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12' Raised Garden Full of "Dirt"

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12' Raised Garden Full of "Dirt"

Post  Marcy on 5/27/2015, 7:16 pm

I am desperate and in need of major advise. 
A few years ago husband made me a real nice 12' X 4' raised bed 2' deep and ordered 2 1/2 yards pulverized top soil w/1 yard of mushroom compost mixed in. Then a year later I found out about SFG'ing.  I hadn't started composting yet and couldn't seem to find 5 different kinds of compost. I couldn't get the cooperation I needed from my husband to calculate, measure, and mix MM.  So all I managed to do last year was get 4" of dirt out of the bed & create about a wheel borrow full of compost. I'm ready to give it another try but it looks like time is running out once again.   
     Here's the dilemma I am a "follow the directions" kind of person and my husband...not so much. I feel I need to get another 2" of dirt out before we even get started. He wants to dump compost, vermiculite, and peat in on top of the remaining dirt and mix it in.  thinking
Please explain what we should and shouldn't do so he can hear it from someone other than me. 

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One of you will not be happy

Post  Razed Bed on 5/27/2015, 7:36 pm

Marcy, the key to why the new SFG method works the way it does is because the growing medium you grow in is 1/3 peat moss (or coconut coir), 1/3 coarse vermiculite, and 1/3 blended compost.

While making compost yourself is the preferred method, because you can then decide how you will fortify your compost, most of us had to purchase our 5 different blends the first year, because like you we did not have time to get enough compost ready.

Have you read the book?  It completely explains how to find 5 choices for buying compost.  I see you live in the Land of Lincoln.  Do you have a Menard's, Lowe's, or Home Depot nearby?  What about a county farmer's co-op?  There could also be farms that sell compost.

The easy way is to buy worm castings, cow poop, chickedy doo doo (hen poop), mushroom compost, and humus (the brown stuff and not the Mideastern delicacy.  That will give you a decent start, and you still have time to buy plants and have a nice harvest.

As for having the deep, previously filled containers, you can use the original SFG method, where you have 12 or more inches of good soil.  The new method requires 7 inches of perfect growing medium, namely Mel's Mix.  Some of us here add rock dust and/or sea minerals, and others add bio-char.

What makes this method superior is that if you have the proper blend as Mel states, you do not have to fertilize or worry about overwatering.  The mix will fertilize all season, and the spongelike consistency will absorb any excess water, like in our 2 inches of rain this afternoon.

As for getting a head start on making usable compost this year, there are ways to make compost in as little as 10-14 days if you or your husband is able to turn the pile over three or four times during the cooking process.

Check out this video.  I do this, and I get a garbage can full of compost every 2 weeks or so, depending on when our lawn grows enough grass to cut.


I substitute organic products for the products he uses.  Rather than use ammonia, I use dried blood and alfalfa meal.  Rather than use beer, I use brewer's yeast.  Rather than use cola, I use either unsulphured molasses or succanat.  I use a 32-gallon trash container with numerous air holes on the lower sides and bottom, and my pile heats up to about 140 degrees.

The results are so wonderful, it is addictive.  I even collect the grass clippings from a neighbor's house that I know does not spray his yard.  His yard woman (yes, an all-female lawn service) collects the cut grass in bags attached to her mowers, and she dumps them in black trash bags for me.

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Re: 12' Raised Garden Full of "Dirt"

Post  sanderson on 5/27/2015, 8:43 pm

Marcy,  Welcome to the Forum from California!   glad you\'re here That is a nice size bed, just perfect for Square foot gardening.  So, you only have 4" of head room between the top of the dirt and top of the bed?  It would be great if you could get another 3 inches out.  Then you could put 6" Mel's Mix on top and still have 1" for mulch for the summer.

The measurements are easy.  The bed is 4' x 12' = 48 sq ft divided by 2 (only 1/2 foot deep needed for the Mel's Mix) = 24 cu feet.  That is 8 cu ft of coarse vermiculite, 4 cu feet of compressed peat moss fluffed up to 8 cu feet, and 8 cu feet of mixed composts.  [Others, please check my math]

Mixing Mel's Mix.  Being an older woman with a bad back, I mixed it in an 18" and 24" rubber cement pan from Home Depot that I set on top an old picnic table.  I have a galvanized horse watering bucket (what are they?  1 1/2 gallons?) and I would measure a short buck of vermiculite into the pan.  Then 1 short bucket of fluffed peat moss.  Water well and slowly mix with a trowel.  Then add a bucket of mixed composts and add to mix.  Dump in bed.  Repeat.  My husband set all the bags of stuff around the table area so I could work for 1-2 hours at a time making the Mix.  Quite an assembly line I had going there.  I have a bad bad and can't lift so I bought a 33 gallon rolling black garbage can with a lid.  When I mixed a pan of Mix, I would slide it over the edge of the table and dump in the garbage can, repeat, until there was enough to roll it over the the bed and dump.  When the can was too full and heavy, husband would help lift the bottom up.

I don't know how much your husband will be helping you.  If you have a pickup you can get some cheap farming sources of compost.  I took a look at Rockford, IL Craig's List for farming sources of compost.  I saw chicken, horse, red wiggler worms, green waste compost, Elyve Organics.  Maybe the worm seller sells screened worm castings also!!)  Razed Bed mentioned Menard's, HD and Lowe's.


When you get everything mixed, in the bed, watered well to settle it (7" can shrink down to the required 6", you could add some red wigglers.  They will make worm castings from the manures and other compost!  Good stuff in small quantities!

My husband does the heavy work and I do all the light weight, time consuming work, fretting, planting, harvesting, etc.  If you have to fill the mix and fill the bed yourself, do it in 4 x 4' sections at a time.  Plant something there.  Then fill the next 4 x 4, plant, and finally fill the last 4 x 4.  When you make grids for that big of a bed, I would recommend making three 4 x 4 grids.  Much easier to put on and take off.

Please, feel free to ask questions! Very Happy

Last edited by sanderson on 6/2/2015, 3:08 am; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Corrected my math)


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Re: 12' Raised Garden Full of "Dirt"

Post  momvet on 5/28/2015, 1:02 pm

Hi Marcy, welcome! I am new too and started with a similar situation (2 4+ x *+ beds, about 2 feet deep). I also have a husband who doesn't like to follow the "rules". I am no spring chicken but I dug out the beds myself (to 8 inches, they have settled to about 6". I found this out when I put in my worm tubes the other day). I also made all the Mel's myself and put it in the beds. It was hard but it is paying off now. (To his credit, DH helped not only in constructing the trellises, which I believe is a 2 person job, but also in drilling holes in and taking bottoms off of the potato buckets and also in making the worm tubes). Follow the advice here, start small (I didn't because I had a lot of trouble finding the mix of Mel's Mix components so decided to go big) and once your hubby sees your progress, I think he will be "won over" - mine has really become a convert since eating fresh veggies the last few weeks!

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Re: 12' Raised Garden Full of "Dirt"

Post  Turan on 5/28/2015, 6:21 pm

I am guessing that the pulverized soil and mushroom compost did not make a successful garden? Or did it then but did not get more compost each year to revitalize it? If you want a way to basically follow the rules and yet give your DH room to rebel how about substituting your soil mixture for the peat and add equal amounts of vermiculite and composts. Of the ingrediants of MM the peat is the least useful, it is just cheaper than 2/3rds compost would be. Your old mushroom compost is basically peat by now. If he wants to mix that in the bed and he will do it thoroughly let him go for it. You just need the top 6 inches well mixed up. If he won't mix it well enough (thinking of my helpful DS here....) then mix the compost and vermiculite yourself and have him mix that into the bed soil.

Good luck, and isn't nice to have a DH or DS who even notices that one wants to garden and need a little help


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Re: 12' Raised Garden Full of "Dirt"

Post  plantoid on 5/28/2015, 7:21 pm

Eat your Elephant one bite at a time

 The formula for Mel's mix conveniently also breaks down into 15 parts or perhaps it's better though of as 15  individual set sizes of volume . 

So  if you have a 2 pound empty steel can or plastic container you may use that as the basic term of measuring and mix it yourself a bit at a time at a height that's good for you .Then fill one square foot at a time . 

Use your removed enhanced mother earth soil to make flower bed additions or to spread around trees & shrubs or over the lawn if you have such a thing .

I'll explain a bit more

1 part peat . Equates to 5 x 2 pound cans of peat

1 part vermiculite equates to 5 x 2 pound cans of vermiculite 

I part of compost means
1 can of compost type a
1 can of compost type b
1 can of compost type c
1 can of compost type d
1 can of compost type e

 a, b ,c ,d & e may be made from almost anything ( see Mel's lists )  but there should be no duplication of ingredients across your range if at all possible.

 If you are thinking of buying big store ready made composts you will most likely find a lot of duplication of ingredients across the whole range which will not give you a good sound varied content end compost mixture.

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Re: 12' Raised Garden Full of "Dirt"

Post  ralitaco on 6/1/2015, 11:24 pm

sanderson wrote:The measurements are easy.  The bed is 4' x 12' = 48 sq ft divided by 2 (only 1/2 foot deep needed for the Mel's Mix) = 24 cu feet.  That is 6 cu ft of coarse vermiculite, 3 cu feet of compressed peat moss fluffed up to 6 cu feet, and 6 cu feet of mixed composts.  [Others, please check my math]
According to my math, you would need 8 cu feet of each 1/3 to do the entire bed.

As was stated already, you don't have to do it all at once. I think it would be better to do a little SFG to start than none at all. With that in mind, here's a suggestion...divide the bed into 2 - 6' beds or 3 - 4' beds and work on converting one bed at a time to the SFG method. If you split it into 3 beds, you could simply move 2" from the left and right ends into the middle. That will get your SFG beds down to 6" and build up that last bed to full height. Of course, you would have to put something in for a divider to keep the MM and other soil from mixing. Oh and you would need to put some fabric on the bottom of the SFG to keep the MM from mixing that way too. (if you do the 2 - 6' beds, you could easily do a SFG vs topsoil comparison or competition with DH)

As far as mixing the components, the tarp method in the book works great, so long as you have a big enough tarp and you don't wet it too much. The only reason to wet it while mixing is to cut the dust, so you can mix it dry and wear a dust mask. I mixed some up recently by myself in about 30-45 minutes by pulling one corner at a time. I'm sure you could find some kids in the neighborhood to mix it for you on the tarp for a few bucks and some lemonade.


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Re: 12' Raised Garden Full of "Dirt"

Post  sanderson on 6/2/2015, 3:15 am

Ralitaco, Thank you for catching my math error. Embarassed I corrected the numbers in my original reply.


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Re: 12' Raised Garden Full of "Dirt"

Post  plantoid on 6/2/2015, 6:26 am

If you putting ANSFG beds directly on top of mother earth beds that are weed free there is  a lot to be gained by leaving out the weed barrier , especially if you're going to grow long root crops as the tap root can go as deep as it likes .

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