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Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  Cincinnati on 9/6/2011, 11:54 am

@BackyardBirdGardner wrote:
The Soil Test Lab at Auburn University, phoned to tell me that the standard soil test was inadequate for a potting mix such as mine that is so high in organics.

Isn't this part all we need to know? I just don't understand why people spend money for something we already know out of curiosity. Around this forum, we always talk of wasteful environmental practices. Isn't this just wasteful fiscal practice? (Not directed at you, specifically, Cincinnati....directed at hypocrisy as a whole.)


Not taking it personally.

Given it's the provision of the nutrients for our garden, what common knowledge do we possess about our MM make-up? When I bought compost, it didn't look anywhere near "finished". Several different types had lots of non-decomposed wood and bark in it. Unfinished compost robs the plants of needed elements and is generally nutrient deficient.

Now that I'm making compost, until I get some experience with how my SQFT garden produces, I have two choices:

  1. Use trial and error over one or more growing seasons

  2. Get as much info upfront so I can do everything possible to get a great yield


I would love to have enough empirical information that I had confidence labeling it as "Common Knowledge". I asked questions across several gardening forums about the nutritional value of composts and have gotten nearly a different answer every time. Even Master Gardeners have said using grass clippings will yield a different nutrient composition than the beans, peas bushes, and melon vines I put in my last batch for the greens portion. Apparently brown leaves from last fall will produce different results than dried corn stalks and dried sunflower plants. I haven't been able to establish a nutrient range in various compost compositions that is acceptable to me.

With so much varied response in "common knowledge", I have nothing left but a scientific analysis to rely on. With this test, I am not spending to confirm common knowledge. I am trying to establish a baseline for me.

It makes good sense to me — considering the amount I am investing in making soil, building boxes and trellises, for plants, seed, and the time it takes to germinate plants — that I do whatever I can to assure I don't take two or three growing seasons to figure this out.

In perspective of the amount of money and time I'm already investing, an additional $15 to know the nutritional composition of my MM is not only insignificant, but may be the wisest $15 I have spent on the garden.

Once I have been using homemade compost and have the experience of a growing season or two, I don't foresee continuing with annual testing.

If I can correlate my home test results to the University soil sample, then I will have confidence in my results and it will only be about $1.10 per test.

Lastly, I am growing a fair number of plants in self-watering containers. People have varied opinions of using MM in these. These traditionally require fertilizer and lime for a good yield because the specified "Potting mix" is virtually a dead soil. I'm using MM in 14 of these, so I need to know the nutrient value is sufficient.

Without making this post any more of a written volume, there are other valid reasons to test your soil/MM if you are a newbie to using a homemade potting mix. If you have a formula that is proven, and your garden yields what you desire season after season, there's arguably little benefit in a soil analysis.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  boffer on 9/6/2011, 12:42 pm

ksroman wrote:...Our second reason is to let our customers know WHY our SFG4U Growing Medium (the Foundation's choice of wording as we of course cannot call it Mel's Mix) is worth what they sometimes feel is a high price.

Kim

I am not a top-notch marketing person, and I'm in no way suggesting that I know the best way to market your product. But I am playing devil's advocate here!

Mel is successfully promoting a gardening method around the world. I consider MM to be a radical medium compared to what row gardeners have available. Yet, he presents no test results, no numbers, and no data. I often wonder why he made that decision. Here's the ideas I've come up with:

(strictly my opinion)
  • The numbers are irrelevant. A gardener in the mountains of Peru doesn't care what the numbers are. All that matters is that the method works. A lot of gardeners around the world can't even get soil tests.
  • The numbers are irrelevant. Those numbers are things that row gardeners need to worry about because they are always trying to improve imperfect native soil. The numbers are just one more thing row gardeners can leave in the dirt when they make the transition to SFG, along with their tillers, hoes, etc.
  • The numbers are irrelevant. Every batch of compost is going to be a little bit different. It doesn't matter. Weather variances have a much greater influence on plant growth and production than does variances in compost batches.
  • The numbers are irrelevant. Presenting data for comparison just opens the door for contentious disagreements that totally detract from the important message that the numbers don't matter.
  • The numbers are irrelevant. It's a test! You believe him or you don't!


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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  BackyardBirdGardner on 9/6/2011, 12:43 pm

(Not being atagonistic, though it may come off that way, I am only trying to encourage more conversation like this.....it's highly beneficial to those not participating.)

Cincy, you explained why you are testing. And, I like your points. But, I am wondering why overthink things? Lots of people, myself included, on this forum overthink things. Some to the point of inaction. So, at least you are doing something about it.

I guess the baseline you are looking for is technical? So you have numbers to match what you bought vs what you are trying to produce on your own? To see how much better/worse you fair with producing your own compost? That's what I am gathering.

Granted $15 isn't much to a lot of us. To some on this forum, it's a lot. So, that's kind of a relative term, which I'm sure isn't flashing news to you. If $15 was significant, you likely would have different priorities than testing your soil....but, maybe not.

You make a ton of sense. Really, you do.

I am very much a minimalist in this area, though. To me, Mel did all that for us. It grows. The few that have tested theirs have had amazingly high numbers as results. A few pieces of bark aren't going to change that....so long as you have 5 types of composts as Mel suggests. The chances of getting a "dud" drop off the face of the planet the more types of compost you start with.

So, if we aren't likely to get a dud, and we trust what we've read as a credible source of knowledge and experience, there is no reason....for me...to spend even 20 cents on testing. It's been done. I just follow the gameplan laid out for me and reap all the rewards.

I love the numbers. I'm a numbers guy. They are great at proving what we read is true. Thank you to those that are going the extra distance to validate what we read is true. Me? I will just be coachable this time and follow the herd. This conversation, imo, is for those that are going to overthink THEIR composts because they bought some with wood chips. This conversation is yet another to PROVE to people they need to buy multiple kinds of composts....from different suppliers. If they can do that, they don't need to think about anything. Mel, Boffer, Cincinnati, and others have done that part for us.

And, thank you again for doing so.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  littlejo on 9/6/2011, 3:49 pm

I think that if you are making compost or "Mel's mix" for folks to buy, then a test is almost required, at least when you are starting out. After you have established a reputation for yourself and are more confident then it won't matter a lick.

The problem with testing is if you buy 5 composts and have to go back for more, and the store does not have the very same 5, then you may get different results.

I had a problem in the spring with the compost not being finished. I added a bed recently so I bought the bags of compost and just laid the bags in the garden area, prob. for 3 weeks. They were done and did not smell of what had been composted(whiskey and oranges) I hope my homemade compost is good enough to grow veggies next spring! I think I'll save my money on the testing, for different composts will possibly give different test results. What would I do if testing was to say I'd have a very bad year!!

Jo

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  Cincinnati on 9/6/2011, 4:13 pm

Hey Backyard,

Don't have to apologize to me. I do not take your post as antagonistic. I'm glad you have success with your mix.

I do not buy compost any longer. For the past 18 months, I made all my own. Yet last year using MM, I had most of my melon and half of my peppers and tomatoes suffer from Blossom End Rot. That's not supposed to happen with MM. When the book was published Mel wrote that other than replenishing with a scoop of compost, he hadn't amended his MM in 9 yrs of growing. That's how I want to garden. But it's not happening.

My NPK numbers are great, but apparently my MM is deficient in Calcium. The pH is slightly acidic — not surprising after I learned peat moss is acidic.

I don't know how tomatoes grow in other climates, but down here they need added lime or BER is a killer of good fruit. I've had two seasons of bad melons, and a a season of half of my peppers and tomatoes lost to BER. So to me it's become a matter of determining how to correct a problem that should not be happening. I've asked lots of SQFT gardeners via forums why, and no one has had a solution. However, I've asked lots of traditional gardeners and every single one has said Calcium deficiency.

Mel's system is a beautiful and very logical one. When I read the book, I saw no reason why it wouldn't work exactly like he said. For two seasons, I did not change my MM. Nonetheless, it's not working. I am not getting a great yield.

I can either continue doing what I did the last two seasons which did not work, or I could abandon the SQFT Method and find another way, or I could troubleshoot it to determine what is different from my mix over yours and all the other thousands who have had success.

Personally I'd prefer not to "think" about it nor wait a couple of weeks on a scientific analysis. I'm open to listening to anyone who has had BER in fruits grown in MM to tell me how they corrected it. Anyone who has been down the road of crop failure knows how that just sucks the fun right out of gardening.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  boffer on 9/6/2011, 4:30 pm

There are quite a few topics about BER that can be searched. If you'd like to help out Cinci with your BER solutions, please use one of them, or start a new thread.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  BackyardBirdGardner on 9/6/2011, 5:35 pm

Cincy,

I couldn't find anything definitive on adding gypsum. I, myself, have added Epsom Salt, but that was to increase "sweetness" in the tomato's fruits....it also has been said to help with calcium deficiency.

But, here is something I banged out in 10 minutes after reading a few articles I found on Google...

http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t8866-berblossom-end-rot-review#82423

Now, we can likely get back to the soil testing discussion.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  squaredeal on 9/6/2011, 5:54 pm

I'm in favor of the occasional soil test. You might eat exactly like the food pyramid suggests and not have any ailments, but your doctor might still order a blood test during your physical.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  sceleste54 on 9/7/2011, 1:41 am

Good way to put it SquareDeal, since we usually don't know the exact composition of the compost we buy !!

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  BackyardBirdGardner on 9/7/2011, 8:54 am

I would liken it to the kid in the back of Algebra class. He used to drive me nuts when the teacher would say that 2+2=4 and he would ask, "Why?" Or my personal favorite, "I don't get it."

I would slap myself. Why? It's math. It works because it works. Socrates and Galileo did all the hard work for us. Just understand the steps and repeat.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  littlesapphire on 9/7/2011, 1:29 pm

I'm really fascinated to see what other people find out from the lab tests, but too lazy to get my own test done. So I say, whatever makes you happy Smile

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Auburn University Analysis of my MM

Post  Cincinnati on 9/8/2011, 11:00 pm

Here's the results of the Auburn University Test on my MM. The recommended General Vegetable Guidelines Range for each variable is in green brackets:

pH 5.5 [General Vegetable Guidelines 5.6 - 5.8]
Specific Conductance mmhos/cm 2.4 [2.0 - 3.5]
Total Dissolved Salts ppm 1652 [1400 - 2450]
Nitrate-Nitrogen ppm 169 [120 - 200]
Phosphorus ppm 51 [10 - 15]
Potassium ppm 419 [200 - 275]

Magnesium ppm 83 [50 - 100]
Calcium ppm 95 [10 - 200]
Boron ppm 0.3 [.05 - 0.50]
Copper ppm 0.2 [.005 - 0.5]
Iron ppm 0.3 [0.3 - 3.0]
Manganese ppm 0.2 [.02 - 3.0]
Sodium ppm 66 [<50]
Zinc ppm 0.2 [0.3 - 3.0]

So now the $64,000 question: What do I do with this?

pH is acidic — too acidic for tomatoes and peppers, and I'm guessing melons and cukes. But Calcium is in the mid range. I'm wondering how much lime can I add to get the pH correct for eliminating BER.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  BackyardBirdGardner on 9/8/2011, 11:23 pm

Cincy, I think you are jumping the gun with pH. Tomatoes and peppers prefer slightly acidic soil.

Here's a chart:
Vegetables: Ideal pH
Artichoke 6.5 - 7.5
Asparagus 6.0 - 8.0
Beans 6.0 - 7.5
Beet Root 6.0 - 7.5
Broccoli 6.0 - 7.0
Brussel Sprouts 6.0 - 7.5
Cabbage 6.0 - 7.5
Carrot 5.5 - 7.0
Cauliflower 5.5 - 7.5
Celery 6.0 - 7.0
Chicory 5.0 - 6.5
Chinese Cabbage 6.0 - 7.5
Corn 5.5 - 7.0
Cress 6.0 - 7.0
Cucumber 5.5 - 7.5
Garlic 5.5 - 7.5
Horseradish 6.0 - 7.0
Kale 6.0 - 7.5
Kohlrabi 6.0 - 7.5
Leek 6.0 - 8.0
Lentil 5.5 - 7.0
Lettuce 6.0 - 7.0
Mushroom 6.5 - 7.5
Mustard 6.0 - 7.5
Onion 6.0 - 7.0
Parsnip 5.5 - 7.5
Pea 6.0 - 7.5
Peanut 5.0 - 6.5
Pepper 5.5 - 7.0
Potato 4.5 - 6.0
Potato- Sweet 5.5 - 6.0
Pumpkin 5.5 - 7.5
Radish 6.0 - 7.0
Rhubarb 5.5 - 7.0
Shallot 5.5 - 7.0
Soybean 5.5 - 6.5
Spinach 6.0 - 7.5
Tomato 5.5 - 7.5
Turnip 5.5 - 7.0
Water Cress 5.0 - 8.0
Watermelon 5.5 - 6.5

Many common vegetables grow in the 5.5 range. I would submit you don't need amendments and it's not your mix. I might add you aren't suffering from calcium uptake and there's plenty in your MM. Are we sure it's BER still?

Also, "ideal" is the sweet spot. Being slightly outside ideal isn't fatal and doesn't cause disease or stress. Plants, like animals, adjust, too. I have kept tropical fish for years, and they have ideal pHs for their water. But, I've kept livebearers in highly acidic waters and characins in alkaline waters, too. If conditions are introduced slowly, most living organisms adjust to their new environments.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  boffer on 9/8/2011, 11:47 pm

I hate to quote myself, but...

@boffer wrote: The scary part about getting one's mix analyzed is, what if it's out of whack? How would you go about adjusting your compost types/ratios?

And what if it's not reeeeeeally out of whack, but just a little, then what? On the forum this year, we've seen a lot of members acknowledge that weather was a major influence on the overall productivity of their gardens. Perfect growing medium doesn't produce perfect gardens.


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Recommendation based on MM Analysis

Post  Cincinnati on 9/11/2011, 9:36 am

@BackyardBirdGardner wrote:Cincy, I think you are jumping the gun with pH. Tomatoes and peppers prefer slightly acidic soil.

Being slightly outside ideal isn't fatal and doesn't cause disease or stress.

You have given me something to think on :-))

Tomatoes thrive on NEUTRAL TO SLIGHTLY ACIDIC soil. However 5.5 is not just slightly acidic, and 5.5 pH is way too acidic for tomatoes and peppers. The Master Gardeners group at the County Extension Agent Office say ideal is 6.8 pH with 6.5-7.0 being an acceptable range.

I'm not sure why the report says 5.5-5.8 as an accaptable range for vegetables. I'm wondering if it is because this test was for organics and not soil or potting mix. Blueberries and Azaleas thrive in 5.5pH soil, but according to my County Extension Agent, that is too acidic for the common vegetable garden.

FYI Everyone: Since sodium is high, the County Extension Agent said to keep the soil well-wetted. High sodium in dry soil pulls moisture from the plant.

To increase pH, both the County Extension Agent's and the Master Gardner's recommendation was to add dolomitic lime at the rate of 1 ton/acre. Although I try to avoid using chemicals, adding crushed limestone to the mix is something I am willing to do. The recommendation is 3/4 oz of crushed dolomitic limestone per square (2 Tablespoons per Square) for three years to gradually increase pH. In a 6"raised bed, this rate is 1.5 oz/Cu. Ft. of MM.

In contrast, an Earthbox has 2 Cu. Ft. of potting mix. They add 8 oz of dolomite/cu.ft. of mix at the beginning of every planting season — 5X what is being recommended to me. I have raised tomatoes for two years with good success in that system.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  BackyardBirdGardner on 9/11/2011, 10:37 am

More food for thought...

High sodium in dry soil pulls moisture from the plant.
This is the reverse osmosis also caused by soluable salts. When people complain of "burn" from fertilizer, it is THIS.

Yet another report...
If pH levels are not maintained at the appropriate level (pH 5.8 - 6.3 for tomatoes) nutrient deficiencies and toxicity will occur.

•Check the colour of the leaves; yellow leaves may indicate that the nutrient solution isn't strong enough or pH is too high, locking out nitrogen - leach and change the solution.
•Leaf tips curl up or red stem may indicate a magnesium deficiency caused by too low a pH - leach and change solution
•Leaf tips curling under may mean the nutrient level is too high - add pH 6.0 water
•A potassium deficiency my cause flowers to fall off before setting fruit - leach and change solution.

Blossom-end-rot caused by too much water puddling in the root zone will create a calcium deficiency - leach and foliar spray with a calcium nitrate solution.

And another...
Tomato plants favor a neutral to slightly acidic soil. A pH range of between 6.0 and 6.5 is considered ideal.

Third source..
Tomato plants prefer soil that has a neutral pH, which is generally between 6.4 and 7.0

pH of straight peat moss is around 3.0 to 3.5. Adding a third of it to our garden obviously lowers our pH of our existing soils. If we already have acidic soils, like in the south, this will likely push it further down the pH scale. Remedies, again, are adding bone meal and/or crushed egg shells to bring the pH up a bit. The main "amendment" I add to all azalea installations I do is peat moss. It brings every soil down the scale. But, in SFG, we aren't adding anything to our existing soils.....we are building from scratch right on top of it all.

With Mel's Mix, we are installing an acidic soil as our base. However, through the blends of composts, we should be well into the "slightly" acidic ranges of 6.0-6.8......likely the lower end. This, however, is where most veggies like things anyway, and likely why Mel recommends the blend he does.

I'm with you Cincy. I think amending your soils is sometimes ok, but I want the newest member to STUDY and LEARN, through reading the forum/internet/library and experience, before they start adjusting their own soil. We have too many thriving gardens on this site to do otherwise. Only after understanding WHY we are changing our compositions should we even try. And, by that time, most of us realize it's pretty unnecessary because our "issues" could also be blamed on so many other factors to be solely a result of the Mel's Mix.

I just want people to understand that Mel has studied this stuff way more than 99.9% of us ever will. He wrote a darned book that essentially creates a specialized, albeit generic, medium. It's the same in Ethiopia as it is in New York because we don't ever mix it with our existing soils. And, it works.....provided you build it right.

It really is as simple as building a box, dropping the recipe for MM on top of your ground and mixing it together, and adding a grid. And, the only reason it does NOT work is because your compost is deficient to start with......which is why he recommends 5 types.....decreases the chance of a dud throwing your mix off.

If we are to follow Mel's methods, we need to rid ourselves of all the gardening our grandparents taught us with our cruddy dirt. It's simply not necessary anymore.


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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  squaredeal on 9/11/2011, 11:44 am

More midwestern labs for soil testing:

http://www.shelbylandscaping.com/html/soil_testing.html

For smart people who mixed 5 composts BEFORE planting, this info isn't for you. For impatient people like me who added only one or two and are now adding composts sequentially and had less than great results then you might like to test your soilless mix.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  1airdoc on 9/13/2011, 4:40 pm

Finally, after 2 attempts, I got my MM soil analysis results (thanks for the suggestion to try the UMass lab!). My results were much like Boffer's; pH was 6.8 and all nutrients were "very high" -- EXCEPT nitrogen, for some reason (was low at only 15ppm). I'll add some blood meal along with my homegrown compost and see if that helps with my fall crop.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  Cincinnati on 9/13/2011, 10:06 pm

@1airdoc wrote:... pH was 6.8 and all nutrients were "very high" -- EXCEPT nitrogen, for some reason (was low at only 15ppm). I'll add some blood meal along with my homegrown compost and see if that helps with my fall crop.

My N2 numbers are low too. Not too surprising considering the composting decomposition process consumes N2, especially if you have wood or bark in the composter.

Can blood meal be added to MM, or does it need to go through the decomposition process with the rest of the organics? I'm guessing blood meal is high in N2 and low in P&K.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  BackyardBirdGardner on 9/14/2011, 8:51 am

Blood meal also lowers pH. Consider that if you think you are on the "low" side of plant tolerance.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  camprn on 9/14/2011, 12:01 pm

@BackyardBirdGardner wrote:Blood meal also lowers pH. Consider that if you think you are on the "low" side of plant tolerance.
Not by much, unless you pour on pounds of the stuff.

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There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance. ~ Henry David Thoreau

http://squarefoot.creatingforum.com/t1306-other-gardening-books

Outlander is outstanding!


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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  Unmutual on 9/15/2011, 7:32 am

This shows nutrition uptake of plants by pH level. When you modify your pH, it can throw things out of whack severely. If your pH isn't right, the amount of nutrients available means less because the roots can not access it(or can, but in a limited supply). A pH of 5.5-6.5 is where you want to be for most plants(some are out of this range, some are on the edge of this range also, but generally speaking, that's what you want).

How do you "fix" the pH of Mel's Mix? That's a good question since (I think) it gets most of its acidity from the peat moss(it's something like a pH of 3). So I'd assume any pH problems would be from the compost. Either make your own(which you'll never have enough of, but if you're gardening you should be composting..no excuses) or make sure you are getting a blend of 5 different composts.

I have a (easier to read)better chart, but unfortunately it's on paper.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  Cincinnati on 10/10/2011, 6:41 am

@boffer wrote: ... So there you are: results from two accredited labs that don't agree with each other, nor do they really agree with my assessment of crop growth and harvest.

My summary: .... My corn, a heavy nitrogen feeder, is healthy

Boffer, any chance your MM tested wasn't well mixed? I recently had a fire ant issue in my compost pile. I began screening the compost and peat into a wheel barrel and stirring it every hour or so to disturb the ants into leaving. As a result I have the most homogeneous MM I ever made. I'm thinking of retesting it.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  NHGardener on 10/10/2011, 12:36 pm

I love this thread!

As a first-timer this year, I would be interested in a soil test just for peace of mind. I bought all my compost ingredients - how do I know they were what they said they were? Also, my peppers didn't produce. Is that because they might be low in nitrogen, or high?

This thread motivates me to have my soil tested, which I really hadn't been thinking, and not to conform to their specs, but just to get a general idea of the way my "soil" is leaning. And to confirm that I did it right in the first place. And yes, my yield could have been better, but part of that I attribute to the purchased soil ingredients not having time to "settle in" before planting. (Maybe they were not fully composted, or had some additives that needed to wash out. For instance, my cow manure bags came from Lowes. Was the cattle food organic? Might they have been treated with substances that ended up in my compost mix?)

Also, I'm getting really interested in soil. It's an amazing substance, and I would love to know exactly what is in there.

But I promise I won't mess with the MM (too much anyway) and I'll try to stay a purist. Smile

I won't promise I won't play mad chemist just a LITTLE bit. (using my home-grown compost)

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

Post  Lindacol on 4/16/2012, 3:03 pm

I just went back & found this info on soil testing because I have a problem in one of my beds. This bed ( the 2nd built out of the 4 I have - the others are doing fine) was filled with a mix that was heavier on the compost portion as I was low on funds when I filled it. The compost is homemade, heavy on the goat manure & alfalfa but also contains horse & yak manure and household wastes and plant material. As I have replenished I have added in some vermiculite, peat and bagged worm castings. This bed was started about 6-7 mos ago. The same compost is used in all 4 beds.

Garlic in this bed looks stunted compared to my other bed with garlic. Carrots started and died. Broccoli did ok, as did some lettuce. Newly transplanted cucs died.

I got one of the home soil tests from HD. The Ph test looked lime green, like the bacground color - I guess neutral to slightly acid. Nitrogen was darker than surplus (not a surprise), the Potash was suffucient to surplus but the Phosphorus was depleted (clear).

The package suggests adding bonemeal but I am confused on how much.

Suggestions?? I am ready to replant this bed and have seeds & seedlings waiting.

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Re: Mel's Mix Lab Analysis Results

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