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Adjustments to Mel's Mix

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  RoOsTeR on 1/1/2012, 2:47 pm

@BackyardBirdGardner wrote:I'm not going to nit-pick with you, vnoble. I truly appreciate the detailed answer to my question.

One concern with clay, though, is compaction. So, we obviously would need to watch our levels of clay as a percentage of the mix.

I think you said it best yourself, though. Mel wanted to keep things simple and consistent from place to place and provide an easy medium people could count on. So, I guess I go back to.....why change it? We know it works.

Tinkering with soil composition is natural for a lot of our personalities. I don't personally have a problem with it if someone knows enough of what they are doing. However, while posting on the forum, I firmly stand by Mel's techniques because they work (first and foremost) and most people here are new enough they wouldn't know what to tweak and would just make themselves a mess of an imbalanced garden, then proceed to come here and blame the forum, and it's members, for their mistakes.

I would love to chat with you because I'm sure you can teach me a ton about the details of soils, etc. However, if it's not 99% in line with Mel's book, we might want to chat about changes/tweaks in the Non-SFG subforum since we are deliberately going "against the grain" a bit.

Very well said BBG, and goes along with what I posted at the beginning of the thread:

Vnoble, welcome to the forum!
And you are correct, it is somewhat "taboo" to discuss changing/making adjustments to Mel's Mix. Mel's Mix is the Heart and Soul of SFG
We are here to promote the square foot gardening method and Mel's Mix as presented by Mel Bartholomew himself. He spent decades perfecting the method and Mel's Mix. I don't think any of us here are qualified or have enough "expertise" to change that.
Boffer sums it up nicely. It would make a great class experiment to measure out the water and see what you come up with.
Again, welcome aboard and we look forward to your results!

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  camprn on 1/1/2012, 2:52 pm

I still find the entire discussion valuable, thanks everyone. What a Face

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Soil Amendments

Post  tomperrin on 1/1/2012, 5:30 pm

Has anyone tried Azomite, Green Sand or glacial dust/till with Mel's Mix?

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  RoOsTeR on 1/1/2012, 6:21 pm

@tomperrin wrote:Has anyone tried Azomite, Green Sand or glacial dust/till with Mel's Mix?


Blasphemous!

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  camprn on 1/1/2012, 7:07 pm

nKedrOoStEr wrote:
@tomperrin wrote:Has anyone tried Azomite, Green Sand or glacial dust/till with Mel's Mix?


Blasphemous!
LOL, none of those items you mentioned are part of the recipe for Mel's mix.

That is not to say they don't have value elsewhere. I add amendments to my flower gardens that are built in the native soil. What a Face

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  PVPind on 1/6/2012, 11:48 am

Very interesting discussion!

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Hi

Post  CharlesB on 1/8/2012, 7:30 am

@tomperrin wrote:Has anyone tried Azomite, Green Sand or glacial dust/till with Mel's Mix?

Yah, worked awesome. I add Redmond Conditioner instead of the Azomite though because it is easier for me to get where I am at.

If you look at North America circa 10k years ago the glaciers had just finished there work. This why you see so much successful farmland in the midwest. All the mineralization from the retreating glaciers.

So adding that is a great way to do what the glaciers did for us to your gardening spot.

I am a little surprised by the "Mel's" way attitude here. If you've read his book you'd see his first meeting with others about gardening the instructor didn't show up so they all shared their knowledge and experiences. It is how people learn. The Mel's way attitude encourages people to be dependant on the knowledge of others instead of doing their own experimenting.

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  camprn on 1/8/2012, 7:49 am

@CharlesB wrote:
@tomperrin wrote:Has anyone tried Azomite, Green Sand or glacial dust/till with Mel's Mix?

Yah, worked awesome. I add Redmond Conditioner instead of the Azomite though because it is easier for me to get where I am at.

If you look at North America circa 10k years ago the glaciers had just finished there work. This why you see so much successful farmland in the midwest. All the mineralization from the retreating glaciers.

So adding that is a great way to do what the glaciers did for us to your gardening spot.

I am a little surprised by the "Mel's" way attitude here. If you've read his book you'd see his first meeting with others about gardening the instructor didn't show up so they all shared their knowledge and experiences. It is how people learn. The Mel's way attitude encourages people to be dependant on the knowledge of others instead of doing their own experimenting.

One of the main reasons to promote Mel's Mix is that it is essential to SFG as described by Mel, and this site is an off shoot of the SFG foundation started by Mel. The Main reason the Mel's Mix is promoted is to keep it simple and allows for non gardeners an easy starting point to experience the joys of gardening. As folks gain more gardening experience and knowledge it is certain that they will come to know about amendments and their benefits. That being said, not every garden needs amending. If things are growing well, life is good, if symptoms begin to show of nutrient deficiency, that is when I will turn to amendments. But generally speaking, If I have well balanced homemade compost, I typically have little problem with soil health and fertility. This is a great place to share your gardening knowledge, but please know that we will be sticking mostly to the basics for the benefit of the new members that are learning. What a Face

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Stunned by the wet blanket reply

Post  tomperrin on 1/8/2012, 9:21 am

I wasn't looking for controversy or negativity. I was looking for the experience of others.
I'm sorry to report that as much as I like Mel and his formula, appreciate his experience and sharing it with others, I don't consider Mel to be the very last word on everything gardening. I will continue to search, inquire, experiment and share my experience with others.

For those who responded positively, thank you. If you had responded that you tried something and it didn't work, I would still have thanked you. That you found that a soil amendment worked well, that is truly useful information, and definitely has a place on this forum and elsewhere.

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  fiddleman on 1/8/2012, 9:46 am

@CharlesB wrote:

I am a little surprised by the "Mel's" way attitude here. If you've read his book you'd see his first meeting with others about gardening the instructor didn't show up so they all shared their knowledge and experiences. It is how people learn. The Mel's way attitude encourages people to be dependant on the knowledge of others instead of doing their own experimenting.

Really it isn't so surprising. Mel's Mix works. Less work, less water, less space. If you mix the composts (or have a good compost you made) there isn't anything your garden could want but the correct amount of sunlight, water, and temperature. No need for mineral sand, worm tea, fertilizer, or any of the other things which people like to tweak from their row gardening experience.

Mel's attitude was to look for an easier, faster, more reliable way of gardening, not making it more complicated, which is what you're doing. Why make it so complicated when his system works so well?

Mel's system gives the garden everything it needs to prosper, do a soil analysis before adding anything to your garden... likely you'll find there isn't any nutrients needed to make the garden any better. I get kind of exasperated with folks when people try to amend this wonderful mix without doing a soil analysis first... that's like just putting extra parts on your car without knowing if they even go on your make and model. "I'll just bolt an air cleaner here on the tire, because I've heard clean air is good for the car", makes about as much sense as that!
Repeat after me; "If nothing is wrong, NOTHING IS WRONG!!! " No amendments are needed... Try it with good compost, peat moss, and vermiculite... it works, it's easy, it holds a ton of water, and the plants go absolutely Ga Ga over it. They grow amazingly fast, healthy and with the best root systems you've ever seen!

The other benefit of using Mel's mix which isn't often mentioned, is because it's easy to make the right way, when you have problems with your garden you can eliminate a number of causes right off the bat. The soil isn't too wet because it drains any unnecessary water automatically, with all that beautiful compost don't need to worry about fertilizer, and there is hardly ever a weed problem... makes it easier to go after what might be wrong with your garden... likely pests, or too little sun or water. Therefore you CAN solve garden issues much easier. Mel might not be the last word in gardening, but he sure has come up with a system that makes gardening a pleasure to do instead of a chore. I now "play" in the garden rather than "work" in the garden; it's a joy rather than a chore... I'll thank Mel a thousand times over for that reason alone!

Do a soil analysis THEN if you're deficient in something because of unbalanced compost only THEN tweak the mix!



Okay... off my soapbox...

Mark


Last edited by fiddleman on 1/8/2012, 9:51 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  camprn on 1/8/2012, 9:48 am

@tomperrin wrote:I wasn't looking for controversy or negativity. I was looking for the experience of others.
I'm sorry to report that as much as I like Mel and :study:his formula, appreciate his experience and sharing it with others, I don't consider Mel to be the very last word on everything gardening. I will continue to search, inquire, experiment and share my experience with others.

For those who responded positively, thank you. If you had responded that you tried something and it didn't work, I would still have thanked you. That you found that a soil amendment worked well, that is truly useful information, and definitely has a place on this forum and elsewhere.
Good Morning Tom, thanks for sticking around. I agree we can all learn something from each other... Come to think of it, I had never heard of Azomite so thanks for that!! Wink

And Fiddleman, agreed, if the plants are not showing signs of poor fertility or nutrition in the mix, nothing is wrong. If these signs should appear, than an analysis of the mix would be prudent before adding amendments for correction. study

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  quiltbea on 1/8/2012, 11:20 am

I believe there are times an SFG garden needs a tweak, even with 5 kinds of compost.

I add lime when planting cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc) to avoid root rot, and dried milk and epsom salt to help prevent blossom end rot. These are amendments.

If it works for me, and its healthy for my garden and toxin-free, I try it. A little experimenting can't hurt.

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  BackyardBirdGardner on 1/8/2012, 11:33 am

I'm sorry to report that as much as I like Mel and his formula, appreciate his experience and sharing it with others, I don't consider Mel to be the very last word on everything gardening. I will continue to search, inquire, experiment and share my experience with others.

Nothing wrong with this attitude, or Charles'. However, guys, understand we are going to get a little crazy about Mel's Mix on this forum because the forum is completely supported by one book.....Mel's. 95% of us that post here have completely bought into his system. That's not to say we don't enjoy open-minded discussions and the chance to ponder things that aren't mentioned in his system. But, we aren't likely to waver off our beliefs, either.

As long as we all understand that, we can get passionate in our discussions, no matter which side of the fence we are on. And, hopefully, that understanding will keep personal feelings out of it allowing us all to be friends that agree most of the time, but not all of the time.

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  llama momma on 1/8/2012, 11:48 am

I can't help but make note of the front of Mel's Book:

Over 2 Million copies sold (and counting)
Best-Selling Garden Author
Grow more in Less Space

Time spent on this forum plus my own experience showed me the system works and it is more successful than anything I have tried before.

More power to you if you have formal schooling in soil science, certain crop sciences, or pests and diseases. But to be able to start a Brand New Garden and have Same Season success, is proof enough for most people! I don't knock formal agricultural experience or schooling. The purpose of this book gets people out there now, consuming their healthy veggies in their first season attempt. The book wildly succeeds. The method is credible.


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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  sfg4uKim on 1/8/2012, 12:14 pm

#1: I TOTALLY believe in Mel and his method.

However, I believe that the reason there is an "All New" book is because Mel experimented and made modifications to the "original" after he developed it. I'm sure even HE experiments with his All New method and "tweaks" it here & there.

When I teach, I teach the "pure" method, but when my students ask about modifications, I let them discuss different things. I remind them that what I am teaching is "optimal for the majority of people . . . but I'm NOT the Garden Nazi and you can do what you want with this information". BUT if/when they don't get the expected results "please don't blame Mel or the method".

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  boffer on 1/8/2012, 1:00 pm

As was pointed out in another post recently, a lot of us garden for many different reasons other than putting veggies on the table. Studying, researching, experimenting and developing one's own growing medium is time well spent if that satisfies one's needs and interests.

What the posters in this thread who like to tinker with their medium have failed to demonstrate, is that their current favorite growing medium formulas are more effective than Mel's Mix. The folks at the SFG Foundation nearly beg folks to experiment with MM and figure out how to improve it. Gentlemen, if you think your research has produced a method that is more efficient and effective than using Mel's Mix, by all means, present it to the Foundation.

Until you do, I find the SFG method so easy, cheap, and efficient that I'm just not interested in looking at other methods; I'd rather be doing other things.

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  fiddleman on 1/8/2012, 1:39 pm

@quiltbea wrote:I believe there are times an SFG garden needs a tweak, even with 5 kinds of compost.

I add lime when planting cole crops (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc) to avoid root rot, and dried milk and epsom salt to help prevent blossom end rot. These are amendments.


Okay... have you had problems with root rot in your SFG, or is this a "just in case because I had problems with it in my row garden?" If you did, what did the soil analysis come out like?

Root rot... is caused by over-watering and there isn't any treatment. Too much water keeps the roots from getting the air they need and causes the rot. Using a heavy soil such as something you might have in the back yard can cause it. Many cases of root rot are caused by a soil mold which can be passed from plant to plant but it is unlikely to cause harm if the plant has proper drainage. I wonder if you have enough vermiculite or peat in your mix, or whether the drainage under the box is sufficient to allow the water passing through the Mel's mix to drain away.

A common problem with the cabbage or mustard (Brassicaceae)family of crops; perhaps you meant Club root... which is generally associated with acid soils, again it is a slime mold which can live in the soil in spore form for 7-10 years (or more) . Although the way lime will reduce infection of club root isn't fully understood, they think the infection is reduced somewhat when the calcium in the soil is at high concentration. Also, I've read where adding nitrogen to the soil will reduce the soil pH, nullifying the effects of the lime, it is important to check the pH of the soil regularly. Generally, the soil should reach a pH of 6.8 - 7.5. Best practice is to use cultivars which are more resistant to club root, Google "club root resistant cultivars" to find the names of some varieties which breeders have been working on if you have had a problem with club root in the past. The epsom salts have a pH of 6, so it could be working against the lime you're putting down.

Blossom end rot is often thought of as a calcium deficiency, but can be caused by too much potassium or nitrogen in the soil, often a sandy, or acid soil can reduce the availability of calcium to the plant. Too dry or uneven moisture of a soil can keep the calcium from being transported throughout the plant. Soils containing high amounts of phosphorus can bind up the calcium making it unavailable for the plants use.

A soil analysis would benefit you greatly to help sort out any issues with these problems. Too much of any one item could really tip the scale in a bad direction depending on the amount you're putting in. Fertilizers can, and do, mess with the pH. The problems with adding stuff to a raised bed garden is how it is all contained in one area - harmless in row gardening doesn't necessarily mean harmless in this instance. The ANSFG concept has so little "soil" that it would be easy to put too much of any one amendment in and throw the mix way outta wack.

Perhaps these are some things you could investigate and report back with more information to help all of us...

Mark

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  quiltbea on 1/8/2012, 1:43 pm

Oops! Sorry, meant to write Clubroot, not root rot. That makes a difference, doesn't it.

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It's all about experimentation and the scientific method:

Post  tomperrin on 1/8/2012, 4:38 pm

My personal theory is that leaf compost*, when added to other composts, adds all the trace elements in available quantities that we need for viable plant growth. In such case, most soil amendments "might" not add enough value to be worth their added costs. Hence, Mel's Mix would be sufficient.

That said, I want to emphasize the word "theory" as in hypothetical, untried, unproven. I don't have the machinery, the time, nor the inclination to do trace element research. Hence, the request for experiential reports from others. It's still early in January here in New Jersey, so I can't experiment yet in my own garden. Give me a couple of months, and I'll have several square foot pots with the one variable being New Jersey greensand, which is the one soil amendment I have available to me. I'll do that for fun and because I want to test the claims for it, not because I'm unhappy with Mel's Mix.

I honestly don't think that this is blasphemous, or heretical (not that I give a hoot or that those words belong in open discussion).

What's truly heretical and paradigm changing is that the most efficient application of solar energy and the solution to world hunger is to ensure that everyone has access to their own garden so that they can harvest food of their own cultivation year round. Square Foot Gardening principles are probably the most efficient way of doing that.

There are some problems, however. Vermiculite in quanitity is expensive and hard (albeit not impossible) to find. Peat moss may be in short supply this year due to excessive rains last year. Suburbanites object to compost production odors, to say nothing of manure. Consequently, we may need to be flexible and able to substitute one material for another when a particular material is unavailable. It's a good thing to know in advance what is a good substitution and what is a horrible mistake.

Enough already. I just want to know what others have tried and found wanting or good.

*don't use leaves from beech trees, however. They are toxic to other plants.

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  martha on 1/8/2012, 6:12 pm

I would like to add a word about the Mel's Mix controversy.

This is the official forum of the Square Foot Gardening organization, originated (and paid for) by them. (Even though donations are now accepted - that was our collective choice, rather than having advertising added.)

The other bulletin board I frequent, which is a horse board, is Ultimate Dressage. People who are not dressage riders frequent the BB, and will often talk about other riding disciplines.

But it is a dressage forum, originated (and paid for) by a dressage rider/enthusiast. If other people started saying that dressage stinks, this could be a problem.

Tom, you aren't saying that MM stinks. But awhile back, this forum let things get a little too far afield in discussing Mel's Mix and how to change this and what to use instead of that.

There was enough drift that this could have become a gardening forum, instead of a square foot gardening forum. And, of course, completely obviously, there is nothing wrong with gardening forums! But it's not what Mel wants to pay for.

In getting back on track, it may come across that we are all close-minded SFG/MM/Mel Bartholomew zombies, but that isn't the case. It is that, as Boffer and others have said other times, other threads, if we endorse variations of growing medium, then we do end up with people who have problems with their gardens, and conclude that SFG doesn't work. And that's not the case, either!

I know for me, I started with Mel's Mix, and it works, so, for me, that is the end of the story. There are things, like blueberries, that need a very specific pH. For the most part, MM eliminates the need to worry about pH.

I am from the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought in many things, and a lot of people are natural born tinkerers. We (meaning the Mel's Mix Hardcore Brigade Wink ) just want to make sure that everyone gives MM a fair shot, and THEN play around with it to see what happens.

All written in the spirit of friendship - I hope that is how it comes across.

So I don't think anyone here is trying to be negative.

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  miinva on 1/8/2012, 8:18 pm

I plan to add some azomite to one of my beds this year to see if it helps. I think it's hard to get all of the trace elements, etc., that azomite contains, so I figure giving it a boost can't hurt. Smile

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Back in Vale after a great week in Salt Lake.

Post  vnoble on 1/15/2012, 12:14 am

I hope I didn't shake anyone's faith in MM by starting this post. It has been interesting to hear everyone's ideas. It all started with how hard it was to get peat moss to take water if it was ever allowed to dry out (which we did). It took us a good week of off and on sprinkling to get the MM totally saturated. I was amazed that the water would find channels in the mix and keep going around dry spots rather than soak after hosing it with gallons and gallons of water. That is why I suggested lightening the mix with perlite which I have plenty of left over from our hydroponics labs. I also added a wetting agent which did not seem to help a whole lot until we were able to get it to mix into the entire mix evenly, the water continued to soak in unevenly leaving dry spots. The wetting agent made the water enter the soil surface faster but still did not make it soak in evenly. We have it wet now and will keep it that way. the kids crops are growing good now, I think the deficiency symptoms we were seeing were the result of not enough even water movement to allow for proper plant uptake of nutrients primarily nitrogen and some phosphorous. I cannot prove this since we also injected a low level of Peters 20-20-20 (similar to miracle grow) while we were trying to get the media wet.

Earlier in the fall the students had detected several nutrient deficiencies in their poinsettia crop even though we were feeding the plants adequately. Once we started watering more thoroughly all the nutrient deficiency symptoms went away.

We have heavy clay here and I for one enjoy and can appreciate the ease of the MM media, but I am what someone said in an earlier post, a tinkerer and I like to experiment, that is why they call me a teacher and scientist. I want the students to think and I often ask them why a lot.

Thanks again for your time.

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  camprn on 1/15/2012, 7:35 am

Thanks vnoble, it was a good discussion and I am happy you posted your findings. Do you have any photos of your student's plants, I sure would like to see what they have going. What a Face

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

Post  sfg4uKim on 1/15/2012, 8:37 am

vnoble it was a great discussion. Mel Bartholomew is also a tinkerer and his mix comes from decades of tinkering and tweeking. I think that if your students come up with a better idea, he'd love to see your research and results.

Regarding perlite . . . Mel says:
"Perlite is another natural material mined out of the earth and used in agriculture for the same purpose as vermiculite - to break up and loosen poor soils and to retain moisture. I personally don't like or use perlite, and here's why. It is hard as a rock, rather coarse and gritty, and I don't like the feel of it in the soil mix. It doesn't hold moisture like vermiculite. In addition, it floats to the top of the soil mix as you water your garden and because it's white, it looks rather unsightly and unnatural. And it makes me sneeze. Many people do use perlite instead of vermiculite and, in fact, most of the commercial mixes are made with perlite because it's cheaper. It's a matter of preference and availability, but I know which one I'm buying."

SOOOO it seems his biggest objections are that he doesn't like the feel of it, it looks unnatural and it makes him sneeze. I do agree that vermiculite seems to retain moisture better than perlite (anecdotal evidence only).

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Perlite

Post  vnoble on 1/16/2012, 12:38 pm

You are right that perlite is dusty when dry and it does float to the top if the water is allowed to pool on the surface when added at a rate faster than the water can soak in. Perlite does not hold water like vermiculite in fact it opens the soil media up (like sand) and makes it more airy so the media takes in water faster and drys out faster as well. We used it soley for hydroponics and it provides for anchoring the roots. The water runs through it too fast some times so we have mixed it with coir (ground coconut husks) to hold more water, thus not having to wet it as often.

Purhaps we will just have to get used to the slow intake of the high peat moss MM and learn to work with it. When we first started to work with MM I could see the water sit on the surface and refuse to soak in. Once we finally got it saturated it was fine, but that takes a while. We may not experience this again since I added the wetting agent. I did not think at the time to add soap as one reader suggested to reduce the surface tension of the water, I have done that before and it works. The real test will come when we shut the greenhouse down next summer for a month before school starts to sterilize things and it is bone dry.

@sfg4uKim wrote:vnoble it was a great discussion. Mel Bartholomew is also a tinkerer and his mix comes from decades of tinkering and tweeking. I think that if your students come up with a better idea, he'd love to see your research and results.

Regarding perlite . . . Mel says:
"Perlite is another natural material mined out of the earth and used in agriculture for the same purpose as vermiculite - to break up and loosen poor soils and to retain moisture. I personally don't like or use perlite, and here's why. It is hard as a rock, rather coarse and gritty, and I don't like the feel of it in the soil mix. It doesn't hold moisture like vermiculite. In addition, it floats to the top of the soil mix as you water your garden and because it's white, it looks rather unsightly and unnatural. And it makes me sneeze. Many people do use perlite instead of vermiculite and, in fact, most of the commercial mixes are made with perlite because it's cheaper. It's a matter of preference and availability, but I know which one I'm buying."

SOOOO it seems his biggest objections are that he doesn't like the feel of it, it looks unnatural and it makes him sneeze. I do agree that vermiculite seems to retain moisture better than perlite (anecdotal evidence only).

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Re: Adjustments to Mel's Mix

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