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Miracle-Gro Balance?

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Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  mkrewson on 3/18/2015, 10:29 pm

Hi, I'm new to square foot gardening and hoping to mix up my first batch of Mel's mix this weekend.  I've had some trouble finding 5 types of compost, but I'm getting close.  My husband came home with several bags of Miracle-Gro Balance Compost & Gypsum from Home Depot.  Is this ok to use as one of the 5 sources of compost?  I know Mel's mix probably doesn't need the gypsum, but will it hurt?

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Re: Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  sanderson on 3/19/2015, 1:20 am

Welcome to the Forum from California! glad you\'re here

Bless your hubby, but you are making a soil-less mix. Gypsum is used on dirt. Maybe not all is lost and he can return the bags and get other products that you need. If not, the MG can be put in the flower beds.

Back to Mel's Mix. Have you read the book All New Square Foot Gardening, 1st or 2nd Edition, by Mel Bartholomew? If not, I recommend you start there before buying anything else. Please feel free to ask us about a product before you buy it. You need vermiculite (coarse preferred, medium okay, perlite acceptable), peat moss (usually comes compressed and will fluff to almost 2X the volume, measure after fluffing) and 5 different kinds or sources of compost. This is usually the hardest part. One of the 5 should be a composted barnyard manure.

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Re: Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  AtlantaMarie on 3/19/2015, 7:29 am

Hi MKrewson.  Welcome from Atlanta, GA!

Glad you've joined us.

+1 on what Sanderson said. 

Glad your hubby is helping you on this.  Makes it a lot easier...!

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Re: Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  mkrewson on 3/19/2015, 10:51 am

Thanks for the replies!

I read the New SFG book last fall cover to cover.  My husband I are were really excited, so we prepared the garden bed so it would be ready for Mel's mix in the spring.  It was an existing raised bed (interesting shape too: 17 inches by 46 ft...really long and skinny right next to the driveway, but it has more sun there than anywhere else in the back yard).  It seems perfect for a square foot garden because it's such a small area - I don't think a traditional garden would do as well.  Anyways, we ripped out the nasty pricker bushes that were in there, removed the existing soil, replaces one wall of the bed that wasn't doing well, and stapled in a week cloth to the bottom.

So now we have an empty raised garden bed.  I did find 4 large bags of vermiculite from a local garden store.  (Glad I was able to find them, but the store had HORRIBLE customer service and I will never go back there!)  I was able to purchase the peat moss easily and cheaply from home depot.  So that's 2/3 of the Mel's Mix.

As soon as I read the part of the book about compost, we started a tumbling compost bin.  It seems to be working, but there wasn't much activity in the bin with the extremely cold winter we had.  It does seem to be warming up again, but that compost won't be ready for a few more weeks at least, and it won't be nearly enough for the remaining 1/3 of the mel's mix.

So, I went about purchasing the compost.  I've called dozens of garden centers and visited a few more, and am having a tough time coming up with the 5 types!  I have:

1. Composted cow manure - 4 bags
2. Mushroom compost -  4 bags
3. Leaf humus + manure (not thrilled with this since we already have manure, so only bought a little) - 1 bag
4. Miracle Gro Nature's Care Compost (bag says it contains a "balanced mix" of compost materials, but doesn't specify) - 5 bags
5. Worm Castings (from Amazon since I couldn't find locally, 100% pure worm castings, not a mix) - 1 small bag
5. Miracle Gro Balance Compost + Gyspum (this is the one in question...it's just one of the 5 types, but is the gypsum "bad" for the mel's mix?) - 5 bags

The main thing about the Compost + Gypsum that concerns me is that it says not to use it in containers...not sure why.  I am leaning towards it being ok since it's just part of the mix and there's only .56% gypsum in the mix and it's only a small percent of the mel's mix, but I don't want to ruin the rest of the good materials!

I'm eager to get this garden started so I can put in my shallots and strawberries before it gets too far into spring!

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Re:Miracle-Gro Balance

Post  momvet on 3/19/2015, 1:49 pm

Even though we are far apart, I feel your pain. I am just starting too and the hardest part for me was finding the various composts (I bought a tumbler this spring but no way could I fill my existing beds with homemade). I ended up spending a lot of $ on-line ordering various composts and unfortunately miscalculated a bit and didn't end up with with quite enough or the "extra" I expected (my beds are a little bit bigger than 4X8 and I think I might have dug a little deeper). I am no expert but I would follow the advice from the book and everyone here and make sure you start right because most of the effort and expense will be a one time thing. I used steer manure, chicken manure, bat guano (not much-$), mushroom compost and a three different mixed composts - mostly forestry and vegetable waste. Anyway I have commercial Mel's Mix available and added it and have been using it to repot my starts, but I'm glad I couldn't afford it to fill my beds. It looked nothing like what I created from scratch and the vermiculite looked much smaller. I am getting a lot of mushrooms growing out of it as well. Everything I have started in my beds is sprouting and I have high hopes. Good luck to you.

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Re: Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  sanderson on 3/19/2015, 2:55 pm

Does your local HD carry Ecoscraps Compost? It is a veggie based compost. I wince about the MG + gypsum.

Here's my personal take on your purchased products:
1. Composted cow manure - 4 bags - good
2. Mushroom compost - 4 bags - good
3. Leaf humus + manure (not thrilled with this since we already have manure, so only bought a little) - 1 bag (good, use more) Extra composted manure should be fine - buy total of 4)
4. Miracle Gro Nature's Care Compost (bag says it contains a "balanced mix" of compost materials, but doesn't specify) - 5 bags - made from yard waste, if there isn't a lot of wood pieces. Use 4.
5. Worm Castings (from Amazon since I couldn't find locally, 100% pure worm castings, not a mix) - 1 small bag Good, you don't need much
6. Miracle Gro Balance Compost + Gyspum (this is the one in question...it's just one of the 5 types, but is the gypsum "bad" for the mel's mix?) - 5 bags - NO, don't use. Replace with 4 bags of Ecoscraps Compost (green bag preferred, but orange bag okay)

Adjust the # of bags according to their total volume, so that the total volume of each is equal. The closer to Mel's recipe, the better the results. Believe me. I used Kellogg's when I started out in March 2013 and spent the rest of the summer trying to make up for it! Embarassed Embarassed

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Re: Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  mkrewson on 3/19/2015, 5:09 pm

Thanks for the advice!


I did a search for Ecoscraps on Home Depot's website.  It looks like there are several different kinds, but none are available in stores near me.  However, I can have them shipped to the store for free.  The only size bags I see are 4lb bags for $6.98.  It is tough to tell how many bags I would need to equal 3 cubic ft, but probably a lot.  So, I may consider ordering some in, but it seems like it could add up to be pretty expensive quickly.


The local garden centers tried to sell me something called "Sweet Peet."  It's a compost made of "all sorts of stuff" including manure from zoo animals and virgin hardwood.  They recommend using it as a mulch, so I suspect it's mostly wood chips.


Another option I've come across is Dr. Earth Compost.  I saw it at that garden center that I had a terrible experience with, but I looks like I might be able to buy it elsewhere.  Here's the description from the website: formulated from a fine selection of composted organic materials. Our blend is packed full of the organic materials that help your plants become established. We only use Forest Humus, Fir Bark, Peat Moss, Worm Castings, Alfalfa Meal, Kelp Meal, Soybean Meal, Fish Meal, Fish Bone Meal, MicroActive™ Seaweed Extract, Aloe Vera, Yucca Extract, and Oyster Shell & Dolomite Limes. We have also included Probiotic™ beneficial soil Microbes plus both Ecto and Endo Mycorrhizae.


So, I think I'm leaning towards returning the Miracle Grow with Gypsum and getting the Dr. Earth instead.  I think the whole Probiotics in the soil stuff is borderline silly, but the other ingredients sound good.


Has anyone had experience with either Sweet Peet or Dr. Earth?  I'd post links to both, but I'm unable to this week since I just signed up for the forum.

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Re: Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  sanderson on 3/19/2015, 7:45 pm

I went outside and looked at one of my bags of Ecoscraps Garden Soil.  23 lbs = 1 cu. ft.  Each square needs 2/5" layer/amount.  One of my bags would take care of 30 sq ft.  This is based on 2 inches of blended compost made of 5 different composts.  5 composts x 2/5"  = 2" of total compost.

Em.  Dr. Earth Compost contains lime (not needed, just like gypsum is not needed because we don't use dirt) and forest humus.  Using Humus is similar to using peat moss in that they both help in lightness and neither contributes nutrients.  So, Dr. Earth is not something I would use in sfg.  I would use it in my dirt flower beds, mixed with the dirt plus perlite or vermiculite.

I've just re-read your post and realized you mentioned 4 lb of Ecoscraps, NOT 40 lbs.  Embarassed  So I went to their site and realized they also sell "food" in little bags.  I learn something every day from this Forum!!  The 4 lb bags are plant food.  Think fertilizer, which SFG doesn't use.  It's the large 23 lbs bags that I use as one of the composts when I have run out of my home made compost.  Green bag with a red tomato picture has more veggies and less wood.  Second best is orange bag with a green pepper photo with a little less veggies and more wood.

Another veggie-based compost can sometimes be found at Whole Foods.

I can't really comment on Sweet Peet with any credibility.  It says to use it as a mulch, but I think that is for dirt/ground gardens.  I think most of the Forum folks use wood chips or straw.

If you want a trace of sea product, check out Kelp4less.com for their kelp meal.  Maybe a hydroponic store would also carry it.   A little bit goes a long way like worm castings do.

But, here's the bottom line.  It's YOUR sfg garden, you can use what ever you want.  We are here to help with your questions and cheer you on as the little babies start growing and you get your first pick of produce.  Yeah! clap

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Re: Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  mkrewson on 3/20/2015, 10:09 am

Sanderson, thanks for checking out your Ecoscraps and helping determine that it's not the same thing that I was looking at online!  Unfortunately, I don't have the Ecoscraps Garden Soil available to me right now.  Perhaps it's a location thing, or perhaps it just isn't in stock around here yet because our growing season starts so late.

momvet, it's interesting to hear that you've been less than thrilled with the bagged mel's mix.  I was so jealous that it's available pre-mixed in some parts of the country, but costs more to ship than to buy to get it here.

Sanderson, thanks for the encouragement and reminder that it is my garden.  I want to make sure I'm doing everything right, but driving myself (and my husband) crazy trying to get just the right mix of compost!  I think I'm going to use a mix of what I can find (manure, leaf humus, vegetable scraps/yard waste, mushroom) and add smaller amounts of worm castings and perhaps kelp meal.  I will make it all total up to 1/3 of my mix, but it may mean that I have slightly more than 20% manure or humus or something.  I think the smaller amounts of the more expensive, nutrient rich things like the worm castings should make up for it.  Hopefully my composter will start working more quickly now that I have a lot more material in it and it's no longer a frozen lump!  That way I can mix in my compost during the summer when I'm replanting squares.

Overall, I think my lesson learned from this thread is that it's best to avoid things that shouldn't be in the Mel's mix such as lime or gypsum, and minimize the amount of wood chips and other junk.  I just can't wait to get my strawberries and shallots planted!

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Re: Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  AtlantaMarie on 3/20/2015, 2:18 pm

MKrewson - Remember:  It's all a process!  And you get to learn new things every season.

We're here to help you, cheer you on, commiserate with you...

Don't drive yourself (or especially your DH) nuts.  It's not worth it.

Can't wait to see your progress! 

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Re: Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  Mikesgardn on 3/20/2015, 8:43 pm

I know when you are first starting out, it is hard to find a variety of composts, and you may not have had the time to  make your own.  In my first SFG, I only used one type of compost (I was busy raising toddlers with a working wife, etc.....).     So I planted my garden anyway, and added miraclegro as needed.   The next year, I had my own compost pile, and had time to find additional sources of compost, so miraclegro was no longer needed.

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Re: Miracle-Gro Balance?

Post  sanderson on 3/20/2015, 9:08 pm

Mike, sounds like me the first year. Had to use MG 2X the first year.

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