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Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

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Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Escaped Lunatic on 7/11/2015, 5:22 am

Hi Everyone!

I packed up most of my stuff in the US and moved to China a few years ago.  I started gardening on my rooftop the hard way (tales of getting dirt are long and sad).  I was digging through my library (still in plastic bins) looking for something to read and came across a copy of the New SFG.  I can't even remember where I got it.

In any event, now I'm kicking myself for all the dirt that's been hauled up to the roof.  I'm also having a terrible time finding vermiculite.  The allegedly course grade stuff that was delivered this week was supposed to weigh 90 grams per liter (still too heavy for coarse grade, but its the best I've found so far).  What I got looks like a modest amount of mid-grade vermiculite mixed with . . . something else.  It weights well over 200 grams per liter.

I have no idea what's in it, but I don't think I want it near my plants.  Mad

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  AtlantaMarie on 7/11/2015, 7:38 am

Hello you Lunatic!  Glad you're here.  Welcome from Atlanta, GA.

We need someone crazy around here...  There's not enough of us!  Wink

Looking forward to seeing & hearing about your China garden!

If you're really having trouble finding vermiculite, concentrate on compost...

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Goosegirl on 7/11/2015, 7:50 am

welcome  fellow Lunatic, from smoky South Dakota!  All Loonies welcome here!  Like AM said, you can just concentrate on compost or you could try finding perlite.  Perlite does float to the top eventually so you have to mix it back in, but it will work.  Or, just use the compost - more food for your garden!  We would love to see pics if/when you have some available.  We LOVE pictures!

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Scorpio Rising on 7/11/2015, 8:30 am

Welcome, Lunatic!  I also had trouble finding vermiculite in my previous version of SFG, and had really hard clay soil, like clay.  You could make pottery with it right out of the ground.   I amended my soil with compost, peat and sand.  Worked great.  Maybe that is an option.  Try a container of both, experiment, try the perlite mix too and see what works for you there!

glad you\'re here From Ohio!

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  boffer on 7/11/2015, 9:58 am

Welcome to the forum.

It's pretty ironic that you can't find coarse vermiculite in China, but here in the states, that's where our course vermiculite comes from.

We have a member, PVPind, whose family owns a perlite and vermiculite manufacturing company. I PM'd him asking if his Chinese wholesale sources might have retail outlets. Fingers crossed. Compost is the critical ingredient, but vermiculite does add some nice qualities to the mix.

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  sanderson on 7/11/2015, 4:38 pm

Lunatic, Welcome to the Forum from California! glad you\'re here Looking at a map for your latitude, it looks like you are in a tropical growing zone. ?? Hopefully your vermiculite source will be shortly solved. Please, please post photos. Very Happy

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Escaped Lunatic on 7/11/2015, 8:22 pm

@boffer wrote:

It's pretty ironic that you can't find coarse vermiculite in China, but here in the states, that's where our course vermiculite comes from.


It's an irony I've become well acquainted with.  Dongguan makes much of the stuff you can find at WalMart, but finding the same items on the shelves here isn't always easy.  I had to buy any number of kitchen items back in the US when I visit (think I've got that fixed - finally found a kitchen-ware zone in Hong Kong which has everything I've ever dreamed of and more).

Looking forward on getting info on how to access to some decent vermiculite.  I've just gotten coir and peat moss to play with and have had my own composting system running for quite some time.

I've been lucky enough to rent a house in a village on the outskirts of town, so I've got a whole rooftop available for gardening.  So far, my efforts have produced limited success and a whole bunch of dead plants.  It's definitely tropical here.  It can get cold in winter, but never freezes.  It gets as hot or a little hotter than central Florida in the summer, so my plants get very thirsty (even with compost, the soil just doesn't retain enough water).

My current plants are all in pots (does that make me a pot farmer?  Laughing).  For SFG, I've acquired some of the styrofoam coolers that vegetables get shipped in (I've seen a number of my fellow villagers use these for raising veggies).  These are available in abundance at the village veggie market, so if everything works, I can expand this as much as I like.

The coolers are about 21"x15" (54x40cm), so I'm not quite sure how to divide them up with the mandatory grid dividers.  If I consider a cooler itself to be the basic unit (i.e. no internal grid - Small Rectangle Gardening), would that make me a heretic?  thinking

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  BeckieSueDalton on 7/11/2015, 8:29 pm

Hi again from Atlanta GA!   

I'm new to the forums and SFG, and gardening at all for that matter.  Like others, I look forward to seeing the pictures of your rooftop garden, as almost everything I have is in cast-off containers right now, too.

Also, I love the song from your sig-line.  Smile

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  boffer on 7/12/2015, 12:10 am

@Escaped Lunatic wrote:...The coolers are about 21"x15" (54x40cm), so I'm not quite sure how to divide them up with the mandatory grid dividers.  If I consider a cooler itself to be the basic unit (i.e. no internal grid - Small Rectangle Gardening), would that make me a heretic?  thinking

Nah, it makes you a pragmatist.  Besides, at roughly 2 square feet each, if you put 8 of them together, you'd have the equivalent of a 4x4 box with a built in grid! I like it! (I'm guessing that most gardeners could visually divide each box in half.)

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Escaped Lunatic on 7/12/2015, 2:59 am

Pragmatist?  Hmmm... not sure if I like that better than heretic or not.  Laughing

Hi Becky Sue,

I'll have to dig around and see if I can find some of the pics I've taken of my gardening endeavors so far.  I know I've got them somewhere.



My lovely wife just got off the chat with the people who sold me the massively overweight sort-of vermiculite.  They claim since they sell by volume, but pay for shipping by weight that there's no reason to add anything else.  This may be true for them, but the originator of this psuedo-vermiculite must be making money in this somehow.  I'm thinking the factory is starting out with impure vermiculite rock and is dumping the leftover scraps on the Chinese market.  Mad

Maybe I can run it through a screen to try to retain the better pieces before dumping the rest.  thinking

Now I'm just hoping to hear back soon on the source of the good stuff.

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  sanderson on 7/12/2015, 6:19 am

@Escaped Lunatic wrote:.

My current plants are all in pots (does that make me a pot farmer?  Laughing).  For SFG, I've acquired some of the styrofoam coolers that vegetables get shipped in (I've seen a number of my fellow villagers use these for raising veggies).  The coolers are about 21"x15" (54x40cm), so I'm not quite sure how to divide them up with the mandatory grid dividers.
15 x 21 = 315. 12 x 24 - 288. So the cooler could be considered 2 sq ft, each 15" x 10.5"

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  walshevak on 7/12/2015, 10:24 am

If you can't get vermiculite, try rice hulls.  That's what I had to use in the Philippines.  It may not hold water as well, but it does help loosen up the heavy compost.  In PI the locals also charcoalize (heat until almost burnt) the rice hulls for the organic gardens.

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Escaped Lunatic on 7/21/2015, 6:51 am

Thanks to a tip from PVPInd, I've got 100 liters of allegedly coarse vermiculite headed my way.  I'll hold off mentioning the company until I see what the quality is like.

They claim it comes out of the oven at about 70 grams per liter, but after packing it's 90-100 grams per liter.  Needless to say, the first thing I'm doing when it arrives is flipping the bag upside down (to access the highest density), opening it, and extracting half a liter to weigh.

If the shipping doesn't take too long, it should be here by the end of the week. Very Happy

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Escaped Lunatic on 7/28/2015, 7:13 am

Evidently, I missed part of the negotiations, so initially a free sample arrived.  It weighed in at 108 grams per liter (compared to the 200+ grams per liter of my first purchase of 50 liters from an online shop).  I'm trying to get good, coarse vermiculite, but decided this new version would be adequate for the initial garden test.  Even better, the sales rep claimed that the sample was not as good as the final production product.  So, 100 liters was ordered.

It arrived today.  As soon as I opened, it, I could see that something was wrong.  The average grain size was way too small.  I whipped out my kitchen measuring cup and weight 500 ml.  It came out to 144 grams per liter.

My lovely wife doesn't seem to agree with my desire to at least attempt to follow the directions and get something resembling coarse vermiculite, but finally agreed to have a chat with the salesman.

He denied that there was any possibility that it weighed that much.  A picture of the measuring cup on the scale was sent.  He decided that the cup wasn't accurate (same one I used to get the 108 gram/liter measurement on the sample), so I dug out a 500 ml graduated cylinder (I have a rather eclectic mix of kitchenware  Cool).  Yep, turns out I needed that refined level of accuracy. The new vermiculite doesn't weigh 144 grams/l, so it was terribly unfair of me to make that claim.  It really weighs 146 grams/L.  The sales guy didn't have a lot to say after getting the new pictures showing the more accurate results.

The drawback of vermiculite is that shipping costs more than the material.  When he suggested to my wife that we buy a whole new bag of vermiculite, she shifted into attack mode over the fact that what we got was NOT what was clearly promised.  Allegedly a replacement bag (not sure if it's 50 or 100 liters) of "the good stuff" is being prepared at no charge.

If this fails, I think I can run what I have through a screen to get the better parts.  At least the fine particles in this lot look like real vermiculite.


In the meantime, 12 L of washed coco-peat and 12 L of compost are patiently awaiting 12 L of more-or-less coarse vermiculite to join them in a cooler for my first experiment.

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Scorpio Rising on 7/28/2015, 9:13 am

What a pain! You wife sounds like a crackerjack negotiator! Lol. Give it a go with what you end up with, I for one am tweaking the MM all the time, mostly with compost however.

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  sanderson on 7/28/2015, 11:20 am

The vermiculite will probably be fine. The most important ingredient to get right is compost. Maybe you could post a photo of the stuff in your hand or next to a quarter size coin.

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Kelejan on 7/29/2015, 10:32 am

@Escaped Lunatic wrote:
- - -
My current plants are all in pots (does that make me a pot farmer?  Laughing).  For SFG, I've acquired some of the styrofoam coolers that vegetables get shipped in (I've seen a number of my fellow villagers use these for raising veggies).  These are available in abundance at the village veggie market, so if everything works, I can expand this as much as I like.

The coolers are about 21"x15"
(54x40cm), so I'm not quite sure how to divide them up with the mandatory grid dividers.  If I consider a cooler itself to be the basic unit (i.e. no internal grid - Small Rectangle Gardening), would that make me a heretic?  thinking
Escaped Lunatic, Welcome:

Your containers are about 21" x 15" which is 350 square inches. Divide by 2 and you get 175 square inches. I assume your measurements are outside and not inside measurements? So it would be less than 175 square inches.

Use 10" x 15" = 150 square inches so you can call yourself an OFG, an oblong foot gardener. You just have to plant your seeds to match the shape.

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Windmere on 7/29/2015, 5:19 pm

Hi Escaped Lunatic,

I just finished reading all of this thread.  First, welcome from Atlanta, GA!!  I am a Los Angeles transplant.  I did not know really know anything about the red clay here... it's horrible.  SFG was the best choice for me.

Vermiculite can, indeed, be a bear to find.  I was delighted to read about your wife's negotiation skills.  Many kudos!

Well, I think you will find many friendly and helpful folks here.  I can echo what Sanderson said about the compost.  I get the best results from using vermiculite, but in wide areas of open (heavily amended) clay, it's cost prohibitive.  However, if I do amend with good compost mixes, I generally have good results with regard to both vegetables and flowers.

I wish you much success and I also look forward to maybe seeing some photos of your work!

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Marc Iverson on 7/30/2015, 3:58 am

I would just consider a 21 x 15" container as a square foot plus "bonus space" to be used however you like. Trying to impose a grid on something that is already size delimited and relatively compact doesn't sound like it will accomplish much.

You might want to use the extra space to plant some flowers or flowering herbs to attract bees ... there's always a good use for extra space.

I wonder if you wouldn't benefit from surrounding your containers with stakes every foot or so, or something to keep from cracking the styrofoam with tools or your feet by accident. Styrofoam isn't too tough.

What I've done where I can't put beds is use the discarded plastic buckets restaurants use for soy sauce and bakeries use for frosting and other ingredients. They're safe, free, food-quality, and durable. You might want to try to get some of those too, if you can, just because they're so rugged and seem to have a million uses around the house and garden.



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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Escaped Lunatic on 7/30/2015, 6:30 am

@sanderson wrote:The vermiculite will probably be fine.  The most important ingredient to get right is compost.  Maybe you could post a photo of the stuff in your hand or next to a quarter size coin.



China makes a coin almost exactly the same size as a quarter.  Very Happy

Gold material on the left is well over 200 grams per liter.  Looks like I missed the finer stuff when I grabbed a little for the photo.  What was interesting was putting it in water.  A significant part immediately sank.

Silver at top center is from the sample the factory sent.  Weights about 108 grams/L and looks nice.  I did test it in water - out of about a tablespoon full, 2 pieces sank and everything else floated.

To the right comes from the 10 or so KG they sent me - weighs 146 gr/L and has a noticably higher percentage of fine particles.  Have't tried it in water yet.


@Kelejan wrote:
Your containers are about 21" x 15" which is 350 square inches. Divide by 2 and you get 175 square inches. I assume your measurements are outside and not inside measurements? So it would be less than 175 square inches.

Use 10" x 15" = 150 square inches so you can call yourself an OFG, an oblong foot gardener. You just have to plant your seeds to match the shape.

I didn't even think to measure the outside. thinking   I was getting interior measurements for volume calculations.  Perhaps I can call myself an Off-Kilter Foot Gardener.  Smile

@Windmere wrote:Vermiculite can, indeed, be a bear to find.  I was delighted to read about your wife's negotiation skills.  Many kudos!

My darling wife was born in the Year of the Rottweiler.  Once she decides to tear a chunk out of someone, there's no stopping her.  Wait until I get the wedding blog re-posted and you can read about how she almost made the person at the wedding photo studio cry during negotiations.  Laughing

@Marc Iverson wrote:I wonder if you wouldn't benefit from surrounding your containers with stakes every foot or so, or something to keep from cracking the styrofoam with tools or your feet by accident.  Styrofoam isn't too tough.

What I've done where I can't put beds is use the discarded plastic buckets restaurants use for soy sauce and bakeries use for frosting and other ingredients.  They're safe, free, food-quality, and durable.  You might want to try to get some of those too, if you can, just because they're so rugged and seem to have a million uses around the house and garden.

I may have to think about putting some reinforcing on the exposed sides.  Since this is all on a concrete roof, stakes could be a little difficult.  Happily, the first cooler survived nicely holding extra dirt on the roof for over a year, so I think I can get some more use out of it before it fails.

I'll have to see if I can find buckets.  They've got to be available here somewhere.  Currently, everything else is in pots (even the compost manufacturing).


If the next vermiculite shipment makes me happy, cooler #1 is already planned.  Summer lasts a long time here, so I checked Mel's book for summer items vs. the seeds I've got on hand.  Looks like I could go with 3 chards across the front and a mix of 2 tomato vines and 8 or so climbing beans across the back.

I do have a bit of a roof rodent problem, but have acquired some new weapons to deploy.  They seem to enjoy the sorghum seeds, so I've started harvesting any that looks even slightly ready (no clue what to do with it - I was trying for a little bit of shade and thought it looked cool) and am composting any the moment they show signs of nibbling on.

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Scorpio Rising on 7/30/2015, 9:31 am

That sample batch looks right to me, and the other light colored stuff is OK, too, looks like the stuff I bought here at the local nursery. My vermiculite floated.

I like your plan! Sounds great, interplanting to make the most of your space, exciting stuff! Sorghum, ehhh? Interesting....lol

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  sanderson on 7/30/2015, 5:07 pm

I like the KIS(s) philosophy.

1. Interior measurements are what are important to the plant. I still think you could lay a chopstick across the middle of the mix in the Styrofoam cooler and call it 2 squares for planting purposes.

2. Group 4 to 8 coolers together so that the interior can be comfortably reached from all 4 sides. Wrap around them with duct tape and call it Bed #1. Repeat for beds #2 etc. Leave 3 feet between them as isles.

3. The vermiculite piles at the top and right of the photo look good.

4. Rodent proofing. See Mel's book for directions to construct a chicken wire cage, but use 1/4" or 1/2" metal mesh to build them. Make them large and tall enough for the type of veggie plus at least 1' larger on the sides so you can place the whole contraption over a "bed."

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  CapeCoddess on 7/31/2015, 4:59 pm

Hi Lunatic! If your wife is Chinese I understand how well they negotiate. I work with a couple of gals from China here in the office and they sure have taught me a thing or 2!

I'm with Sanderson, all 3 of those piles look fine. I have different sizes in my SFG. One bag I bought was even mixed with perlite. I'd neglected to read the bag or pay much attention. It all works fine. No stress.
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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Escaped Lunatic on 8/1/2015, 7:35 am

One less rat on my roof.  Now they'll avoid the cage traps for awhile, so I've deployed a new type of poison.  Hypothetically, it's not supposed to give them any symptoms for at least 5 days, so they'll be less likely to figure out what happened when one of them drops dead (unlike the previous Chinese rat poisons I've used which leave a dead rat about 3 or 4 paces from the bait tray Shocked).

I think a cage like from Mel's book will be a good idea at first, but once those beans start growing, they're a little hard to contain.  The initial protection will be good - I've found seedlings ripped out of the ground more than once (not even sure why - nothing appeared to have been eaten).  Another time, one of the smarter rats decided it would be good to dig up and eat many of the bean seeds I'd planted a day or two before.  Mad

Sadly, the best vermiculite of the 3 was from a small sample (about a liter or so).  I'm debating starting with the other silver stuff vs. waiting for what's supposed to be a new shipment sometime in a few days (haven't had a chance to find some screen to remove the finest parts).  I may salvage the gold vermiculite later, but it's going through some water so I can at least remove whatever it is that's not floating.

In any event, I'm hoping to have some free time to get started this week.  I've spent most of my spare time the last few days restoring the blog pages for my wedding and 1st honeymoon (just finished the honeymoon restoration about an hour ago).  This shouldn't have been needed, but there's something out there I hate more than rats - hackers.  Happily, my website is now moved to a more secure hosting company, so I'm hoping I don't have to redo anything else and can get back to adding new content as well as devoting more time for testing out rectangular box gardening.

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

Post  Scorpio Rising on 8/1/2015, 9:39 am

Honestly, EL, I would use what you have. It will be worlds better than anything else you have gardened in I would predict. And the real workhorse is the compost. Go for it!

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Re: Hello from beautiful Dongguan, China

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