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Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

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Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 7/25/2015, 1:00 pm

Let me say up front: when using homemade compost, MM works as advertised, and I love it.

However, long story short: it's become apparent to me in the last couple months that there will come a time that I won't be able to make, store, and use the volume of compost that I need, which for the last couple years has been 4-5 yards of finished compost.

Next year, I'm planning on doing some experimenting with organic fertilizers that I can add to the existing MM instead of compost.  I have very little knowledge or experience with fertilizers, as I haven't needed them much.

I spent time browsing the fertilizer shelves at my favorite garden store.  For plant fertilizers only, the shelving unit was 25 feet long, with 6 shelves about 7 feet high.  It was roughly divided in half, with organic fertilizers on one side and chemical fertilizers on the other.

As a starting place, I was looking at organic pre-mixed fertilizer products  by Gardner and Bloome, which seems to have products similar to Espoma.

For better or worse, I'm very cynical about marketing messaging and claims.  I question the need for multiple products that contain the same ingredients in slightly different ratios, other than for the manufacturer to sell more product.

Advertised
Purpose
  Gardner
and Bloome
  Espoma
Tomatoes4-6-33-4-6
Roses4-6-24-3-2
Buds/Blooms3-7-43-4-5
Veggie All Purpose4-4-43-4-4


I first started questioning the NPK ratios of G and B's products.  For instance:
tomatoes 4-6-3 and roses 4-6-2.

Seriously? One percentage point difference in K requires a separate product?  Bull.  That leads to questioning the accuracy of the ratios.  It's my understanding that absolute values aren't critical when using organic fertilizers, which leads me to wondering just how accurate the values are, and whether all the packages contain the same amount of NPK products.

Espoma products were mentioned in another thread this morning, so I started comparing them with G and B.  Interesting how they each advertise different NPK ratios for the same plant.

So, any experienced  recommendations for an all-around organic fertilizer from those listed above or other manufacturers?

A pre-packaged all-in-one product like those above is certainly convenient, but would get expensive for a larger garden.  So the next step would be to make my own from bulk sources: blood meal-bone meal-potash or green sand for starters. I've look at Mel's recipe from the original SFG method, and I've looked at the recipe from Steve Soloman's recommendation for PNW soils.  Any other recommendations  I could consider?

At this point, my focus is on major nutrients.  I'll look into supplying  micro-nutrients and mycorrhizae later.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  Marc Iverson on 7/25/2015, 2:46 pm

Gardener and Bloome compost is all over the place. Some of their premium stuff is very woody, and some at the same price point or lower is well-composted and has grown my stuff well. They're thought of as a premium or near-premium brand around here, but the upshot of my experience is that you'd still better poke a hole in the bag and take a look at it before buying.

Also worth mentioning is that toward the end of summer, many brands go on sale for dramatic discounts. It's a lot cheaper to buy bagged compost at the end of the season when you don't really need it than at the beginning of the season when you do!

If you have the time, it can pay off to take a weekly drive around your local granges and garden stores at the end of the season to see if it's time to stock up.


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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 7/25/2015, 3:33 pm

Let's see: If I need a minimum of 4 yards of compost, and if one bag of compost is 1 cubic foot, then I'll need 108 bags minimum per year.  If I could man handle that, I could probably make my own.

I admire what plantoid is able to accomplish with his physical limitations, and what Kelejan, at 80,  is able to get done by doing a little a time.  But my gardens are larger and more spread out.  At some point, to continue using compost, I would have to shrink my garden, and then I wouldn't be able to supply all my vegetables for the year.

I like 'playing in the dirt'.  But I'd rather give that up and use organic fertilizers, than I would give up growing all my veggies.

Here's the  back-story that I left out.

My first 12 SFG boxes were TTs.  My joke was that although I didn't have knee problems, I was preparing for the time when I would.  That time came 2 years ago, a lot sooner than I expected.  There's no way I could grow the number of squares that I do of carrots, radishes, beets (or any of the small seeds, planted in multiples in a square, that need thinning) if I had to do it on the ground.

After surgery earlier this summer, the doctor had me on light duty for 6 weeks-absolutely no lifting more than 10 pounds.  I prepared ahead of time by placing buckets of compost throughout my gardens, so that when it was time to re-plentish squares, I could use a quart container to move the compost from a nearby bucket to a box in just a few steps.  That worked until I ran out and had to get help screening more compost and carrying the buckets to the garden.  I also realized how much walking I do taking care of things.

This summer has given me a glimpse of challenges that lay ahead in my life.  I'd rather prepare now while it's easy, than wait until I have no choice.  I think using organic fertilizers in MM is a feasible solution.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  Marc Iverson on 7/25/2015, 3:40 pm

Maybe now is a good time to start becoming a compost tea expert!

It won't make up for slowly diminishing soil volume, but it can be very cheap when you make it yourself.

And re tough, hard-working composting folks, don't forget sanderson turning her compost at midnight so the temperatures have finally dropped to a refreshing 90 degrees!

And re the walking ... you're probably lucky you have to do so much. It's so good for the body, and as we start to get older, it becomes one of the only things we can still do to keep fit.


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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 7/25/2015, 3:53 pm

@boffer wrote:I'll look into supplying  micro-nutrients and mycorrhizae later.

I was thinking specifically of compost tea.

True dat about Sanderson and others who have to do their gardening in their official SFG gardening attire (robe, slippers, and headlight) due to the heat.  And the others who get so much accomplished in the garden in spite of having a full time job and other responsibilities.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  CapeCoddess on 7/25/2015, 3:55 pm

What about compost tea instead of fertilizer?  This makes a small amount of compost go a long way.  

Also, MM tends to sink as the plants eat up the compost.  What will you bulk it up with?

And another thing I'm wondering about...with your knee issues, can you bend from the waist?  That's what my mom did in order to harvest from the on ground SFG when her knees went south.

I'm not an advocate of fertilizer, but I do have a 7 yr old bag of Espoma in the garage that I bring out in emergencies for the perennials and annuals.  I worry about the earth worms when using fertilizer. I use Neptune more easily, altho a bottle will last me a few years.
What a Face

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  Turan on 7/25/2015, 4:13 pm

I have at times used Espoma Tomato Tone.  I don't think it is much different than any of the others.  I used it with equal amounts of bonemeal mixed in, about 2 cups mixed through 30sf.  Those tomatoes received a drench of fish emulsion a couple weeks later but no further fertilizing through the season.  But those plants were only really looking to the fertilizer for the early season before the soil microbes really get pumping.  So I do not know how it works if it is the primary source of nutrients.  I suspect you will find that the tiring MM will be a very good matrix for holding such fertilizers and that if you use a certain amount of mulches (lawn clippings to be precise) you will be adding organic matter.  You could then focus your compost to specific beds on a rotation, so over a span of X years all beds would receive some compost and that should greatly cut down on amounts needed.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  CapeCoddess on 7/25/2015, 4:17 pm

Oooo...that's an idea, Turan...he could compost directly in the beds.  Maybe set one or some aside just for that purpose and switch around each year.

OK Boffer, I went down and got the exact names of the only fertilizers I would use:
Espoma Plant Tone
Neptune Fish & Seaweed Fertilizer

And my latest discovery that I forgot all about & used in the SFG this year:
Wiggle Worm earth worm castings  (steroids in a bag!)

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 7/25/2015, 4:44 pm

@Turan wrote:...  I suspect you will find that the tiring MM will be a very good matrix for holding such fertilizers and that if you use a certain amount of mulches (lawn clippings to be precise) you will be adding organic matter...

That's what I'm thinking about the MM too.  I hadn't thought about mulch; it would  accomplish the same thing as compost tea, right?  


CC wrote:And another thing I'm wondering about...with your knee issues, can you bend from the waist?
 Yeah, I can still touch my toes with room to spare, but the distance from my cheaters to the ground is still too great to see clearly!  I guess I could wear several different glasses for specific purposes  hanging from lanyards around my neck!   Wink

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  camprn on 7/25/2015, 4:59 pm

@boffer wrote:
@Turan wrote:...  I suspect you will find that the tiring MM will be a very good matrix for holding such fertilizers and that if you use a certain amount of mulches (lawn clippings to be precise) you will be adding organic matter...

That's what I'm thinking about the MM too.  I hadn't thought about mulch; it would  accomplish the same thing as compost tea, right?  


CC wrote:And another thing I'm wondering about...with your knee issues, can you bend from the waist?
 Yeah, I can still touch my toes with room to spare, but the distance from my cheaters to the ground is still too great to see clearly!  I guess I could wear several different glasses for specific purposes  hanging from lanyards around my neck!   Wink
I got trifocals this year because I couldn't stand the multiple spectacles anymore.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  yolos on 7/25/2015, 5:02 pm

@boffer wrote:
 Yeah, I can still touch my toes with room to spare, but the distance from my cheaters to the ground is still too great to see clearly!  I guess I could wear several different glasses for specific purposes  hanging from lanyards around my neck!   Wink

roflrofl
I already have bifocals.   Camprn, I have never heard of trifocals.  Must be a lot of head tilting to see anything.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  donnainzone5 on 7/25/2015, 5:14 pm

Blended trifocals solve most of that problem.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  greatgranny on 7/25/2015, 5:25 pm

@CapeCoddess wrote:Oooo...that's an idea, Turan...he could compost directly in the beds.  Maybe set one or some aside just for that purpose and switch around each year.
This reminds me of lasagna gardening that I used to do.  It did work.  The only reason I switched to SFG is that I wanted a more organized garden and I liked the concept better than lasagna gardening. 

It might work to bury scraps from the kitchen into the MM after a square if empty and allow it to decompose before replanting.  For me that would be in the fall.  It could continue to decompose until the heavy frost and then continue when the spring thaw starts.  Just a thought.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 7/25/2015, 5:30 pm

LOL You guys are fixing a problem I don't have.  I can see to work in my TTs just fine!

I do plant big seeds in the ground, like squash, cukes, and corn.  But those are one and done, and I plant a lot fewer of them than the small seeds that get planted in TTs.

Suddenly I'm feeling naive for asking about fertilizer advice on a SFG forum! Razz


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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  camprn on 7/25/2015, 5:51 pm

@boffer wrote:LOL You guys are fixing a problem I don't have.  I can see to work in my TTs just fine!

I do plant big seeds in the ground, like squash, cukes, and corn.  But those are one and done, and I plant a lot fewer of them than the small seeds that get planted in TTs.

Suddenly I'm feeling naive for asking about fertilizer advice on a SFG forum!  Razz

All is well, we are all learning something new each day.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  Turan on 7/25/2015, 5:51 pm

@boffer wrote:
@Turan wrote:...  I suspect you will find that the tiring MM will be a very good matrix for holding such fertilizers and that if you use a certain amount of mulches (lawn clippings to be precise) you will be adding organic matter...

That's what I'm thinking about the MM too.  I hadn't thought about mulch; it would  accomplish the same thing as compost tea, right? 

I guess?  I never have wrapped my head around compost tea completely.  Lawn clippings are nice because they make a mulch on top but the middle layer is a balanced sheet composting site, not stealing nitrogen from below and the very bottom is adding compost to your mix as it goes.  I find a roughly 3-4" layer of grass clippings put over the soaker hoses will have completely composted and disappeared into the soil by end of season.

Remember this thread for putting aside one bed a year to compost in? http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t18643-the-lazy-gardener?highlight=lazy+gardener

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 7/25/2015, 6:13 pm

I would think as others have said, compost in place by sheet composting on top of your beds.  I've discovered this concept because of our intense heat and the moisture loss problem a SFG table top bed has in this environment.  We added a second layer of wood sides on our table tops which gave me enough depth that I can put 3 - 4 inches of mulch on top after planting.  I have red wiggler worms in those beds and find that they simply break it all down and mix it in the soil for me.  I have zero problems with nitrogen stealing when the material isn't mixed in just resting on top of the soil like happens in nature.  I pull the top mulch back when planting seeds depending on what they are and put it back as plants grow.  I haven't added any compost into the beds in the past two years I just put everything I would put into my composting pile on top of the beds and it breaks down like nature does it. 

The more I have gardened over these past 4 years the easier I'm trying to make things for myself.  I have practiced hot composting the past few years but it's hard on my back and I'm the only healthy back in my whole family so I need to be careful!  Especially last summer getting ready for our addition of two 4x8 beds.  It took A LOT of compost to make that MM.  Hubby has a helpful spirit but not exactly a body that can do what his heart would love to do!  

I have 166 sq ft of SFG table tops and about 2000 sq ft of in ground gardens that have been created from scratch in 3 years.  For the in ground gardens I use a heavy mulch with any material I can get my hands on.  One of the easiest is straw, hay or Sudan grass (bought at a feed store).  One of the most nutritious for the plants is Ramial wood chips (chipped branches with leaves under 3 inch in diameter) and of course leaves.  I just let things compost in place in layers.  What ever I have I lay it down in the fall, which includes leaves, straw bedding from our cattle operation on our property (another family runs cattle on 4 of the acres for their winter feeding), kitchen waste, yard waste chopped and dropped including my spent healthy garden from the previous fall.  Then I introduce red wigglers and keep layering 12 to 18 inches deep.  In the spring it's beautiful compost that I can literally just plant in.  The wood chips especially encourage fungal growth and the more I read about the soil web, the more I want to encourage fungal activity as well as bacterial activity.  The ground under it is light, fluffy and holds moisture when it's dry and hot.  I can't see any reason why I couldn't use the same concept on my table tops if I needed to.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 7/25/2015, 7:03 pm

I appreciate everyone's suggestions for various ways to add organic material to my gardens.  

I have a big main compost pile. If I didn't have a tractor, it would never get turned.

I just went out and counted:  460 squares of MM, and I'm planning 40 more this winter for in the greenhouse.  Plus, another 350 sf of berm, where I just dump 5 way compost on top of the ground.  That takes a lot of compost.

I'm only preparing for the day when I can't do what I do now.  Besides knees, I have other  issues that probably will become a hindrance.  

My thinking is to follow the example of commercial farmers.  They use fertilizer for NPK, and compost tea for the organic components to feed the soil.  That seems like the easiest way.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  Scorpio Rising on 7/25/2015, 7:51 pm

I am way small scale compared to you guys.  I have 4 ex-flower boxes, which are producing 4X as much as my "garden" ever did before SFG.  However, I was always organic, in the Rodale "All New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening" fashion.  Therefore, I am exclusively blood, bone meal and potash oriented as far as NPK amendments.  I had very few problems figuring out what the soil needed, based on the plants' signs.

On the subject of MM depletion/deflation, I think that will require some creativity!  Because the blood meal really heats up and cooks down the mix, you will need to bulk it up, fron time to time!

I am seeing some of that in the short term, due to my filling the bottom of my pretty deep boxes with leaves, then blood/bone meal, then MM.  The leaves are (yea!) composting and deflating the depth of the mix.  So, I will be tarping another batch of MM this winter-over....


Last edited by Scorpio Rising on 7/25/2015, 8:02 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : stupid mix up!)

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Fertilizing Mel's Mix

Post  GloriaG on 7/25/2015, 9:05 pm

Hi Steve,

I've been using Espoma Garden-Tone Herb & Veggie fertilizer 3-4-4 for several years now.  I also use liquid seaweed for both in-ground and foliar applications.

As much as I would like to use pure compost for my 400+ ft of SFG - I simply can't make or purchase enough to keep up with the demands of a 4-season garden. 

Therefore, I add as much compost as I can get my hands on to the MM and mulch with a medium thick layer of straw, leaves and shredded newspapers.  Then I add the fertilizer and spray. 

I really think the mulch makes a lot of difference. As I replant and it gets worked into the MM it helps keep the organic content up, and there isn't so much of it at a time that it robs the MM of nitrogen. 

Our climates are very different, but this seems to work for me. 
Hope it helps,
Gloria

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  Marc Iverson on 7/26/2015, 12:51 am

A couple thoughts:

First, I'm not a guy who knows a lot about worms and their effect in the garden, but could putting a couple/few worm tubes in each bed help you out much? I don't even eat near as many veggies as I'd like or as I should, and I still produce plenty of scraps, and regularly dump them in a section of my garden where I want to build up soil volume. I've also put them in buried containers to serve as a worm tube and found worms in the bottom later. Do you think you could build up your soil fertility on a regular basis that way to any notable effect? It may take a critical mass of worms to make it work ...

Also, around where I live, people regularly hire gardeners to do things for them. Back where I used to live, in Southern California, people regularly hired immigrant workers to do almost any home or garden job, and it didn't cost too much. Could you put aside a few dollars each year to have people help you distribute your compost? With a well-established garden, you would still probably come out ahead vs. buying your food at a grocery store, and anyway there would still be a lot of value in eating your own fresh and pesticide-free food even if you had to pay someone to help you do part of it.

We pay for all kinds of services in our life, so I don't see why paying someone to turn or distribute your compost would be off limits, unless it devolves down to simply a matter of misplaced pride. It's not like it would take more than a few hours once or twice a year. So ... what ... a hundred bucks or two? For the world's best food? Seems well worth it to me unless it's just financially impossible. But I couldn't afford to buy the quality of food I grow anyway, so even there, it's not all that easy to fall behind once you're working with a well-established garden and have all your tools.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  sanderson on 7/26/2015, 8:27 pm

Mel's Mix is great and SFG is a great way to garden.  But, making multiple batches of fresh compost each year is a younger person's activity, unless it is the slow 2 year method.  Hiring some one to turn is a good idea.

Thinking ahead is a good thing, Boffer.  Some of my beds are table tops.  All are raised to some degree.  I can only carry 10 lbs. because of my back.  My mother had wet MD so I practice feeling around and among my plants.  My compost frenzy has slowed down because I finally have enough.  But it is time to think of another batch for fall and spring planting.   Shocked

So far this summer, I have not made a hot Berkeley compost pile.  Am I already slowing down??  I probably won't until end of August which is when I have a month break from out of town family stuff scheduled.  The Farmer Markets will still be in full swing to collect produce culls.  My husband will collect the horse manure in his truck.  I have fall leaves and alfalfa hay left over.  So, how do I turn my hot compost 7 times with a bad back? At night, one light fork at a time. Takes a while.

I have a worm bin plus some worm tubes in larger beds.  Already have the seaweed/manure/veggie compost from last fall, plus bags of kelp meal and crab flakes for sea nutrients.
 
So how to add back the bulk that compost provides?  I don't know.  I like the idea of composting in place.  I don't have enough room but many of the folks do.  Horse manure with it's partially digested hay, or other herbivore manure.  Some seaweed if available.  Veggie scraps.  Clean leaves.  Worms to help churn stuff.  May not work where everything freezes but would in more temperate zones.  Then add more compost or Espoma etc. in place of more compost if more nutrient is needed during the long growing season.

Last fall, we tried chipping the ramial branches with leaves and spread around the ground in flower beds.  The leaves have all broken down or the worms helped.  It looks like coffee grounds among the branches and twigs!!  Which is a reminder that compost breaks down and needs to be replaced.  

I'm thinking just one more 2' x 6' table top should do me!  Ha!

I've been working on this off and on for 90 minutes. Enough, Sanderson.

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  audrey.jeanne.roberts on 7/26/2015, 9:11 pm

You made me laugh my friend, Sanderson!  Us two compost queens are both getting pooped, LOL!

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  southern gardener on 7/26/2015, 9:17 pm

We have our compost bins in with our chickens, they do all the turning for us, we just screen it (don't have to, but we do since it's so nice to work with). Easy peezy!! Paul Gautschi in the Back to Eden method does it, and we have followed and man does it work!!

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

Post  sanderson on 7/26/2015, 11:07 pm

@audrey.jeanne.roberts wrote:You made me laugh my friend, Sanderson!  Us two compost queens are both getting pooped, LOL!
Did you check out the weather report for the next 10 days??  8 days of 100*F plus  with a high of 108*F on Wednesday What a Face

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Re: Fertilizing Mel's Mix?

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