make ones own compost or find something similar versus bagged commercial composts.

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  milaneyjane on 5/19/2013, 5:20 pm

The only comparison I have is NOT the mix but the depth. Same boxes, mix and plants side by side and the only difference was height- 8 inches (that settled to about 6_ vs 16 (settled to about 14) inches. It was night and day difference. Shocked

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  Turan on 5/19/2013, 5:26 pm

@milaneyjane wrote:The only comparison I have is NOT the mix but the depth. Same boxes, mix and plants side by side and the only difference was height- 8 inches (that settled to about 6_ vs 16 (settled to about 14) inches. It was night and day difference. Shocked

What was the difference?

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  milaneyjane on 5/19/2013, 5:39 pm

Ooops! The plants were much larger and produced significantly more in the deeper beds.

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  RoOsTeR on 5/19/2013, 6:13 pm

Boffer, I have no idea what any of the guidelines would be for submitting an amended MM thinking Perhaps all it takes is enough public interest, concern or maybe feedback in an item. Like coir. The bagged MM contains a certain % of coir, and the foundation is giving direction as to how much if mixing your own:
Suffice it to say I know EXACLTY which bags have coir in them - but it is a blend with the peat - no more then 1/3 at this time. ( like 1/3 coir to 2/3 peat )
It's still in testing stages, and peat is still recommended.

Azomite seems to be the new flavor, beat all/cure all, along with adding micro-nutrients. Other than making the method more complicated for beginners, Mel doesn't seem to have to much of a problem with some of these amendments, and according to him, they may in fact be tested:
Mel Wrote


Those are all great ideas and testing will certainly help us decide if those other added ingredients are worthwhile and actually necessary. If so, the idea of a regular Mel's Mix to start with, with a super charged one, or special additives, for those that want advanced soil technology, they would possibly make an excellent product.

Are they needed for the average gardener? No. But they would be advantageous for the advanced "gotta get the most out of what I have" type of gardener. We will have our soil company do some experiments and if any of you trying some of these advanced additives would share with us your results, we might be able to come up with an even better addition to the SFG method.

I'm in agreement with littlejo, I think the mix is good. Looking at your success boffer, I would say your "growing medium" is good too. Guess my question would be, does MM need improving? Or are we looking for "feel good" items?

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  CapeCoddess on 5/19/2013, 6:29 pm

@milaneyjane wrote:Ooops! The plants were much larger and produced significantly more in the deeper beds.

I think I may be having this experience also, but will know for sure after this season. It could have been that my shorter bed was brand new and I notice that older MM performs better for me.

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  gwennifer on 5/19/2013, 6:31 pm

I think if you go the plant specific route, you're getting way too technical for an all-encompassing gardening method. Keep in mind the idea of planting different things in every square, and replanting each square with a different crop each season as well. Couldn't do that if you were making your growing medium crop specific.

I may be wrong, but I think the point of the MM was just a simple way for all gardeners to get started with a growing medium that stuff would grow in, rather than messing around trying to amend who-knows-what kind of native soil like used to be recommended.

That being said, I've always kinda wondered if the one-size-fits-all doesn't really hold true for the different climates, and I'm curious if different proportions of ingredients for people in more wet or dry areas for instance, would make a difference. But I don't wonder enough to do any experimenting!

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  llama momma on 5/19/2013, 7:05 pm

I am trying out both Azomite and home grown worm castings along with home made compost. This is my third summer garden and this fall will be my fourth fall garden. I've taken a ton of pictures over the past couple of years and that's how I'll make my judgement of the results along with any garden notes from the past. A one foot tall bed of Mel's mix so far has done consistently better. But this year I switched out its bottom half and replaced it with old manure. I hope I don't regret that.. because I did the same thing in two other beds.

I can say so far that the brand new bed of asparagus has gone beserk in a bottom half filled of old manure in a 12 inch deep bed. It was planted in April. In just under a month many plants have not only gotten over 2 feet tall but the females are already flowering. I haven't added azomite yet, just worm castings when the crowns were planted. Even the little junky crowns from Lowes that lagged behind the farm purchased crowns finally all came up and are taking off. Mels Mix and worm castings def get my vote for now.

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 5/19/2013, 7:10 pm

@RoOsTeR wrote:...Looking at your success boffer, I would say your "growing medium" is good too. Guess my question would be, does MM need improving? Or are we looking for "feel good" items?

I think my mix is good also, and I'm not looking to change it. But it doesn't meet the criteria of the MM recipe. So I'm looking for how to properly submit my mix recipe (which uses 40-50% manures) for consideration. I posted soil lab test results a couple years ago, and my C:N is in the 35:1 range. But, technically, it's not MM. Permitting deviations is a slippery slope.

My mix has been a wonderful control (one less thing to consider) as I experiment with different ways to beat the weather in the PNW. Maybe in a year or two I'll be ready to experiment with my mix, but not now.

As to the 'feel good' items, I would like to see a thread addressing the subject. As you suggest by your description 'feel good' (and I agree with that), gardeners approach them from an emotional perspective rather than a logical one. I don't have issues with that; it's their garden after all. But I think their experiments would be more productive with a better understanding upfront about what it is they want to do. There are so many techniques in the row gardening world that SFGers want to try in their SFG boxes, that are totally redundant because MM already addresses them.

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  camprn on 5/19/2013, 7:14 pm

So, I have a question... Are we talking about 'Mel's Mix' brand new going into a new garden box? and not garden mix that is 2 or more years in the box, because that is no longer 'MM' but soilless growing medium.

Mel himself says something to the effect that the point of MM is to have a perfect growing medium right away, no more amendments to the dirt and all the back breaking work that the gardener is faced with in row style gardening.

I am sure improvements can be made to the store bought mix, but the real benefit of Mel saying generally '5 types' of compost allows for regional variation and availability and allows for greater success for the novice gardener.

I remember Squarefoot asking for any recomendations in the past so if any of you actually do any kind of controlled experiments, I would assume the Foundation would like to hear the results.

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 5/19/2013, 7:44 pm

@camprn wrote:So, I have a question... Are we talking about 'Mel's Mix' brand new going into a new garden box?
I am talking about new MM made with homemade compost.

@camprn wrote:I remember Squarefoot asking for any recomendations in the past so if any of you actually do any kind of controlled experiments, I would assume the Foundation would like to hear the results.
Good; I'm not dreaming that up! Wink

I realize now that my title for this thread doesn't reflect what my opening post is about. Perhaps a better title would have been "What parameters need to be addressed before recommending changes to the Mel's Mix recipe, and how does one go about it?."

I'd only like to suggest that multiple manures totaling more than 20% (in my case 40-50%) have the advantages that we've discussed before, and get the official stamp of approval.

@camprn wrote:...I am sure improvements can be made to the store bought mix, but the real benefit of Mel saying generally '5 types' of compost allows for regional variation and availability and allows for greater success for the novice gardener...
Quality chicken manure and cow manure are easily found on the shelf in my region. It would sure help out novices if those two manures could be 40% of their mix.


Last edited by boffer on 5/19/2013, 8:06 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  RoOsTeR on 5/19/2013, 8:05 pm

Good; I'm not dreaming that up!

No, Alan has said the next great thing will come from the forum Very Happy. I don't think there's much experimenting going on though. Rather folks just adding things because they can't grasp the thought of not doing so and a proper MM not really needing it.



It would sure help out novices if those two manures could be 40% of their mix.
Agreed.

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  camprn on 5/19/2013, 8:18 pm

@RoOsTeR wrote:
Good; I'm not dreaming that up!

No, Alan has said the next great thing will come from the forum Very Happy. I don't think there's much experimenting going on though. Rather folks just adding things because they can't grasp the thought of not doing so and a proper MM not really needing it.


But see, that's the thing, because of lack of knowledge of the novice in finding various types of quality compost, Mel's mix is not the same from town to town and region to region. And it sometimes is just not a satisfactory growing mix.
If someone uses forest humus, mushroom compost, cotton burr compost, leaf mold and say municipal compost, the quality and nutrition levels are going to be much lower than something made with coffee grounds, milking parlor compost, any other types of composted manure, fish leavings, worm casting or homemade compost.

All compost is not created equally.

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 5/19/2013, 8:26 pm

@RoOsTeR wrote:...I don't think there's much experimenting going on though. Rather folks just adding things because they can't grasp the thought of not doing so and a proper MM not really needing it.

Well...maybe someday we can have a 'Peer Review' forum. In it, folks could submit their improvement/experiment ideas to see if they make sense and discuss what controls need to be in place in order to ensure the results are valid and that logical conclusions can be drawn.

...just thinking out loud...




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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  RoOsTeR on 5/19/2013, 8:31 pm

@camprn wrote:
@RoOsTeR wrote:
Good; I'm not dreaming that up!

No, Alan has said the next great thing will come from the forum Very Happy. I don't think there's much experimenting going on though. Rather folks just adding things because they can't grasp the thought of not doing so and a proper MM not really needing it.


But see, that's the thing, because of lack of knowledge of the novice in finding various types of quality compost, Mel's mix is not the same from town to town and region to region. And it sometimes is just not a satisfactory growing mix.
If someone uses forest humus, mushroom compost, cotton burr compost, leaf mold and say municipal compost, the quality and nutrition levels are going to be much lower than something made with coffee grounds, milking parlor compost, any other types of composted manure, fish leavings, worm casting or homemade compost.

All compost is not created equally.

Lol, (not laughing at you) I think we're starting to talk about two groups of people now Very Happy

Boffer, I went back and re-read this:

donnainzone10 wrote:Okay, assuming that I find several organic blended composts not containing peat or coir, how would I be able to be fairly certain that I have the proper percentages of ingredients?

For example, one such blend might contain alfalfa meal, chicken manure, rice hulls, forest humus, cow or steer manure, fir bark, and bat guano.

Another compost mixture might contain cow manure and bark fines.

Still another one might include steer manure, chicken manure, alfalfa meal, worm castings, and redwood compost.

My concern is that I might be likely to end up with too much of some of the overlapping ingredients, particularly the manures and wood products.

Is my concern justified, or should I just go with 5+ of these blended composts? Or two or three, plus single-ingredient bags for the remainder?


Those are all good questions, and they prove the point that the best compost is your own compost cause you know what went into it. We could give you many complicated answers, but the simplest solution is that you want to get as many sources as possible, and I understand you don't want to overlap or get too much of one source, but without knowing the percentage of each item, it will be impossible to know. They aren’t going to tell you and you know by the price if they have loaded it up with wood products, the cheapest thing except dirt. So here's what I would do:

I would buy all five of those composts ( I like your other idea of a plain all chicken manure as one) and mix equal volume and try a planting trial, quickly, with some lettuce and radish seeds. Within two weeks, you'll know if they're doing well, having good color, growing vigorously, and then you can expand your garden.

If you just can't wait and you want to do everything now, I would still buy all five, mix them equally with peat moss/coir, and vermiculite to make you Mel’s Mix, and just hope for the best. Most people can't find more than one or two blended composts. You've apparently come up with many and even read the contents, so you know what's in them. Either that or you have done some wishful thinking of what might be in some of them.

I'm sure you could guess that the expensive ingredients are not going to be large in volume. For example, when they say "Contains Worm Castings" or "Bat Guano" it's going to be in there, but probably not much of it. I could tell from your letter that you are concerned about too much of one thing, and that would be wood products. The best thing you could add to all of those "blended composts" would be to add some of yours or neighbors (I don't mean a midnight reqresition) just a borrow till you get your compost pile humming.) homemade compost and since you probably wouldn't be putting in wood chips or any bark products in your own pile, you are going to have a better, richer growing soil than anyone on the block.

All that being said, I would highly recommend you start small, make up a batch( it could be just the 5 composts for a seed sprouting test or go ahead and do the Mel’s mix but just a small batch for one box or 2), see how your plants do. In addition to the seeds sprouting and growing, you might also try some small transplants. Either from the store or ones you have, and see how well they adjust to the new mixture.

If everything grows like crazy, let me know and we'll bag it as Mel's Compost. We'll make you rich overnight. Thanks for your questions and do let me know which direction you go in and what your results are. Everyone is waiting with baited breath.

One last idea. Unless the store makes their own mix which they will push, most places have a feel for which is best and which have had complaints. And it’s easier to take back for a refund if they recommended it. Don’t tell them I told you that. Good Luck.

Mel




We want a good, well rounded compost, but at the same time we don't want to over complicate things. As we know, making our own compost is usually best as we tend to add a wide variety of ingredients. To me, (and perhaps it's just me) it sounds like Mel is suggesting to "test" your compost. If you get good results, you've got a good Mel's Mix....does that count as approval?

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 5/19/2013, 8:54 pm

I couldn't copy the code for this post since it's locked, so the copy/paste is a little ugly. The red/larger text is my emphasis, and it's the basis for what I've been trying to say.

donnainzone10 wrote:I'm truly puzzled! Shocked

On page 112 of the new Answer Book, Mel states:

"I was once asked if a gardener could count sheep, chicken, barnyard pigs, steer, and cow manure as the five ingredients [of Mel's Mix], because that was five different animals. Noooo, that's five different manures and one of the five ingredients.... [A] bag labeled rose food could be a mixed-blend compost with worm castings."

He then suggests looking for bags listing multiple materials.

Although I agree that plant composts are valuable elements of MM, they are sometimes difficult to find (other than leaf compost, etc).

Comments?



Because many of the bagged compost you buy are a byproduct from that industry, we consider that just one ingredient. What we want to get is a blended compost from as many different ingredients or sources as possible. Sometimes thats difficult to find and you have to do a bit of reading.

As the above example states, all those animals sources are still manure and we consider manure just one source.

I interpret that to mean manures can only be 20% of the mix. If I'm wrong, please say so, and we can talk about the Broncos instead!

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  camprn on 5/19/2013, 9:25 pm

@RoOsTeR wrote:... it sounds like Mel is suggesting to "test" your compost. If you get good results, you've got a good Mel's Mix....does that count as approval?
It works for me. What a Face
the whole manure argument I find unhelpful in general. It's a proven fact that farm manures are different and offer different levels of fertility by their waste. Using a blend will give a broader range of nutrients. Being really strict with a definition, to my mind anyway, limits your options and the level of available nutrients in the growing mix.
Also, a lot of the available bagged stuff called composted 'manure', because of the lack of standards in the composting industry, could have as little as 5% manure and the rest any assorted number of ingredients.

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Numbers

Post  Marie14513 on 5/19/2013, 11:49 pm

Speaking of compost, what do the numbers mean? 1-1-1 or 1-5-1 and so on

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 5/20/2013, 12:49 am

The numbers are the percentages of the major nutrients that plants use the most of, found in fertilizers and compost.
They are always in this order N-P-K which are
Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potash (Potassium)


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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  plantoid on 5/20/2013, 4:20 pm

@Marie14513 wrote:Speaking of compost, what do the numbers mean? 1-1-1 or 1-5-1 and so on

It can also mean parts of or in some countries like the UK percentages of so if the numbers don't seem to check out see which system is in use .

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  landarch on 5/20/2013, 4:38 pm

I have two applications of Mels Mix curently in my SFG.

1) My first two boxes were built before I really knew about SFG and the soil I used was a decent quality clay loam from a friend's ranch (it was clay loam, cattle manure, and pieces of chert and limestone rocks).

2) My new SFG boxes were done with Mels Mix by the book...and I had enough Mels Mix made that I used it amend the clay loam boxes above.

What I have found is that my original boxes (clay loam with Mels Mix mixed in) have performed better then straight Mels Mix. Last year was a drought with August temps in teh 113 degree range and the clay loam did a better job of holding moisture than the verviculite in Mels Mix...my Mels Mix dried out quickly even with multiple daily waterings.

I did have a bit of soil crusting with teh clay loam but seedlings did alright the thrived after breaking through.

Each planting I continue to add fresh homemade compost to all boxes so hopefully the clay loam keeps getting better and better.

landarch

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  plantoid on 5/20/2013, 4:58 pm

The limestone in the earth boxes will break the composts down quicker making them release more nutrients short term will you add more lime stone if so whn and how will you guage the amount to use to gain maximum effectiveness each year ?


I strongly suspect that long term your MM filled boxes will outperform the soil as you'll have numbers spaced apart manurings of well made compost all decaying at different rates giving up a big range of nutrients and micro nutrients and trace elements
The term " building up the soil " comes to mind , your MM will build better than earth based beds .

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

Post  No_Such_Reality on 5/20/2013, 6:19 pm

@camprn wrote:
@RoOsTeR wrote:
Good; I'm not dreaming that up!

No, Alan has said the next great thing will come from the forum Very Happy. I don't think there's much experimenting going on though. Rather folks just adding things because they can't grasp the thought of not doing so and a proper MM not really needing it.


But see, that's the thing, because of lack of knowledge of the novice in finding various types of quality compost, Mel's mix is not the same from town to town and region to region. And it sometimes is just not a satisfactory growing mix.
If someone uses forest humus, mushroom compost, cotton burr compost, leaf mold and say municipal compost, the quality and nutrition levels are going to be much lower than something made with coffee grounds, milking parlor compost, any other types of composted manure, fish leavings, worm casting or homemade compost.

All compost is not created equally.

I think the compost issue is a major stumbling block for a lot of people. AFAICT most store bought compost needs either a nutrient hit or 6 more months of aging to be useful. IMHO I think the next major breakthrough is really making SFG more urban friendly.

One look at the plethora of composting threads shows how problematic composting can be for people. While the plan for five types of compost is good, trying to find it in suburbia, is pretty difficult. Maybe the mid-west is different but in Southern California, unless it's a bag of steer manure, chicken manure, it's basically a bag of wood chips with just enough other 'composts' mixed in to make it look 'dirty'. A lot of people stumble out of the gate with things not growing well, most likely due to poor compost.

If there was an easy way to basically, amend the plan to allow picking up cheap or easily portable ingredients from the big box stores that could bridge through years one and two until the compost has a chance to age in, or the adding of something to insure the nutrient mix (even if artificially) until the beds can age.

Maybe it's as simple as saying, use a nutrient test on the compost before adding. Or maybe an equally simple, put a 2 inch layer of chicken/cow manure down and then layer on a six inch layer of MM made with a single compost ingredient of store bought 'forest' compost.

The existing MM plan will work, just following it as a novice semi-urban dweller is either very expensive or excessively time consuming to find ingredients.

LOL, yes, basically a "for dummies" transition plan that goes from buying readily available stuff at the big box stores like HD and Lowes to a more true MM mix.

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Re: How does one improve their Mel's Mix?

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