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Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

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Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  hilltb on 4/18/2011, 12:36 pm

Hello,

I live in Portland, Oregon, and have decided to build by first garden this year. I have never gardened previously, other than an occasional tomato, strawberry, or basil plant in a pot on the porch. I built a 4 x 8 foot x 12 inch container garden 2 weeks ago, and while researching online, I came across the concept of Square Foot Gardening. I ordered Mel's book, read it, and I am ready to give it a try.

My 12 inch deep container currently has about 6-8 inches of non-compacted potting soil in the bottom of it, and I am thinking about putting some Mel's mix on top.

I have been to four different stores / garden centers, looking for the ingredients. By far the best selection (and close to where I live) is at
Portland Nursery. I have attached a list of their current offerings for "Soil Conditioners."

Here are the questions I need help with:

  • Is medium grade (VM4) Vermiculite OK, or should I keep hunting for coarse grade?
  • How many total cubic feet of ingredients should I get to fill the top 5-6 inches of my container with Mel's Mix?
  • If you were going to build your best attempt at Mel's mix using the ingredients on this list, what would you buy, and in what ratios?
  • Would you dig out the bottom layer of potting soil to fill the whole box with Mel's mix and / or cover it up with weedblock fabric?

For what it's worth, the people at Portland Nursery recommend the following for a vegetable garden:

Nurseryman’s Bumper Crop

Nurseryman’s Black Forest

EB Stone Planting Compost




The reason I have decided to start gardening this year is that I my 15-month-old daughter is just beginning to discover the joys of being outdoors, and I have fond memories of playing in my parents garden as a small boy.

for all your help.

Tim

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Blackrose on 4/18/2011, 1:17 pm

First off glad you\'re here !!

You have some excellent questions. I will try to answer as best I can and may refer you to other posts for the answers. See below:

@hilltb wrote:Hello,

I live in Portland, Oregon, and have decided to build by first garden this year. I have never gardened previously, other than an occasional tomato, strawberry, or basil plant in a pot on the porch. I built a 4 x 8 foot x 12 inch container garden 2 weeks ago, and while researching online, I came across the concept of Square Foot Gardening. I ordered Mel's book, read it, and I am ready to give it a try.

My 12 inch deep container currently has about 6-8 inches of non-compacted potting soil in the bottom of it, and I am thinking about putting some Mel's mix on top.

I have been to four different stores / garden centers, looking for the ingredients. By far the best selection (and close to where I live) is at
Portland Nursery. I have attached a list of their current offerings for "Soil Conditioners."

Here are the questions I need help with:

  • Is medium grade (VM4) Vermiculite OK, or should I keep hunting for coarse grade?
    Refer to this post for pictures of the different grades and other members opinions on which is the best to use: Vermiculite Pictures
    In my opinion, you are better off searching for the Coarse Grade Vermiculite. Check out the Vermiculite Database to see if someone else has found a source in your area. Otherwise, you may have to do some calling around.

  • How many total cubic feet of ingredients should I get to fill the top 5-6 inches of my container with Mel's Mix?
    Our Mel's Mix Calculator will help you determine how much of each ingredient you will need.
  • If you were going to build your best attempt at Mel's mix using the ingredients on this list, what would you buy, and in what ratios?
    Here are my suggestions on what composts to pick from your list: Chicken Manure, Earthworm Castings, Mushroom Compost, Rocky Poo Horse Manure and Steer Manure. That's FIVE! Wow! You are lucky you can find all 5 composts for your Mel's Mix in one place. Not everyone can. I would mix equal parts of the five composts that will then make up 1/3 of your Mel's Mix.
  • Would you dig out the bottom layer of potting soil to fill the whole box with Mel's mix and / or cover it up with weedblock fabric?
    This is a tough one. Technically, you are not doing true SFG if you mix your Mel's Mix with potting soil. My suggestion would be to take it out, fill the bottom of your box with another filler (other members may have a good idea on what would be a good filler) and save that potting soil for something else.

For what it's worth, the people at Portland Nursery recommend the following for a vegetable garden:

Nurseryman’s Bumper Crop

Nurseryman’s Black Forest

EB Stone Planting Compost




The reason I have decided to start gardening this year is that I my 15-month-old daughter is just beginning to discover the joys of being outdoors, and I have fond memories of playing in my parents garden as a small boy.

for all your help.

Tim


I hope I helped you narrow things down a bit. You're off to a great start! Don't forget, we love pictures. Very Happy

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  dizzygardener on 4/18/2011, 1:22 pm

glad you\'re here glad you\'re here glad you\'re here

Glad to have ya!

I'll do my best to answer your questions in order. I'm sure others will offer their advice as well.

1. Absolutely look for the coarse grade vermiculite. This is what Mel recommends and the grade his Mel's Mix is designed for. If after much searching you can't find the coarse grade then get the coarsest you can find.

2. You can find the Mel's Mix calculator here: http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t5088-mel-s-mix-calculator . This will tell you exactly how much of each item you need including how much of each of your 5 composts you need.

3. I'd get equal parts of Chicken manure (make sure it is WELL composted), Earthworm castings (probably the best compost you can buy), Mushroom compost, Steer manure, and horse manure.

The black forest and the bumper crop might also be good additions, but I'd have to research the ingredients first, and I'd need to find out what the texture is. The black forest looks like it might have some mulch in it...

4. Absolutely leave the potting mix in and put your Mel's Mix on top. When SFGers have deep beds they often times fill the excess space with something be is gravel or plastic jugs or sand. I don't see why you couldn't just leave the potting soil in as your filler.

You just want to make sure you have at least 6 inches of Mel's mix. You might consider digging out part of the box if you plan on growing carrots or potatoes in your SFG so you can have 12 inches of MM in those spots. You won't need weed cloth to cover the potting mix unless you think you might have a problems with weeds or if you want to be absolutely sure that your plants only come in contact with the Mel's mix.

Hope that helps.


Last edited by dizzygardener on 4/18/2011, 1:28 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Clarify point 4.)

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Miss Mousie on 4/18/2011, 1:44 pm

I filled 2 4X4 ft, 12in deep beds last year and this how I figured it and what I bought.

One 4X4 box (12 inches deep) was 16 cu ft. (4X4 = 16) multiplied by 2 boxes = 32 cu ft. This part is in the book, page 100.

You need 1/3 of each of 3 ingredients. 32 cu ft divided by 3 = 10.6 cu ft

1/3 Peat Moss = 10.6 cu ft
1/3 Vermiculite = 10.6 cu ft
1/3 Compost =10.6 cu ft

SO! According to page 100 of "the book" a 2.2 cu ft bag of peat moss has 4 cu ft of loose peat moss (it's compacted and if fluffs up when opened).

I bought:

3 - 2.2 cu ft (4 actual cu ft) bags of peat moss = 12 cu ft
5 - 2 cu ft bags of vermiculite = 10 cu ft
2 - 1 cu ft bag of steer manure
2 - 1 cu ft bag of chicken manure
1 - 3 cu ft bag of Bale N' Rich compost
1 - 3 cu ft bag of Angs TSR Compost for a total of 10 cu ft of compost

I didn't use all of the peat moss and I split the rest of the ingredients between the two boxes.

Now my mix was a little deficient in some nutrient because I had large broccoli leaves and little broccoli and didn't really get any heads of cauliflower, plus my swiss chard never got real big. So this year I'm going to substitute some of the composts for Fox Farms Ocean Forest Potting soil and I'm going to throw in some worm castings and maybe something else.

Does anyone see any flaws in my math because I'm going to do this again, I'm building two more same size boxes.

Hope this helps!!

Good Luck!!

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  hilltb on 4/18/2011, 11:02 pm

Thank you all for your feedback. Blackrose, I made my Mel's mix based on your advice, so I hope it was good advice. Since you love pictures, enjoy:


Here are the ingredients for my first batch of Mel's Mix. I finally ended up finding coarse Vermiculite at Concentrates Northwest. It was a lot more work to mix it all together than I anticipated.


Here is the Mel's Mix in my 8'x3'x12" garden. Notice the kneeling pad around three sides.


This is a close-up view of the Mel's mix. If I didn't know what was in it, I'd be tempted to taste it.


It wouldn't be a square foot garden without the grid, right?


Here is a garden plan for what I have right now. The squares that don't have pictures are things that I plan to plant in a few weeks when it is warmer outside.


Here is a picture of my newly planted square foot garden. I bought my starts from Portland Nursery. I basically went into their "edible garden" section, and picked up whatever looked good that I'd be willing to eat.

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Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  sherryeo on 4/18/2011, 11:12 pm

hilltb, Your garden looks great and you got super advice here on the form about what to put in your Mel's Mix. It should work beautifully for you. I love your kneeling pads - boy could I use those! I think you're going to enjoy your sfg and I know you'll enjoy the forum. I've just put in my first 2 sfg boxes and have them planted now. The kind folks on the forum have been so helpful to me and I'm sure they will to you, too. Keep posting and updating us on your progress.


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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Blackrose on 4/18/2011, 11:27 pm

@hilltb wrote:Thank you all for your feedback. Blackrose, I made my Mel's mix based on your advice, so I hope it was good advice.

No pressure on me. Laughing


good job! yahoo

Looks great!!! Keep posting those pictures.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  boffer on 4/18/2011, 11:37 pm

Welcome to the forum. I think you're off to a great start. I circled the stuff I've used before. I've had good results with them, and would use them again. The other products I haven't seen before, but would be willing to try. Blackrose is off the hook!

An 'edible garden' at a nursery. I like it!



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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Blackrose on 4/18/2011, 11:39 pm

@boffer wrote:Blackrose is off the hook!

I hope this was meant as a compliment. If so.. Aww shucks boffer! Embarassed

Laughing Razz

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  boffer on 4/18/2011, 11:50 pm

@hilltb wrote:... Blackrose, I made my Mel's mix based on your advice, so I hope it was good advice.

Well....somebody done good!

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Drip System Installed

Post  hilltb on 4/21/2011, 6:01 pm

Well, even though it is still cold and rainy in Portland, I am anticipating a need to water my garden at some point. I am taking a 2-week trip in July, and without some sort of automated system, I am sure my garden would be dead when I return. I like the idea of "Ladling out a cup of sun-warmed water from bucket." (Page 137) but the practicality of that method is somewhat lacking for me.



I went to home depot and spent $20 for their basic drip-irrigation system. I also bought a $49 battery-powered automatic controller. I then returned to home depot and bought a bunch more parts as the basic system didn't contain enough of the parts I needed, and too many parts I didn't need.


In Mel's book, he suggests using soaker hoses, but that seems too imprecise for me. In my garden, each sqaure foot has it's own individually adjustable dripper, which I can set from 0 to 15 gallons per hour. This will allow me to water each square individually, or even turn off watering to a particular square that has nothing growing at that moment.


I think the way the irrigation tubes come off the main line is downright artistic. My next-door-neighbor (an 86-year-old avid row-gardener) told me that my container garden with built-in rubberized kneeling surface and drip system is so amazing to her that I should submit a picture to her favorite gardening magazine.


This is my strawberry tower that I planted 4 hears ago. Every June, for a few short weeks, I have some of the most delicious strawberries around. They are of the Hood variety and they are incredibly delicate, but very delicious. After this year I may well empty these containers, fill them with Mel's mix, and plant new strawberries.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  dizzygardener on 4/21/2011, 6:41 pm

Simply gorgeous irrigation set up!

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Furbalsmom on 4/21/2011, 6:46 pm

hilltb

How nice to have you join us. I just returned from a short vacation in Portland and surrounds.

I have to tell you how impressed I am with your beautiful SFG (with kneeling pads built in, no less) and a great job on your drip irrigation system. Lots of people just know about our fall, winter and spring rains and have no idea how dry it can be during the summer.

That is a well thought out plan for your bed and I like the idea of indicating the summer crops by name but no photo until it is time to put them in.

Again, Welcome and please keep us updated on your progress.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Furbalsmom on 4/21/2011, 7:28 pm

MissMousie wrote:Now my mix was a little deficient in some nutrient because I had large broccoli leaves and little broccoli and didn't really get any heads of cauliflower, plus my swiss chard never got real big. So this year I'm going to substitute some of the composts for Fox Farms Ocean Forest Potting soil and I'm going to throw in some worm castings and maybe something else.

Does anyone see any flaws in my math because I'm going to do this again, I'm building two more same size boxes.


Your math seems to be fine, I am just concerned that you don't have five different types of compost, and may not be getting all of the nutrients your garden needs.

I think worm castings are a great form of compost.
I was not able to google Bale N' Rich Compost or Ang TSR Compost, so could not determine the ingredients.

I'm sorry, I truly am confused. I don't see why you would be putting potting soil into your SFG , and cutting back on your compost and the nutrients they provide? Again, I'm not sure what you are trying to accomplish.

I wish I could be of more help Miss Mousey.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Miss Mousie on 4/21/2011, 10:08 pm

Hi Furballsmom, Thanks for the reply. The reason I have had to use prepared composts in my Mel's Mix is because I cannot find anything other than steer manure (but today I saw that a left over bag said steer manure blend - not sure what was in the blend will have to check later) and Chicken manure. Our Home Depot and Lowe's do not have anything other than blended composts and the steer and chicken manures. This year I have found the worm castings. So I'll have 3 types of compost when I do my new bed. I called around to some larger nursery's in Fresno and none of them have anything either. One advertised mushroom compost but he said he no longer carries it. The funny thing is that Fresno is right in the middle of the Central Valley in California, I'm told that this region produces a lot of produce for the whole country. So what are the farmers using?

I do have a source for rabbit manure, my niece raises rabbits so I am going to get some of that but i'm concerned about it being too ripe and alive with maggots for use right away. I am thinking to let it bake in the sun and use it in my compost bin.

Maybe I'll try calling around to some other nurseries to see what other compost I can find.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  dizzygardener on 4/21/2011, 11:00 pm

Are there any hydroponic stores near you? They tend to have a good selection of composts.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Miss Mousie on 4/22/2011, 12:13 am

Oh, that's good to know. I'll check. Thanks.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Melbourne on 4/22/2011, 8:37 am

Wonderful drip system, I'm going to try something like this for my garden. Thanks for the pics.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  hilltb on 4/29/2011, 5:12 pm

I built my trellis today per Mel's instructions. I decided to overlap the middle square in order to have extra structural support in case I ever try to grow something like pumpkin or watermelon.



My transplants are mostly doing pretty well.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  jercarol on 4/30/2011, 11:24 am

I had a hard time finding 5 composts sources. I ended up with mushroom dirt, leafgro, cow manure, and another source of cow manure/humus mix and a little bit of ash from my fireplace collection area. So far everything is growing great. I think I went to heavy on the peat on my salad box (first box made). REMEMBER the peat WILL expand so you really don't want to put a "1/3" into your box until you let it expand and get it wet.

Just my first year observations.....trust a seasoned vet.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  tegaan on 5/2/2011, 1:46 am

Hi to Portland,

We moved from Aloha 2 1/2 years ago to BC. We do not miss the rain. Good luck with your garden...looks good.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Furbalsmom on 5/2/2011, 3:42 am

hilltb, great job on those trellises. I like the idea of doubling up in the center for more support in case those Monster Fruit like pumkin and watermelon end up there.

Looks really nice.

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Re:Brand New Square Foot Gardner, Questions about Mel's Mix

Post  tabletopper on 5/2/2011, 6:13 am

One suggestion about your planting plan....I would reconsider not planting the zucchini...in that box....it will take over.....they need a lot of elbow room........
Square Foot Gardening is the way to go......
Ruth

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  hilltb on 5/18/2011, 6:57 pm

I'm not sure if this thread is in the right location. It started out as a "Questions about Mel's Mix" but now I am using it to "Showcase my garden."

If a moderator wants to move it elsewhere, feel free.

--------------

So far I am very pleased with how my garden is performing.

In my "pre-garden" (the window sill in my dining room) I currently have basil seedlings, and I am sprouting pole beans and cucumbers.


Basil waiting for warm enough weather to move outside.


I have never sprouted anything before. It's enjoyable to watch.


My Hood Strawberries are way behind this year. They are supposed to be "June Bearing" but they are only now flowering.


A vertical view of my garden


A horizontal view of my garden

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

Post  Furbalsmom on 5/18/2011, 7:36 pm

It is amazing what three weeks can do for a garden. Your veggies look like they are growing very well. cheers We have had so much cool weather this spring. Of course it is lots better than last year so I guess we should be grateful for anything we get that includes sunny

Something you might like to try as far as germinating some of your seeds, check out page 122 of the ALL NEW SQUARE FOOT GARDENING book. Take your bean seeds soak for just 1/2 hour in warm water, then place them on a very damp paper towel inside a plastic bag that is mostly closed. The high humidity and warmth in the house will cause them to sprout a root, usually in less than five days. Plant them immediately in your SFG at the proper depth. Just be careful not to break or damage the root and they will pop up little leaves very quickly. Just something new and different to try.

Congratulations on how well your garden is doing.

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Re: Brand New Square Foot Gardener, Questions about Mel's Mx

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