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First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

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First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 8/7/2013, 12:36 pm

Hey everyone,

I've read the SFG book (the 2005 version) cover to cover but there are still a lot of questions left unanswered in my mind that I was hoping someone wiser could provide me with some guidance on.

Also has anyone read the SMG book? I saw it at a local book store (it was shrink wrapped - so no browsing) here and thought it might be a bit more relevant to me since I'm more used to the metric system than the imperial.

A couple of questions that I have are as follows:

1) If I'm planning on constructing the planter boxes myself, is it okay to use 3/4 inch thick untreated plywood for the sides (that's pretty much the kind of wood I can find around here)?

2) Additionally, whilst the SFG book says to drill holes in the plywood base, are there alternatives to not drilling drainage holes (e.g. building a deeper box with sand at the bottom to hold the water in)?

3) The SFG book seemed more geared towards seasonal regions - are there any good resources/materials out there that deal with tropical climes that I should be looking at?

4) I'm planning to play around with the following layout (possibly with one more square foot box attached to the SFG Planter box. The plants I'm planning to plant are possibly a range of herbs, tomatoes, squash, eggplant, strawberries, and french beans. Any feedback would be most welcomed!

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Help needed for a balcony garden

Post  walshevak on 8/8/2013, 12:27 pm

I haven't seen the metric version so I don't know if it is worth having that copy.

I don't think plywood would be a good option for the sides of your boxes unless you used very expensive marine plywood used in making boats. Even then 1" is the minimum thickness I would recommend.  My boxes are made of 4'x7"x1" cedar.

The whole idea of the holes is to allow water to drain the water and not drown the roots of the plants.  So drainage holes in the growing box is essential.  I have tabletop height boxes and use hardware cloth and weedblock to line my boxes.  I did this because of weight and having to lift the boxes by myself onto the bases.   In our midsummer heat, I have to water everyday it doesn't rain.  

Tell us more about your situation where you are and why you are putting bottoms on your boxes.  Are you trying for tabletops, trying to get above contaminated soil, or have a flooding situation?   Is it hot and dry or hot and wet.  If hot and dry, try checking the Southwestern Deserts threads for more insight.     If hot and wet, try the Coastal and Tropical South region threads or the Asian threads.  We had some members in Guam.  

Just read your other post and realized you are balcony gardening and may have a problem with the balcony below yours. You don't want to add the weight of sand to your balcony but I think I read somewhere about boxes raised above the balcony floor level and a catch area put underneath that then drained to a pipe that ran down the wall away from the balcony below.

Kay


Last edited by walshevak on 8/8/2013, 12:51 pm; edited 2 times in total (Reason for editing : added Asian region and balcony boxes)

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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 8/8/2013, 2:00 pm

Hi Kay,

Thanks for the response.

I went down to a specialty hardware store to inquire about marine plywood but I was thinking about 1/2 inch thickness so your tip on the 1 inch minimum thickness is extremely helpful and timely! Thanks!

I will try and search around for a timber yard here to try and get in solid wood since it will be for a balcony/outdoor application.

The SFG planter box (which I plan to construct) will be located on a low bench/table that sits on a balcony that gets strong levels of sun from the late morning to the late afternoon. However, I'd preferably like to keep the balcony area as dry and neat as possible. I've read on some other threads here about self-wicking boxes as a solution to this but I'm not sure I'm there in terms of competency to build such a thing hence my thinking about just building a deeper box with a thicker level of gravel. I do not contemplate movement will be a necessary factor to account for.

The balcony planter section is a fixed concrete planter that gets a moderate amount of sun and already has a drainage pipe with gravel over it (I've had the existing soil removed in preparation of putting in the Mel's Mix).

The kitchen section is a bit hard to describe but I plan to use containers with Mel's Mix and drainage is not an issue. That section gets full sun throughout the day. I plan to plant mostly herbs with a few floral plants here.

The overall clime here is hot and wet as is typical for tropical equatorial regions.

I'll try and get photos up once the renovations on my place is done up (it's undergoing major renovations at the moment and is due to complete by the end of this month).
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  camprn on 8/8/2013, 2:16 pm

I made my boxes our of plain 1" by pine boards... Works well enough. What a Face What a Face 

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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 8/8/2013, 2:29 pm

Hi camprn,

Thanks for your input.

I'll definitely try to source around for timberyards and assess the situation from there. I was thinking initially of normal plywood because it's available from an art supply store that's fairly convenient for me to get to and the specialty hardware store that can bring in marine ply was one of those serendipitous things.
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  WriterCPA on 8/8/2013, 3:58 pm

Most plants are OK in adjacent squares, but some may do better or worse. I put up a companion planting grid earlier this year that may help you with your layout so that everyone plays together well in the "Mel Mix Box."
http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t15694-need-help-with-layout?highlight=companion

There are some other good discussion threads that you can find by searching "companion."

Hope that helps.
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  bnoles on 8/8/2013, 5:51 pm

merelydicta wrote:Hi camprn,

Thanks for your input.

I'll definitely try to source around for timberyards and assess the situation from there. I was thinking initially of normal plywood because it's available from an art supply store that's fairly convenient for me to get to and the specialty hardware store that can bring in marine ply was one of those serendipitous things.
You can always laminate (face glue) 2 pieces of plywood together for additional thickness.  Just get a bottle of wood glue (Titebond III is a good choice) and smear it on 2 faces and place on top of each other and weight it down until dry.  That is is basically all plywood is, just laminated wood sheets.

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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  walshevak on 8/8/2013, 5:54 pm

Hi

Even self-wicking pots and boxes need a drainage hole to keep the roots of plants from drowning in excess water. Usually the bottom of the growing area sits 1" above the water level. During the rainy season your gardens will need that drainage. The gravel in the existing planter along with the drain hole serves that purpose. I strongly suggest you put a layer of weedblock cloth over the gravel to keep your MM from getting lost in the gravel.

Here is a thought.
Using that same technique as the concrete planter, try building a 10" deep box and line the lower part (or even the whole thing) with plastic or fish pond liner which lasts longer. Put a hole about 1 or 2" from the bottom for your drainage pipe that will run over the side of the balcony in much the same way your existing planter does. Fill the bottom 2" with packing peanuts or cut up styrofoam or even crumpled soda cans or bottles. Saves weight over wet sand or gravel. (We don't want your balcony to collapse) Put a layer of weedblock cloth on top of the peanuts and then top with 6-7" of MM. Voila, a bed that drains, still has a 1" mulch area and keeps both your and your below neighbor's balconies dry. And no worries about attaching a plywood bottom.

Kay

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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  sanderson on 8/9/2013, 2:15 am

Merelydicta,  I am a first year gardener and there are more experienced members than me!

Plywood is not recommended for wet environments, such as planters, because the layers will become de-laminated over time. The thicker the plywood, the longer it will hold  up.  That said, lining the inside with clear 4 ml plastic will add some time to the inside of the planter.  Just make sure to cut holes in the plastic to line up with the holes you drill in the plywood bottom.  The plastic will last for years as long as it isn't exposed to sunlight.  If you do end up using plywood, you can seal the outside only with polyurethane or water resistant stain, and put a 1" x 2" solid wood rail cap on the top to protect the raw ends of the plywood from rain.

One of the negatives about plywood is that it may contain high levels of formaldehyde.  I don't know what the Quality Control is for plywood imported to Singapore.  I assume it is imported from China?  I had my husband buy a sheet of plywood and set it outside for 2 months to "age it," that is, to let the chemicals flash, before building some portable boxes with plywood bottoms.

Is wood fencing available?  My husband builds my smaller boxes with 1" x 8" x 6 foot cedar fencing boards.  One inch thickness actually means 3/4" thickness.  An 8" wide board is actually 7 1/2", etc.  My husband uses 2" x 4" lumber for the larger beds.  Two layers of 2" x 4" will make a 7" tall bed.  Is composite house siding available?

If you have to end up building tall boxes, I like the idea from Walshevak of filling the lower, unneeded part with packing peanuts, Styrofoam, or other light-weight materials.  And definitely put weedblock cloth over the fill material so the Mel's Mix won't wash down into the fill.  It's precious and you don't want to waste any.

As far as SFG vs SMG, I would think that the only difference is how you measure depth of materials and distance between plants.  You can buy a 12" ruler to measure the spacing of your plants and depth of the Mel's Mix as spelled out in ANSFG if you don't want to buy ANSMG.

I wish you successful shopping for your new beds.  Please keep us posted on your progress.
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 8/9/2013, 9:50 am

WriterCPA wrote:Most plants are OK in adjacent squares, but some may do better or worse. I put up a companion planting grid earlier this year that may help you with your layout so that everyone plays together well in the "Mel Mix Box."
http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t15694-need-help-with-layout?highlight=companion

There are some other good discussion threads that you can find by searching "companion."

Hope that helps.
 Hi WriterCPA,

Thanks for the input!

I was actually thinking about actually having fully separated sections to side step the issue of plant interactions. This is primarily because I'm planning on putting a tomato plant in one square and a french/long bean plant in the square right next to it (this is because of the light dynamics in the location I intend to place the boxes in).
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 8/9/2013, 9:53 am

bnoles wrote:
merelydicta wrote:Hi camprn,

Thanks for your input.

I'll definitely try to source around for timberyards and assess the situation from there. I was thinking initially of normal plywood because it's available from an art supply store that's fairly convenient for me to get to and the specialty hardware store that can bring in marine ply was one of those serendipitous things.
You can always laminate (face glue) 2 pieces of plywood together for additional thickness.  Just get a bottle of wood glue (Titebond III is a good choice) and smear it on 2 faces and place on top of each other and weight it down until dry.  That is is basically all plywood is, just laminated wood sheets.
Hi bnoles,

Thanks for the technical info! I was wondering about gluing and joining. My initial thoughts were (because the art store plywood came in a maximum length of 2 feet) to join boards with a outdoor wood sealant and also have screws in them.

But based on the info from some of the other kind people here...I think I might either go with marine ply or solid wood/plastic just because of the wet and humid conditions in Singapore.
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 8/9/2013, 9:58 am

walshevak wrote:Hi

Even self-wicking pots and boxes need a drainage hole to keep the roots of plants from drowning in excess water.  Usually the bottom of the growing area sits 1" above the water level.  During the rainy season your gardens will need that drainage.  The gravel in the existing planter along with the drain hole serves that purpose.  I strongly suggest you put a layer of weedblock cloth over the gravel to keep your MM from getting lost in the gravel.  

Here is a thought.
Using that same technique as the concrete planter, try building a 10" deep box and line the lower part (or even the whole thing)  with plastic or fish pond liner which lasts longer.  Put a hole about 1 or 2" from the bottom for your drainage pipe that will run over the side of the balcony in much the same way your existing planter does.  Fill the bottom 2" with packing peanuts or cut up styrofoam  or even crumpled soda cans or bottles.  Saves weight over wet sand or gravel. (We don't want your balcony to collapse)   Put a layer of weedblock cloth on top of the peanuts and then top with 6-7" of MM.  Voila, a bed that drains,  still has a 1" mulch area and keeps both your and your below neighbor's balconies dry.  And no worries about attaching a plywood bottom.  

Kay
 Hi Kay,

Thanks for that very helpful input!

I think I have a better appreciation of the whole drainage thing and the need for it.

One question I have though, would the weedblocker fabric completely filter out any of the MM or will there be some seepage of what I imagine would be brown-ish tea? I ask because I suppose from a somewhat vain aesthetic perspective, the water will drain onto the balcony floor and I'd like to keep the staining down to a minimum.
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 8/9/2013, 10:04 am

sanderson wrote:Merelydicta,  I am a first year gardener and there are more experienced members than me!

Plywood is not recommended for wet environments, such as planters, because the layers will become de-laminated over time. The thicker the plywood, the longer it will hold  up.  That said, lining the inside with clear 4 ml plastic will add some time to the inside of the planter.  Just make sure to cut holes in the plastic to line up with the holes you drill in the plywood bottom.  The plastic will last for years as long as it isn't exposed to sunlight.  If you do end up using plywood, you can seal the outside only with polyurethane or water resistant stain, and put a 1" x 2" solid wood rail cap on the top to protect the raw ends of the plywood from rain.

One of the negatives about plywood is that it may contain high levels of formaldehyde.  I don't know what the Quality Control is for plywood imported to Singapore.  I assume it is imported from China?  I had my husband buy a sheet of plywood and set it outside for 2 months to "age it," that is, to let the chemicals flash, before building some portable boxes with plywood bottoms.

Is wood fencing available?  My husband builds my smaller boxes with 1" x 8" x 6 foot cedar fencing boards.  One inch thickness actually means 3/4" thickness.  An 8" wide board is actually 7 1/2", etc.  My husband uses 2" x 4" lumber for the larger beds.  Two layers of 2" x 4" will make a 7" tall bed.  Is composite house siding available?

If you have to end up building tall boxes, I like the idea from Walshevak of filling the lower, unneeded part with packing peanuts, Styrofoam, or other light-weight materials.  And definitely put weedblock cloth over the fill material so the Mel's Mix won't wash down into the fill.  It's precious and you don't want to waste any.

As far as SFG vs SMG, I would think that the only difference is how you measure depth of materials and distance between plants.  You can buy a 12" ruler to measure the spacing of your plants and depth of the Mel's Mix as spelled out in ANSFG if you don't want to buy ANSMG.

I wish you successful shopping for your new beds.  Please keep us posted on your progress.
Hi Sanderson,

Thanks for your extensive and helpful input.

I think based on your comments and the input of the others...regular plywood seems to be out of the running for me at least, given the wet and humid climate I face. I will continue to look around for a suitable timberyard. Alternatively, what are your thoughts on plastic or metal containers built around SFG principles?

Yeah as for the SMG/SFG matter, I resolved it by thinking in metric about the imperial if that makes any sense at all. I did a mental short hand of using 30 cm in the place of 1 foot and just worked off from there.

Thanks for your well-wish! =)
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  plantoid on 8/9/2013, 3:37 pm

Stand your SFG box raised up in a tray made of a water proof material , set it on some 1/2 inch thick strips of wood/ plastic or  tiles  , use a 2 inch thick frame around the material and tuck the extra material underneath the tray .

 That way if it does leak excess water & soluble nutrieents in water you will be able to retain them , soak them up in a cloth and wring it back out over the bed without any staining taking place.
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 8/10/2013, 5:05 am

plantoid wrote:Stand your SFG box raised up in a tray made of a water proof material , set it on some 1/2 inch thick strips of wood/ plastic or  tiles  , use a 2 inch thick frame around the material and tuck the extra material underneath the tray .

 That way if it does leak excess water & soluble nutrieents in water you will be able to retain them , soak them up in a cloth and wring it back out over the bed without any staining taking place.
 Hi plantoid,

Thanks for the helpful suggestion!

I didn't think about having it suspended on a tray. That's a great idea!
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 10/14/2013, 5:34 am

Cross posted on another sub-forum but I thought I'd close off the loop here.

I have three main growth areas which I will fill out with MM. The Vermiculite is proving harder than expected to find here in Singapore. I am thinking about going full compost with LECA balls thrown in for aeration purposes as opposed to using Peat Moss and Vermiculite. I know that's probably heretical but it is proving a challenge.

1) The Kitchen Area

I decided to get fully grown plants from the nursey whilst I try to suss out reliable vermiculite dealers here in Singapore. I've got a mix of Rosemary, Curry Leaf plant (Murraya koenigii aka Curry Tree), Laksa Leaf plant (Persicaria odorata aka Vietnamese Corinander), Chilli Padi, Oregano, Thai Basil, and Sweet Basil. This area gets full sun all day so I'm more or less deep watering them in the mornings before I leave for work and at nights before I head off to slumberland.  The full extent of this is about slight less than 2 feet deep and about 6 feet wide so I haven't completely filled out this growth area yet.






2) Balcony SFG Planter Box with Trellis

It's approximately a single 4 square foot row. Once I can get my hands on a reliable supplier of vermiculite, I'll be actively using this area. This gets full sun during the early and late afternoon. I'm also planning to put up smaller planter boxes at the top end of the trellis which is actually my old front gate re-purposed.





3) In-built Balcony Planter

This is in-built planter box on the balcony with a fresh bed of pebbles I laid down yesterday. I'm not sure if it is clear from the photo but the green sticks are going to be in that slanted orientation as I fill it in with MM. There'll be a mesh netting linking a line of sticks all down the length of the planter as I intend to do a 45 degree trellis to allow the plants (probably squash) to creep outward to get more sunlight under the brise-soleil that extends beyond the balcony.




I'm more than happy to hear out any constructive feedback =)
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  sanderson on 10/14/2013, 2:03 pm

Merelydicta, It's looking so beautiful. Love the gate and wood box. If you have to go full compost, then that is what you have to do. Is coir available as a substitute for peat moss? Keep us updated. Very Happy 
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 10/15/2013, 10:59 pm

sanderson wrote:Merelydicta,  It's looking so beautiful.  Love the gate and wood box.  If you have to go full compost, then that is what you have to do.  Is coir available as a substitute for peat moss?  Keep us updated. Very Happy 
Hi Sanderson, thanks for the compliment. Hopefully it will only get better from here on out.

Coir is available but I have read that because it is high in potassium, it will lead to inhibition of magnesium uptake and will therefore lead to yellowing. Accordingly, in lieu of making constaint soil adjustments, start off entirely with (hopefully) "netural" compost.
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  Marc Iverson on 10/16/2013, 1:01 am

Hmm, I wonder if that's true. I'm sure you read what you read, but coir has become so explosively popular that I am surprised it would be said to lead to such a considerable problem. And that this is the first I've heard of it. Not that I do a lot of reading about coir or anything -- but I've certainly seen it recommended countless times. Sometimes vociferously!

Can you provide a link or clue me in to where I could read more about this?
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 10/16/2013, 1:49 am

Marc Iverson wrote:Hmm, I wonder if that's true.  I'm sure you read what you read, but coir has become so explosively popular that I am surprised it would be said to lead to such a considerable problem.  And that this is the first I've heard of it.  Not that I do a lot of reading about coir or anything -- but I've certainly seen it recommended countless times.  Sometimes vociferously!  

Can you provide a link or clue me in to where I could read more about this?
Hi Marc Iverson,

Here are the following links that may be of some use to you:

http://www.hardytropicals.co.uk/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=19190&start=30

http://www.hydrologicsystems.com/blog/2012/05/08/125/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coir

I visited the wikipedia one first when reading up about it which lead me to digging further for the issue of the potassium overload re: coir.

Happy to hear your thoughts on it =)
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 10/16/2013, 1:53 am

I suppose as a further qualification to the above, non-treated coir is readily available (non-treated coir being the problem area with respect to this whole magnesium imbalance thing) and economical for use whereas treated or balanced coir is not economical for use (due to the higher costs involved).
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  sanderson on 10/16/2013, 3:32 am

Merelydicta,  Now I'm really curious about coir, and treated verses untreated.  I read your links so I see your concern.  I also read what is done to produce treated coir.

The only reason I thought you might want to use some coir in your beds is for lightness.  Maybe not as much as 1/3 but at some lower portion.  I am also wondering if coir soaked and strained repeatedly in water would leach out a lot of the potassium??

One of the articles recommended adding calcium and magnesium, and it reminded me of at least 2 topics on this forum.  Blossom end rot (BER) on tomatoes is a problem or concern with some of the members.  Adding powdered milk (calcium) and Epson salts (magnesium) takes care of the problem.  You can search for more topics by "milk" and "calcium."  Maybe you can do a test on a couple of squares or pots?  Or, forget about coir all together!!  Very Happy 

http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t15751-tomato-how-much-powdered-milk-and-epson-salt?highlight=milk

http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t13080-calcium-and-magnesium-deficiency?highlight=calcium
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  Marc Iverson on 10/16/2013, 3:44 am

This is a very interesting topic, and I've got to read through all your guys' links. Since I haven't produced any finished compost this year, I still am buying soil, and coir is everywhere in compost and amendments these days. It's borderline hard-to-avoid!
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 10/16/2013, 4:16 am

sanderson wrote:Merelydicta,  Now I'm really curious about coir, and treated verses untreated.  I read your links so I see your concern.  I also read what is done to produce treated coir.

The only reason I thought you might want to use some coir in your beds is for lightness.  Maybe not as much as 1/3 but at some lower portion.  I am also wondering if coir soaked and strained repeatedly in water would leach out a lot of the potassium??

One of the articles recommended adding calcium and magnesium, and it reminded me of at least 2 topics on this forum.  Blossom end rot (BER) on tomatoes is a problem or concern with some of the members.  Adding powdered milk (calcium) and Epson salts (magnesium) takes care of the problem.  You can search for more topics by "milk" and "calcium."  Maybe you can do a test on a couple of squares or pots?  Or, forget about coir all together!!  Very Happy 

http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t15751-tomato-how-much-powdered-milk-and-epson-salt?highlight=milk

http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t13080-calcium-and-magnesium-deficiency?highlight=calcium
Hi Sanderson,

I get where you're coming from in terms of "lightness" of the soil. I was planning on addressing it by using LECA balls as a way of introducing volume without weight.

I prefer not to adopt the idea of making adjustments to the soil (given that MM appears to be designed to be netural with respect to soil composition, plant types, and geo-physical location) as it would continue to make it yet another step away from the "True" SFG method.

There isn't a terrible amount of literature/experience with SFG in South-East Asia (Zone 10/11 type climes) so I was hoping to see how far I could get with SFG methods before thinking about anything else.
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Re: First ever SFG and serious attempt at layout planning - Critique most welcomed!

Post  merelydicta on 10/16/2013, 4:22 am

Marc Iverson wrote:This is a very interesting topic, and I've got to read through all your guys' links.  Since I haven't produced any finished compost this year, I still am buying soil, and coir is everywhere in compost and amendments these days.  It's borderline hard-to-avoid!
Hi Marc Iverson,

I hear where you're coming from.

I am fortunate in that respect in that compost (without heavy additions of coir) is available.

The concern I have for myself is about addressing the qualities that I think vermiculite and peat moss bring to the table being water retention, microbial additions, and "lightness" (i.e. excellent aeration characteristics) without increasing the overall level of maintenance/compensation that other materials may add on in order to bring it inline with the "fuss-free" nature of MM.
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