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My first experience with Mel's Mix

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My first experience with Mel's Mix

Post  Tedr on 9/29/2017, 1:23 pm

This year is the first year I am using Mel's Mix.  It is also the first time I am using table top gardens for some of my plants.

Historically I have grown tomatoes, cucumbers and leaf lettuce in raised (on ground), square foot gardens with amended soil.  Each year I have had consistent production, but I have been losing the battle with weeds (particularly spurge).  So this year I built 3 @ 4x4 table top beds for leaf lettuce.  I put Mel's Mix in these boxes.  I found a source for coarse vermiculite.  Peat moss was easy but I had trouble finding a sufficient variety of compost.

The results were mixed.  None of the crops were up to standard and I suspect the unusual weather was mostly to blame.  We had fewer tomatoes and cucumbers, but the lettuce was a real disappointment.  The lettuce didn't grow as well and it didn't re-grow new leaves as vigorously as in previous years.  I watered it well, but it didn't seem to hold moisture.  It didn't take much water to soak it to the point where water was running out of the holes in the plywood bottoms. 

When I pulled the lettuce plants today I noticed that generally the root systems were quite extensive - better than I remember in the past. And thankfully weeds were not a problem.

I think the square foot gardens need better compost.  I have a very small yard and can't find a good spot for a composter, but a worm farm is a possibility.  I;m considering that.

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Re: My first experience with Mel's Mix

Post  Scorpio Rising on 9/29/2017, 8:24 pm

glad you\'re here tedr!  

So glad you found us!  Hmmm, sounds like your mix didn't hold moisture correctly,  are your beds in continuous sunlight?  

Roots great, no leaves on lettuce.  Usually it is the opposite!  Did the plants look healthy?  Leaves pretty and filled out?  Just not a lot of them....

Honestly it might be the quality of the compost.  My method is the lazy persons version, and I have to supplement.
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Re: My first experience with Mel's Mix

Post  Tedr on 9/29/2017, 9:53 pm

Yes, the lettuce is in the sun most of the time.  The table top beds are in the same place as the raised beds were in the past, but the table top beds are 36" higher than the raised beds were, and they get less shade from the nearby privacy fence.  

The leaf lettuce variety is Grand Rapids which has been consistently bountiful in the past.  But this year the tips of the leaves turned brown.  That never happened before. In previous years we would harvest our way day by day across the beds from left to right, and when we got to the end the lettuce in the left-most bed would be ready to harvest again. This would continue all summer without any replanting.  

Alas, not so this summer - one harvest and that was it. 

It was an unusual summer, though.  Lots of rain early on.  Pill bugs by the hundreds attacked my cucumbers plants and destroyed them completely.  Never saw that before.  I finally got some plants to grow but they were pretty late and didn't produce as well as usual.  The tomatoes did ok.

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Re: My first experience with Mel's Mix

Post  sanderson on 9/30/2017, 3:45 am

Ted, You are not alone. Embarassed I thought I made the Mel's Mix correctly when I started in April 2013. The good folks on this Forum helped me figure out what I did wrong. Did you fluff the peat moss before you measured it? It doubles in size when fluffed. What I did wrong was to not use real compost. I used a Kellogg's product because it listed a lot of different ingredients. The problem was, I didn't need the perlite, peat moss and wood chips that were abundant in the product. I immediately started making my own compost and have never looked back. Those "extra" ingredients did nothing to nourish the plants and I had to use half strength fertilizer ( Shocked ) to get through the first summer until I had enought multi-sourced homemade compost. What were the composts that you were able to find? Did they have any peat moss, vermiculite or perlite? Since we already use fluffed peat moss and vermiculite in the Mel's Mix, the amount has to be reduced so we end up with a true 1/3 compost part. The MM needs to be thoroughly watered to keep it moist. A top mulch of dry leaves or chopped bedding straw or something, will help keep the water from evaporating. How big were the holes in the plywood bottoms. My first ones were something like 3/4". Now they are 1/4". Did you line the beds with weed fabric to prevent the MM from washing out?

Regarding a spot for a compost cage, I also have a tiny back yard but found a 3'x3'x3' spot between a tree and a rose bush. Very Happy I have added a (used off Craig's List) Lifetime Tumbler which is working very good. I can make a batch a month with it heating up to 140-150*F, tumbling almost every day and opening to get fresh oxygen into the compost. I'm now using the 3' cage for storing finished compost to let it age until I need it.

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Re: My first experience with Mel's Mix

Post  Tedr on 9/30/2017, 9:40 pm

sanderson, I built my table top gardens very similar to yours (thanks for the inspiration).  I have 1/4" holes, one in each square foot, and the boxes are lined with two layers of landscape cloth.  I fluffed the peat moss before measuring.  

The compost was mostly composted cow, sheep and horse manure with a bit of mushroom compost, all purchased from home depot and local grocery stores.  I suspect it was poor quality product.  The bags didn't list ingredients so who knows what may have been added?

I know that Mel's Mix calls for a wider variety of compost but I did not allow for the time it would take to track down better varieties.  I think that is the main problem.

I'm learning about vermicomposting on this forum right now.  I think this is the only way I can get home grown compost during our harsh winters.  

I didn't mulch, but that sounds like a great idea.  I'm also wondering about providing some shade for part of the day.  Not sure how to accomplish that but I have a long winter ahead to dream up a plan.

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Re: My first experience with Mel's Mix

Post  sanderson on 10/1/2017, 3:43 am

Any chance to get some "sea" based compost like kelp, shrimp or crap?  Did you get a chance to look at this thread of some of the store bought composts some members have used? http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t21089-recommended-store-bought-compost?highlight=compost

One of the good things about raised wood beds is that one can fasten supports for shade.  My garden would fry without HD shade cloth.  This summer was unusually hot with 3 months of +/- 100*F.

Vermi-composting is a good idea if you have someplace, like your man cave or the garage, where it doesn't freeze during the winter. Not too many wives like worms bins in the kitchen. Wink

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