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Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

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Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  jwbryson on 8/10/2010, 12:06 pm

I'm a first year SFG'er and based my M's Mix on 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 organic compost which was basically 3 bags of different compost/manure/soil treatment I found at my local Lowe's store. They didn't sell more than 3 types, but I understand Mel suggests using at least 5 if you buy store bagged stuff. I don't own a composter so I did what I could with what I found locally.

I had SOME luck with zukes, cukes and tomatoes, but the production was not as strong as I had hoped. The zuke plants grew like wild fire, but 1/2 of the produce was rock hard and inedible. Perhaps from lack of moisture or nutrients in the soil?

The tomato plants are in separate plastic containers, and we've had some good tomatoes, but the plants don't look very strong and are browning a lot and wilting. 4 tomato plants have yielded about 10 tomatoes in total. Again, I'm guessing this is from weak M's Mix.

Cuke's are okay, but again, not much production. I've gotten maybe 5 or 6 cukes, and several of them were not edible. Very dry and the seeds were hard and chewy.

I'm in the DC Metro area, and I think the problems I'm having are (i) a weak mixture of M's Mix that lacks nutrients plants need to thrive, (ii) excessive heat this summer and (iii) a lack of moisture.

Comments? I'm thinking of "boosting" my M's Mix by buying a bunch of potting mix or bagged soil at the Lowe's and seeing if that helps at all.

Thanks.

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  dstubbs on 8/10/2010, 12:52 pm

I'm also a first year SFG'er and have also been having disappointing results, with the strange exception of my peas. My MM is made from peatmoss, vermiculite and 3 kinds of commercial compost: 2 types of manure and an aquaculture compost (like you it was all I could find), plus coffee grounds. I started experimenting with fertilizers and liquid seaweed extract about a month ago and am seeing some noticeable improvement from that.

Based on what I've learned on this forum, I think I have a nitrogen deficiency (slow growth and yellowing bottom leaves), perhaps because my compost was not rotted down enough. I'm starting to make my own compost for next year's garden using a worm composter and may start a leaf compost pile this fall outside -- hopefully that will help. My understanding is that the Mel's Mix only improves with time as it "rots down", especially if you can keep adding more good compost to it.

Good luck!

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  jwbryson on 8/10/2010, 1:06 pm

Thanks for the post. That sounds very similar to what I am experiencing. Yellowing leaves and slow growth. I've had really good luck with daffodils, petunias, and peppers (jalapenos, gypsy sweet peppers and cubanelles), all of which are growing well and producing bountiful amounts of fruit.

I've read some posts that mention fish emulsion---any clue what this is and how it's supposed to help? I may need to "Google" that and see what I can find.

Yes, nitrogen seems to be a possible issue, and perhaps a calcium deficiency too.

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  dstubbs on 8/10/2010, 2:23 pm

Fish emulsion was recomended to me on here, too. I haven't been able to find fish emulsion, but I did find a liquid seaweed product called "Seaboost" which I quite like. Smells better than I ever would have imagined, too. I ordered it from Vesey's seeds. I'm still on the hunt for fish emulsion -- no one at my local gardening place knew what I was talking about when I asked for it.

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  miinva on 8/10/2010, 2:37 pm

This is our second year doing SFG and the biggest thing that I would change about the way we did it initially is that we're going to make our beds double-depth. The deeper beds have done quite a bit better, especially the tomatoes, which are heavy feeders so it makes sense that more dirt equals better harvests.

I haven't had luck growing tomatoes in containers. We used exactly the same soil mix in the containers as we did in the garden, and two of the tomatoes were even the same variety that we put in the garden, and there's no way around the fact that the ones in the garden went great guns while the ones in containers, didn't. They grew, but nowhere near as well, and they're much more sensitive to heat.

I used five different composts, which was made easier by the fact that I found a small local greenhouse that has a wider variety of composts and I found a family who does vermicomposting (using worms) and I got a bunch of compost from them. I'm working hard at not using chemicals on my garden, so I haven't supplemented with any kind of fertilizer, although I think next year I'll make up some compost tea and water with that weekly, just to make sure the garden is getting all of the nutrients that it needs, especially when it gets hot.

What size were your zucchini when you harvested them? If you let them get big they get tough and the seeds get huge. How often do you water? I water my garden every morning unless we had rain the night before. When I miss a day or two of doing so I see the difference and it makes a pretty serious difference, in my opinion.

I wonder if you let the cucumbers get too big as well, because just about any variety of cucumber will lose quality if you don't pick it small. This year I grew Poona Kheera (thanks to Megan! Very Happy) and they are wonderful and very prolific, while the other two varieties that we planted barely produced at all and have since dried up and died.

You may be right about the three problems you have, especially moisture, although I would think that your plants wouldn't have thrived if they weren't getting enough moisture to set good fruit (but I could be wrong!). Maybe you should see if you can find a better variety of compost to add to your soil next year? Hopefully someone will have some great advice about fertilizing if the compost mix is the problem. If it were me I would try compost tea, but I have a great source for worm castings.

Here's an article about compost tea:

http://www.finegardening.com/how-to/articles/brewing-compost-tea.aspx

I hope that helps Smile

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  chocolatepop on 8/10/2010, 2:41 pm

Fish emulsion is basically i think "chum" pr blender fish. Open it and you will know what I mean. I got mine at Home Depot.

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  Odd Duck on 8/10/2010, 4:42 pm

This has a quick definition and description of fish emulsion. It's a type of fertilizer (as opposed to a name brand) that's been around and available forever - I've been using it, in one brand or another, for over 30 years. I usually see it available in the houseplant section, but I'm sure it's also available in many garden departments, too.

http://www.the-organic-gardener.com/fish-emulsion.html

Liquid Seaweed is a brand name to me, but there are many different brands of seaweed based fertilizer solutions. Give me a minute and I'll look for links for them, too.

This is the brand I mean when I say Liquid Seaweed.

http://www.planetnatural.com/site/image.html?sku=maxicrop-liquid-seaweed

I have not used this on-line company, I just picked this link randomly because they had a good pic. I get mine from a local nursery that carries loads of organic products.

This site:

http://faq.gardenweb.com/faq/lists/organic/2002080041031662.html

talks about making your own fish emulsion and seaweed extracts. I have not tried this, I'm just using this for an example because it talks about some of the other benefits of natural, organic preparations and fertilizers.

Hope this helps to clarify some things. I think that many of the store brands of compost have been virtually sterilized to make sure they don't carry weed seeds and bad organisms. This is not necessarily the wrong thing to do, but I think it also takes out a lot of the good micro-organism populations that do so much for our plants. Many plants actually need certain fungi growing commensally with their roots in order for them to take up water and nutrients properly. With relatively sterile, store-bought products it may take a while for all this to re-establish in your mix. It will come in with transplants, worms, etc, but will take time to spread throughout the soil/mix. It's long since been proven that earthworms are beneficial to plants and earthworms are really eating micro-organisms in the soil that in turn were eating decaying organic matter (the rotting compost).

If we keep adding compost with as much variety of ingredients as we can get, we will get better and better mix. If we supplement with organic fertilizers and soil supplements like green sand and lava sand, bone meal, blood meal, dried molasses, etc, (peat moss and vermiculite are often considered as soil supplements since they add little nutrition to the soil, I think of them more like they are a soil conditioner to get the texture and moisture holding capacity we want). We will eventually get to a near perfect growing media. It just takes a bit of time and patience. One of my favorite garden advisors tells people that the first year of "new" soil is rarely a great year. If we can hang in there and keep adding good things to our soil (compost), things will get better.

If we work at adding the best possible compost with the most variety of ingredients, we will get there. Make your own if you can (all you really have to do is pile everything up, it doesn't have to be super scientific, it will get there eventually), if you can't, use a different kind of compost every time you can - mushroom compost, composted manures, compost from municipal sources, look for some from bulk soil suppliers, look for bagged stuff, stop any time you see anybody riding or tending horses, check any local stables, etc. It all works, just don't use any manure fresh (except rabbit), put it in your compost and let it rot.


Wow, just re-read it all and I came off more than a little preachy and know it all. I didn't mean to, but I'm going to leave it all anyway because I think it's good info. I just want to qualify that I don't mean to sound preachy. I just want to give people a little boost of confidence that it will work out - be persistent, be patient and relax a little if it isn't perfect the first time.

I hope this helps and doesn't sound too preachy/know-it-all. Maybe we need to make a sticky of that really great composting link? Let me see if I can find it.

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  SFG in Chicago on 8/10/2010, 5:28 pm

When I made my Mel's mix all I could find was one type of compost and some manure, so I used some slow release fertilizer when I planted. I also mix up some fish emulsion every now and then. I found the "deodorized" fish emulsion at Home Depot. Boy I'd really hate to smell the non deodorized version because the smell of this stuff nearly knocked me over when I first opened it! Luckily the smell doesn't linger after you water with it.

Anyhow with my supplemental fertilizing everything has grown really well in my first time garden. Only exception has been my poor watermelon plant which has some kind of disease.

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  Miss M on 4/29/2011, 2:56 am

Keep in mind that you can always amend empty squares, and top- and side-dress planted squares with more compost. If you think outside the regular stores, you can probably find some more great composts nearby:

Someone advertising rabbits, or even a meat rabbit business, can be a source of rabbit manure, which does not need to be composted at all -- it can go straight into the garden (I use it in mine). AND it's just a small step down from worm castings in garden value. You can also make manure tea with it.

Horse farms can be a source of horse manure, and, often, composted horse manure.

I don't think you'd find composted chicken manure at a chicken farm, but you can always compost it yourself.

Many industries that use plant products (like a cotton or fabric company) will compost the waste (cotton burrs). Result -- cotton burr compost, in my case.

A logging company, or even the park service, or your municipality (yard waste pickup, grind it up, compost it), may be a source of composted plant material.

Dairy farm... local goat cheese or goat's milk soap maker... you get the idea. These are things you can add at any time. Compost tea is a very fast and effective pick-me-up for sluggish plants, and is an excellent idea to get your plants going. But eventually, you need to have more nutrients actually in your MM.

So rather than adding soil (often very low nutrition) or potting mix (often high in peat, which you have enough of already), I'd look for a couple of kinds of composted manure or worm castings or something like that. Smile

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  shannon1 on 4/29/2011, 6:28 am

What great advise you have recieved already. Here is my 2 cents worth. Please do not add any potting mixes to the MM as most contain soil of some kind unless labled soil less. I too had a hard time and in the end could not find 5 sorces of compost. What I ended up doing is mixing my mels mix with composted cow poo, composted chix poo, mushroom compost and earthworm castings. Since I wanted the best results I made the hard decision to add an organic product that contained micro nutrients and benifical fungi. Mixed in the box after filling and wetting the MM. Since the earth worm castings price was so dear I am going to add 1 scoop per square as if I had harvested a crop before planting.
My brother and I just finished the box yesterday cheers so I will let you know how it works out.

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  Unmutual on 4/29/2011, 1:00 pm

The first year I had trouble finding 5(I found 4). This year I found 5(cow manure, chicken manure, humus, mushroom compost and pine compost). I've wanted to try a fish emulsion myself..maybe I'll stop in at home depot before work tonight, thanks for letting us know how it works.

Has anyone tried rock dust? www.growingyourgreens.com seems to like it and he uses the SFG method, but with deeper beds and no grid. Azormite seems to be one brand name and Gaea green another. I've found bags on amazon for $50(with $25 for shipping...), the only "local" place is close to the texas border, which is a 3 hour drive. I think I'd rather pay the $25 shipping than drive for 6 hours.

I've been looking at vermicomposting myself...I even bought some wood to make the box. Maybe I should actually do something about it this weekend.

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  dizzygardener on 4/29/2011, 1:36 pm

As much as I like growingyourgreens.com and subscribe to his channel, he does not do SFG. Sure, he says he does, but the only thing SFG about his garden is the plant spacing.

He plants in 100% compost not Mel's Mix and he does not use grids.

I can't speak about whether or not the Rock Dust is beneficial. He certainly is a believer in it.

I just want to stress that with SFG you don't need additives like Rock Dust. Mel designed his method to work without a bunch of additives.

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  Miss M on 4/29/2011, 1:51 pm

Mel teaches SFG in Africa, and has them plant in 100% compost, because of the unavailability of the other materials. I know we're not in Africa, but perhaps what this fellow is doing would be considered SFG?

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  dizzygardener on 4/29/2011, 2:00 pm

This is a long and sorted discussion and can really open up a can of worms.

Mel's recommendation to just use compost is for places where the ingredients for Mel's Mix are nigh on impossible to come by. That recommendation has to do with his overarching goal to promote the growing of food around the world. That goal is separate from the All New SFG book upon which this forum is based.

Mel's recommendations for SFG are outlined in the All New SFG book. In that book he states that Mel's Mix is the backbone to his method and essential for SFG success. He does not say that it is ok to nix the Mel's mix if you want. He does not say that it is ok to grow in 100% compost. He says MM is essential, a requirement for the method to work as described.

Of course people are free to do as they please, but Mel's SFG method is that which is outlined in the book.


Last edited by dizzygardener on 4/29/2011, 2:03 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  boffer on 4/29/2011, 2:02 pm

Nor do most Africans have access to rock dust, fish emulsion, blood meal, bone meal, etc. They are shown how to use materials that are indigenous and free ie compost.

Some people just like to tinker. After all, that's what backyard gardeners have been doing for centuries. That's what makes the SFG method so difficult for experienced gardeners to grasp: no tinkering necessary.

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  Miss M on 4/29/2011, 2:36 pm

Sorry about that; I didn't mean to open a can of worms! Just trying to figure things out. Very Happy

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  middlemamma on 4/29/2011, 3:25 pm

Hey JB!!! I am sorry I didn't see this post sooner friend! I am sorry I didn't jump in here and help you. Sad You can always PM me ya know!!

I didn't read all the posts ok....I'll just tell you what I would do if I were in your boat.

How many boxes do you have? If you have excessive amount this might not work...but if you don't...

Here is a link that shows a pic of the fish emulsion I bought. http://www.planetnatural.com/site/alaska-fish-fertilizer.html

I bought a smaller bottle but the color is the same. It works well when you have a problem. I don't know what's in it...I just know it works. I had a few plants last year with some issue and this turned it around.

I would go buy worm castings, check craigs list too some people sell them on there. If not...If you can get the big huge bag of like Black Gold brand, great....if not it's usually easier to find for lack of better words a half bag? Its usually long and skinnier than a regular size bag of compost or manure. I would put the equivalent of a 1/2 size bag in each box and work it into the soil. Then check craigslist and see if you can find someone who breeds rabbits. And call them and see if you can get some of their rabbit poop. Then I would but a trowell worth of it it every sqare and work it in gently like the worm castings.

Then I would see where your plants go from there, watering once a week with the fish emulsion. My prediction is after about 3 weeks you could stop the fish emulsion and things will be doing better.

That is what I would do. If I had bone and blood meal handy I would but a little around the base of each plant one time. If you don't have it I wouldn't run out and buy it though.

Then NEXT year I would add more worm castings and some other source of compost (your own?) and work that into your beds before you plant next year, and I would bet you will have much better luck next year.

Good luck!

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  middlemamma on 4/29/2011, 3:32 pm

Ok I am a dope.....JB's post was from LAST august! ( I was wondering how in the heck you had cukes and tomatoes yet in your neck of the woods!!!)

Sorry everyone. I am a dope. Embarassed

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Re: Strengthening my Mel's Mix.

Post  herblover on 4/30/2011, 5:04 pm

I add blood meal to my box when I plant and about once a month. I am composting but have a much higher amount of green/brown due to what I can find to add to my bin. It works for me and eliminated the stagnant growth problem I had the first year.

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strengthening mels mix

Post  james lujack on 1/10/2012, 8:04 pm

My experience with MM is twofold. In Michigan I had sandy loam soil Very Happy with sufficient tilth and fertility. I tried MM because my wife's insistance because she bought me Mel's first book. In my garden behind the barn where the former owners raised goats and sheep and a horse or two the soil grew grass taller than my lawn could grow.I did'nt have a dependable lawn tractor (a low priority ).I grew melons tomatoes carrots etc without miraclegrow. Now for two years I worked out MM in four 4x4 raised beds from some lumber I found in the barn. I had to add some native soil so I would'nt grow broke . The weeds would get a jump on me because of the native soil being mixed in.The insects appreciated increased mass .These beds were close to the front door so I would be very aware of any bugs,weeds ,the need for water etc. geek Here in HOT SUNNY AR.,I used MM almost by the book because the former owner grew rocks in clay.I learned real quick about COMPOSTING and MM had no weeds to pull and the bugs which are more numerous down here are plucked out sooner because I am looking for them instead of weeds. happy hi That is what I have experienced anyway!

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