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Thoughts on New Mel's Mix for the Beginners

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Thoughts on New Mel's Mix for the Beginners

Post  sanderson on 12/12/2014, 7:27 pm

Last night I did a lot of browsing  study  and thinking  thinking  about my mix, what with the rain and dark.  No snail hunting.  What could a new SFG do to get their gardens off to a really good start?

My first mix was peat moss, perlite/vermiculite, and Kelloff's compost.  [stop laughing everyone]  It looked nice, it smelled nice, and it felt nice.  Everything started growing and looked so pretty.  Then came to a screeching halt.  With everyone's encouragement, I decided to use a half-strength Miracle Grow feeding and add some bagged compost cow manure to make up for all the wood in the Kellogg's and get to work on composting and looking for other sources.  Things really improved and it became a personal challenge to improve the Mix.  I built my first stupid compost bin, round and undersized.  But even the addition of the miserable compost I made plus some more bagged cow manure was an improvement.  Without everyone's encouragement I would have quit.  But instead, I had a second year challenge ahead of me (2014) to do even better.  Fast forward to Jan 2014 with the new 3' x 3' x 3' compost bin DH built, I was ready to try again.

I used the hot, fast Berkeley composting method to crank out some decent compost (well the wood chips were still sitting there but I just screened them out).  Well, 2014 was a good growing year except for the leaf hopper and his curly leaf disease that wiped out all my tomato seedlings.  Making your own compost and letting it sit and then adding it to the beds and grow micro-organsims is a wonderful thing.  My current batch is more of a cool batch with temps reaching only 140*F but filled with with fungi.

This is what I have been wondering.  Hot 160*F Berkeley compost is broken down mainly by bacteria, releasing the nutrients.  Cold compost is broken down more by fungi.  Addition of both to the mix has got to be very good.  Yes?  No?

For New SFG folks, even if they get 5 different composts, if they are bagged, they may have nutrients but no or little beneficial organisms.  For shipment, the contents are supposed to be sterilized.  Some companies add mycorrhizal spores to their product but shipment and storing can reduce their number.

Cutting to the chase, would the addition of a little leaf mold to new Mel's Mix help provide an environment where the available nutrients from bagged compost could be taken in by the plant roots?  Mix, water and wait 2 weeks for an underground micro-colony to get started?

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Re: Thoughts on New Mel's Mix for the Beginners

Post  camprn on 12/12/2014, 7:32 pm

Or toss in some ( a shovelful or 2)  juicy top soil from your yard/flower garden/other vegetable garden. That will work too.

Also, I'm not sure about the 'sterilization' you talk about. As far as I know there are no standards for the composting industry... do you have a link to some info I need? Wink


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Re: Thoughts on New Mel's Mix for the Beginners

Post  sanderson on 12/12/2014, 7:51 pm

Yes, I thought about the soil. You described it perfectly. I just didn't want them to grab dirt around the foundation of an old building (lead-based paint) or a previous personal dump site or burn barrels site.

The idea about sterilized compost came from a video on One Yard Revolution. I'll try to trace his source or find another source.

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Re: Thoughts on New Mel's Mix for the Beginners

Post  boffer on 12/12/2014, 7:58 pm

Very Happy

And I've been thinking about the melding of the old SFG with the ANSFG:

1. For the benefit of the unlucky beginners who buy poor quality compost instead of making their own, or those who buy pre-packaged MM.

2. The foundation of ANSFG is compost.  But there's plenty of people who don't have the time, interest, space, or health to make homemade compost.  For them, ANSFG is probably a non-starter.

I was looking at the original SFG fertilizer recipe; the basic recipe is:
1 part bloodmeal
2 parts bonemeal
3 parts greensand
4 parts composted leaf mold

Seems to me, that a person could make the basic mix of vermiculite, peat moss, and any kind of compost to create a medium that drains well, yet holds water, air, and available nutrients.  Then, instead of fertilizing with compost, one could fertilize with the original recipe.

I'm guessing the leaf mold was for volume and micro-nutrients.  Bagged compost would provide volume, and like camprn, suggested, micro-organisms could be provided by some flower bed soil or whatever, maybe compost tea.

I've been thinking about experimenting with the original recipe to use  myself when I get 'old', and making the volume of compost that I need becomes difficult.  Of course, we won't be eating as much then, so maybe my garden will shrink, and it won't be an issue!

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Re: Thoughts on New Mel's Mix for the Beginners

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 12/12/2014, 8:27 pm

BOFFER - how did you know that just yesterday I was trying to find out what the original Mel's Mix was made of as I seem to have lost my earliest book?!  

SANDERSON - I have plenty of fungal life in my soil because of the heavy mulching with wood chips and other organic material.  It's wonderful to see the mushrooms and threads throughout the soil.  

Mulching my MM was a lifesaver with our hot, dry summers.  I try to keep a minimum of 2 inches to 4 inches.  My worms break it down quickly so I have to keep on top of it!  It's a little more work to plant in my MM when I need to move the mulch aside but the results have only gotten better and better from a dismal start.  In reality, all it takes is maybe a minute or two longer a square to plant.  I am starting more of my plants in my greenhouse and then transplanting so it's pretty easy anyway.

I absolutely agree with your thoughts on cold composting and hot composting.  The same materials will produce a different result when composted each way.  When I cut a plant, unless I need to plant in that square immediately, I'll often simply cut it at ground level and let the worms eat the roots. I also chop and drop right on top of my soil when the material is healthy.  It cold composts right on top just like it would do in nature.  If anything is diseased it goes to the burn pile or trash can.  

The rains we've been having have caused huge sections of grass to grow on our hillside where I don't have wood chip mulch yet (large sections are still uncovered).  There are no weeds where the mulch is, where the weeds are we're pulling them and then just throwing them on top of our gardens as a great source of nitrogen.  We're lucky it's so easy to weed in the sandy loam/decomposed granite soil.  Every weed that isn't invasive or hasn't produced seed yet is added to the mulch.

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Re: Thoughts on New Mel's Mix for the Beginners

Post  yolos on 12/12/2014, 9:04 pm

Here is another variable I have been considering.  I frequently visit another forum relating to soil and compost.  There are quite frequent questions about potted vegetables not growing properly.  Occasionally the poster mentions using potting mix as a growing medium and compost as fertilizer.  The Answers given for the lack of proper growth is:  Bagged potting mix normally has no active soil food web (no micro organisms).  Micro organisms are needed to break the compost down into a form the plants can use.  Here is a sample answer given.

Compost only works as a source of nutrients IF there is an active soil food web in the container to digest the compost and provide the nutrients. Basic law of organic physics

So maybe some of the problems that a new SFG has relate to the fact that MM is made with vermiculite and peat.  I bet neither of these have any micro organisms.  A first year SFGer is most likely using bagged compost.  I don't know if bagged compost has any or how many micro organisms in the bag.

So can some of the first year problems relate to the fact that the mix may not have an active soil food web to break down the compost to nutrients that the plants can use.??

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Re: Thoughts on New Mel's Mix for the Beginners

Post  walshevak on 12/12/2014, 10:31 pm

My  first year was super great with no weeds.  I made my mix using bagged composts, but in my ignorance I used much more manure than Mel recommends.  It was a mix of pig, black kow, black hen, mushroom and a forest fines from Lowes. Second year used a similar 7 blend adding worm casting and a seafood compost.  The 3rd year I added my homemade cold compost and got a pretty good growth, but a lot of weeds.  Last year I again used my homemade, but nothing was growing well.   And again a lot more weeds.  I'm going back to heavy on the manure.  I can now get Llama and sheep manure to add to my homemade mix.  And my worm bin.

But for a brand newbie and someone who does not want to work a compost bin, I still recommend my original mix.



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