Vermiculite a must?

qhoundApril 11, 2010

I am getting ready to build and fill two 4x12x1 raised beds. The cost of vermiculite is pretty high...I need about 32cu ft for both beds. I am currently unemployed, and would like to save some $$ if possible.

Do I absolutely need the vermiculite?

Thanks for any help.....these will be our first raised beds.

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Dan Staley

Vermiculite has a purpose. If you can replace it with something cheaper and continue to replace it yearly, the cheaper replacement will serve the same purpose.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 11:11AM
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What are you going to be planting?

I personally wouldn't bother with vermiculite. As you said, it's expensive.

Were you planning on buying topsoil, compost, etc., or do you already have it?

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 8:14PM
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These will be vegetable beds, and I need to buy soil to fill the beds. About 3.5 yds.

A local garden center has a mix of loam and 40% organic compost for about $20/yd. I was going to call them tomorrow and see if its good for vegetable gardening.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 8:42PM
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tishtoshnm Zone 6/NM

Vermiculite does help keep the soil fluffy and with water retention but it is expensive. One way I have mitigated this is by mixed a spade's worth into the square at planting time. To do this cheap, you could purchase a small bag of Perlite at Wal-Mart, 8 qts for under $5.

If I could get a mix like that for $20/yd, I would jump on it and just add a little Perlite or vermiculite. Good luck and happy gardening on the cheap!

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 8:56PM
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heather38(6a E,Coast)

I would say if you have a good rainfall, or means to collect it, I wouldn't bother, last year I did although not to the extent Mel advocates, I realized that the high rainfall negated the need, this year I haven't bothered in my new beds, and there is no difference in watering need, as in very little need, if you live in a dry area and water is expensive then it will be worth it in year one, and also the investment in a rain barrel.
Which is what I did this year instead of the vermiculite.
I think that Mel's mix is actually very clever as in this can work anywhere, whereas the way I am doing is specific to my area, if I lived in So Cal, I probably would use more!
The way to look at is that many people garden successful without the benefit of Mel.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 8:58PM
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angela12345(7b NC Mixed-Humid)

In some countries, Mel teaches to use compost only because vermiculite and peat moss are impossible to get. So, vermiculite is not a 'must'. It does serve a purpose to aerate the soil, aids drainage, and provides water retention.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2010 at 11:06PM
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Thanks for the help. Water expense isn't really too big of an issue. We are on a well, so only elect. costs come into play.

My goal is to eventually get a couple of rain barrels, have them elevated a bit, and use a drip irrigation system. But that is probably a year away at least.

Heading out to pick up some rough-sawn hemlock 2x12's today. Should have these beds built today or tomorrow, and filled with soil pretty soon thereafter.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2010 at 8:14AM
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I don't have vermiculite in any of my beds. I do have perlite in one, however, and I can tell a difference in the soil and how the plants in that bed are growing. To the point the next bed I am putting in I am using the perlite and peat moss. But is it absolutely necessary, I don't think so...

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 7:05AM
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queenofthemountain - SoCal 9b

Last season I set up raised beds filled with 70/30 compost/soil, and added organic amendments per plant. Had very good results with that.

Over the winter I was able to purchase big bags of coarse vermiculite and add it to the beds. It was an expense, but in Southern CA it is extremely hard to keep things watered during the worst heat of summer. So far I have found the vermiculite to be a significant benefit in maintaining moisture and maintaining a loose texture in the soil.

Because I was adding it to existing beds, I definitely do not have one-third vermiculite as in the Mel's Mix recipe. I would say the beds have at most 15% vermiculite. But I have found even that much has made a big difference for me.

Based on my experience, some vermiculite is better than none, even if it isn't the full one-third of your mix. However, based on our different climates, the benefits of vermiculite might be less important to you or easily replaced by other, cheaper amendments.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 3:36PM
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I will try to find some if I can. I called some local places, and all they have are small bags.

I'll be adding some aged horse manure/hay to my soil as well.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 4:30PM
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qhound-I live in the Lakes Region in NH and have been able to find 4 cu ft bags of vermiculite at Agway in Tilton and Plymouth for $20.00. There must be an Agway near you, or just take a drive up the interstate to Tilton.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 7:47PM
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Hey, there is an Agway in Dover.....wonder why I never thought of that??

I'll give them a call tomorrow....Thanks !!!

Tilton isn't too far from me if Dover doesn't carry it.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2010 at 10:16PM
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Our home improvement center has 3 cu. ft. bags for 9$ + It is in the insulation department. It a finer grade and untreated. That is under half the cost of coarse Horticultural grade per cubic foot. I use it for potting soil and for seed starting in my raised bed.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2010 at 11:08PM
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You can add earthworms (red wigglers) to your bed and as they dig along eating they will add their castings and aerate the soil as well. Just don't flood the box or they can drown.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2010 at 2:07AM
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I cheated and used a big bag of potting soil (Miracle Grow that has peat moss and vermiculite in it and mixed it with compost).It worked out very well.I would have preferred Mel's mix but sometimes you need to use what you got.
Sams has a huge bag of Miracle Grow real cheap.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 10:58AM
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NO.... If you are near a coast, then get free SAND, and just water more... i bought vermiculite, coarse grade, for 12 bucks for the size of a sack you can do that race in.

All the vermiculite does is retain moisture, and allow more air spaces.. Sand is very important in my opinion b/c it allows for exceptional drainage, and all my tomatoes had trouble last year b/c of the wet roots.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2010 at 3:09PM
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