I feel like it could be improved.
I've made a bunch of beds with his mix and its going ok.....
i think 1/3 peatmoss is too much and not enough compost, what you guys think?
I will never use peat again. Ever. That stuff repels water, no matter how hard I tried to keep it moist.
This is my 3rd year with my SFG and in the spring, I ripped out the twine, turned over the soil only to find clump upon clump of bone dry peat. I added bag after bag of cow poop, plus my own compost, and the veggies are doing so much better this year than last.
Apologies for the somewhat negative post, but I have found that peat sucks.
what do u think i should try besides peat?
I used coconut coir in my second batch of mix - it came in a dense brick that I soaked in water before mixing with the compost and vermiculite. I was mostly worried about the acidity of the peat - and the effect on the environment (non-renewable source and all). I know that is a debatable issue and I'm definitely not trying to start an argument that... just listing my reasons for trying something besides peat.
I will definitely be starting my own compost this year, because it seems silly to pay money for it... and it doesn't seem as high quality as stuff you buy in big bags. So I've had to add some food to my mix as well - to make up for the poor compost mixes.
This is just my first year, though, so I'm also really interested in hearing what other suggestions people have! Thanks!
Not sure about the peat but when I filled the beds, because of money and time constraints, I only filled them the beds with 6" of mel's mix (I have 8" sides). Every once in awile, I buy five to ten bags of compost and just keep filling. By the end of the season, my beds should be totally filled and I am hoping that my veggies will appreciate the extra compost.
First off, Mel Bartholomew worked for decades to perfect his mix. What makes you think it can be improved, or should be. Does it work without the peat moss? He says it does. He teaches straight compost in third world countries without access to these hard to find materials.
As for peat moss not being renewable. Canada has mandated renewable harvesting only of peat moss and it's working quite well, so if you get peat moss from Canada, you can feel good about it.
That said, my beds are heavier on compost and they are doing just fine. I feel no need to add more peat moss or vermiculite. It was just personal preference, which if anyone wants to adjust Mel's Mix to be "Joe Blow's Mix" then go for it. Only you'll know or mind.
Sorry for the terse post, really bad day...
Peat has to be thoroughly soaked or it will never retain water.
I don't like the exorbitant price of Mel's mix so I went with a Quad mix from a local garden center. I am EXTRAORDINARILY happy with it. I amend with compost twice a year.
Here's my experience for what its worth: This is my first year with SFG, and I decided to omit the peat moss and just use compost and vermiculite. Just about everything I've planted turns yellow and has not been growing well. I did a soil test and found that it was VERY alkaline. From what I've read on other posts peat moss will make the soil more acidic. So, I'm guessing by leaving the peat out I don't have the right PH for the plants I'm growing. I do make my own compost, but did not have enough to fill my beds so I had to use store bought. I guess it could be an issue of the quality of the compost, since Mel says it can be done with straight compost. Anyway, last night I went back and added peat to one of my beds and re-planted everything. I'm hoping that will help.
fwiw - When I've had my compost lab tested it has always been very neutral. Are you testing w/home kit?
gumby - I just used a home test. I've heard they are not always accurate, but I tested a couple of times and each time it was showing alkaline. If things don't improve with the addition of the peat, I was planning to have a lab test done.
I would avoid any mix containing peat moss (including Mel's). Peat moss is hydrophobic (i.e., repels moisture) and to my mind is basically useless unless used with a wetting agent, which is a surfactant (like a detergent) Use perlite or vermiculate to loosen up the mix and add manure or compost, and potting soil. The mix should form a ball between two hands, yet it should crumble easily, too.
unbelievable...peat moss never retains water. If you found clumps of peat under your top layer, maybe you should truly follow the directions and try breaking it up first, and then mixing it. Unbelievable! Be sure to let Mel know how to improve his soil. And, oh yeah, I guess those who have done this for over 25 years are mistaken? Wow....
I will say this for Mel's mix - it is great at retaining water. My soil almost always feels just the right amount of moist - not water logged and hardly ever dry - just damp. I'm watering rarely because it's raining a few times a week but I still check the soil every day and have been very surprised to find that it's never dry - even in the hottest weather we're having right now.
Sin - thanks for the info on the Canadian peat. I will definitely keep that in mind and look for it the next time I need to buy some.
I will say this - there's every bit of chance that my difficulties when I started were due to the poor store bought compost. Not trying to rag on Mel's Mix.
wilkili_ga - I would think that the water you used in the home test kit is alkaline - which would give misleading results. To rule the water in or out you can do the test with just the water, if you have more kits.
Gee Snibb, I guess I'm just a moron. It never occurred to me to actually follow the directions, like breaking up the peat(Canadian peat), wetting it down, and mixing it up with 5 different composts, along with vermiculite.
Yeah, I never follow directions. Especially after all the hard work and money put into making the beds in the first place.
What I find highly amusing is that my spell checker brings up the word "snobby" to replace "Snibb".
Thanks gumby ct! I had not thought that the water might be alkaline. I'll try testing the water by itself.
yeah, sure thing holly-
"Gee Snibb, I guess I'm just a moron." You said it, not me.
"It never occurred to me to actually follow the directions, like breaking up the peat(Canadian peat), wetting it down, and mixing it up with 5 different composts, along with vermiculite." If you did, how did you have clumps of peat moss later?
"Yeah, I never follow directions. Especially after all the hard work and money put into making the beds in the first place." Just because you did all the hard work of putting in the beds and spending all that money doesn't necessarily mean you did follow directions in the book.
Be sure to inform Mel that you have an improvement for his soil. I'm sure he'll be real interested in what you have to say, especially after he has worked on it for 20+ years....good job
Ignore Snibb, he's been a jerk in every thread post I've read from him. His posts read like a cult member's.
I ammended my mix with a bio soil from a local company. The original Mel's Mix is hard to keep moist when you live in an area with hardly any humidity and drying winds. I had to water twice a day but I'm not at least down to one short watering with the bio mix that retains more moisture than just the peat/vermiculite/compost mix.
Thanks poppyhead. Too bad this place doesn't have an ignore button.
dont worry-I'm out of here with some of you freaks and rookies-there's this saying that I am sure you have heard...it goes something like this:"Dont ever argue with an idiot-they drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience." Cult member? Interesting comment. Good luck with your 'bio" soil poppyhead-a very fitting name. Talks pretty cheap over an internet thread-I love for you to say that to my face, but, I am sure you wouldnt have the guts to do that. You would see the cult I belong to after that tough guy...have a nice life..adios..this is supposed to be a SFG thread and then you come in here with the names....good job loser
I never cease to be amazed at the arrogance and the egos on these garden forums. Some of the people here think there is only 1 way to do anything and they have the way. You'd think no one ever grew a garden before Mel Bartholomew arrived. This reminds me more of a religious cult than a garden discussion.
a comment about the renewability of peat. Canada saying it's a renewable resource is like an oil company telling you that oil is renewable, which in a sense it is. we just won't live long enough to see any. Peat is big buisness for Canada, do you expect them to tell you anything differt? To many people put what they hear as fact on these posts without the required research.
Whoa....for a minute there I thought I was out in the jr. high schoolyard....
Just to add my 2 cents on the subject... I followed Mel's instructions perfectly, broke the peat up really well and I still find that water has a hard time finding its way to where it needs to be. I find dry clumps of mix all the time. I'll definitely have to change something up next year, not sure what though.
Good riddance to snibb. Although I must admit he did bring some joy to this forum, by leaving it.
Back to the subject of improving Mel's Mix. It's way too simplistic to be without improvement potential. The peat and vermiculite provide virtually nothing in the way of nutrition. That means *all* of the nutrients come from your compost. That had better be some pretty good compost. Where I live Calcium and Magnesium are extremely deficient in the soils and so are the plants that grow there. My composts would be similarly deficient. If I were using Mel's mix, I would add limes for Calcium and Magnesium. And does anybody think that typical garden center bagged compost is nutritionally complete? Doubtful.
TC, I think that's the reason Mel recommends using 5 different sources for compost, to help increase the nutritional variety in the mix. If I remember correctly, he actually discusses this issue briefly in the new book.
compost, compost, compost. If that doen't help...get some "Miracle-Grow" Tomatoe plant food and use it for "ALL" your veggie.
check out my updated garden pics and you will see.
I don't have any tips, but I did want to make a note about the coconut coir. I'd be very careful using it, as it apparently has a high salt content and needs to be rinsed and soaked repeatedly. Also, here's a study of various typse/brands of coir compared to peat in a growth study, and I'm afraid the pics of the coir plants don't generally look very good.
Here is a link that might be useful: Coconut Coir Paper
Just a slight modification to Mels Mix, 100% homemade compost, you be the judge.
Here is a link that might be useful: Johns Journal
John - i'd say your "tweaking the formula" worked pretty good. How often are you watering?
Once every 7 days for 20 min depending on rain days.
I think we need to talk about improvements on mel's mix, lol. Mel wrote a book called "the improved sfg method". I assume that means our cultish leader (have to admit, my hubby thinks my gardening is becoming a religion...) believes that we can make improvements, too. I'm a huge fan of it, but not such a big fan of the increasing costs of things like peat and vermiculite. I'm not an uber greenie, but I do think that as things become more scarce, they get more expensive (economics...). So, let's put our heads together and come up with a better answer than moss. It could save us a headache in the future.
John, this is my first sfg. At our local nursery, they'll sell you a truckload of compost but they told me that it's too "hot" to grow plants in straight. Mel seems to state that in his book, also. I'm composting, but I will be lucky to get more than a few gallons of compost. I fill my 32 gallon composter and turn it, etc, and then, voila! It's less than 20% full, lol. Ima try worms next year, but I can't see how that's going to net me more completed compost.
In answer to the person who has very alkaline soil, you might try mulching with pine needles if they're available to you. I heard it's good to do that with tomatoes b/c they need more acidity.
I'm with jbest on this question. Mels worked great early in the spring for me, but once it got hot and windy, it just dried out to fast and didn't anchor the plants well at all. i used mel's in 1 of my 12 raised beds and about 3 weeks ago i tore up the bed and dug under all the mix. i'm going to stick with compost out here in the flatland from now on.
Hey John, I see you are in zone 5, PA. I have to water every 1 or 2 days - once july gets here, because of the extreme heat in my area. I carry 20 gallons of rain water out to the garden by hand, and water each plant manually.
I am sorry to bump this to the top, but for searching and history sake, I have to post. I had everything I needed to start the 'soil' after a trip or two to the garden center, then I ran across this thread. I was really concerned on whether I should do it the I was supposed to for SFG or to do 1/4 everything and 1/4 my sandy soil here.
Well, I put it all together and yes, it was very light. I was about blown away. I thought it would blow away at the first sign of wind. Because of some people saying how they had several dry spots, I went ahead and prewet the entire soil in small batches and stirred it well to get the peat moss wet. When I tried it without prewetting everything, clearly I was getting these very dry spots, too.
Anyways, after doing the small batches, they seem to do well and the weight is much better when premoistened. I'm sure it would be fine to stake down plants good and have a thick mulch on top. I guess time will tell on that part, though.
As for what was so impressive to me and will definitely have me not making any changes to the mix, is that this stuff really holds the moisture in even in intense heat and without mulch being added yet. We are over 100 degrees daily and are also in a pretty windy area. Before Mel's Mix, I was watering once or twice daily to keep my plants alive. This stuff is a miracle for me and I will not be cringing near like I thought I would when I get my new water bills.
I hope this helps someone else who may have been thinking of changing the recipe up. I'm not against it if you find you need to change things for your own garden, but for me so far, this seems like the bomb.
I am a 4th year SF gardner, and don't know what the problem is in my garden, (have 4 4x4 plots) with soaker hoses through them. After mixing the mel's mix the first year, I have done nothing but add equal quantities of compost (from different sources, as Mel suggested in his book). This year I am adding (cow manure & hummus, mushroom compost, a soil builder, & worm castings.
I am trying to figure out what I am doing wrong. The proportion of the mixture in the box changes each year after the first, if one just keeps adding composted materials. Does anyone mix a new batch of Mel's mix to add to their boxes?
The first year I had good success, but it seems like each year after that, my veggies are getting worse, not better. I'm thinking that maybe I have too much compost (is that possible?) or maybe too much water? The 1st box gets soaked, and the 2nd does fairly well, but the 3rd & 4th boxes get progressively dryer, and the 4th is too dry to successfully grow much of anything. I have a job which requires I be away 5 days at a time, so there is no one present to water the plants when I'm gone, and I must depend on an automatic watering system.
One year the tomato plants were spindley, and the fruit rotted. Another year I had white flies on them so bad that I ripped them out and planted again. Even the asparagus beans had aphids. The same year the squash had mildew, and the bell peppers which should be easy to grow, got black spots. Does anyone have any ieas or answers to these problems? I am not giving up on my garden, so I would appreciate any feedback.
some questions for you,
where do you live? what are your boxes mad out of and what is under them? how about the drainage?
My boxes are 3' by 6'. I have one at 6 inches and one at 12. I know that I let my bedssit for a few days after build, and I had a good rain to soak them before I planted.
I live in Central Mississippi. We have some wet weather, but mostly clear and sunny and hot and humid during the summer.
My (4) 4x4 x 6" boxes are made out of Cedar fenceing stapled together, and I have landscape cloth underneath.
I have been reviewing other posts, and other people seem to go back to the original Mel's Mix composition each year. I must have misinterpreted Mel's book, and have just been adding compost each year to fill up the boxes. Have never added more vermiculite or peat moss. Is that my problem, do you think?
Also, I think I am going to have my main hose starting out in the middle between the 4 boxes with the soaker hoses running to 2 boxes on each side. I snake the soaker hoses at root depth and cover them with the soil mixture, and use appliance (washing machine) hoses in between the boxes to link them together.
Maybe I should find a hole to put this old compost in and start over in my beds this year. Would appreciate any suggestions?
daybreak2, Since you had good success the first year, something must have changed since you built your "perfect" soil. I'm thinking about several things:
1. Your irrigation water might contain chemicals that have built up in your soil;
2. Your compost might have the wrong pH or be missing important nutrients (what is "soil builder" btw?);
3. Disease organisms might have been introduced into your soil;
4. The amount of sun your boxes gets could have changed. It sounds as if your garden is getting progressively more heat as it moves from box #1 (soaked) to box #4 (too dry) or you're growing plants that use more water in some boxes than others.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Have your soil and water tested.
2. Rotate your crops among the boxes.
3. Make your own compost.
4. Fix your irrigation so that it delivers different amounts of water depending upon where each box is located (full sun, part shade, windy or not) and the water demands of the various crops.
5. If those don't work, start over with your boxes in different locations and without the landscaping fabric.
Has anyone tried the soil mix recommended in Christopher O. Bird's "Cubed Foot Gardening"? 1 part sand, 2 parts top soil, 1 part compost.
I have to agree with timetraveler about testing. You don't say what kind of water you are using, city, well or rain water. Have you tried adding a different kind of compost?
We use Mel's Mix in several SFG boxes and so far we are happy with it, but we also have some 4' x 10' raised beds which we couldn't afford to add MM to. Instead we picked up free-for-the-hauling rice hulls from the local rice mill and mixed those with composted cow manure. We spread the mix thickly on top of the raised beds and it grows fantastic veggies with very few weeds. Anyone who lives in rice-growing country might check out rice hulls as a substitute for peat. They hold water well, too. We get the hulls that have been sitting in the field for several years in hopes that any residual chemicals will have leached out. Another good thing about rice hulls, - they are renewable.
I love my Mel's Mix. It drains like a dream and holds water forever! My only issue after 3 years with it, is that it's settled several inches despite adding compost each time I plant.
Here is a link that might be useful: Sinfonian's garden adventure!
Does anyone know how many years of research Mel did on each of his squares? I didn't see any mention of that in the book, but I might have missed it.
So, I'm a newby to gardening and i've been reading ALOT. It can all be so confusing. I've decided that box gardening will be the best for us. I've seen that alot of people agree that Mel's mix is great to use. I am going to try this method but want advice on how to reuse it with best outcome. I really don't want to have to rely on buying anything once my beds are established. I've learned how to make compost and yes even how to grow peat moss (i know it will take forever so not sure how I'm going to accomplish that) But as far as vermiculite is concerned, it's my understanding that it doesn't break down so I'm thinking it should be able to be reused. Couldn't I just add 1/3 compost and 1/3 more peat moss every time to reuse the mel's mix? What's ya'lls take on that? Or am I in left field on this? Love reading all the post!
I use shredded leaves in place of the peat moss. They retain water well, have some nutritional value, and are free!
Vermiculite eventually breaks apart into flakes of mica that don't hold water, so it does need to be replaced in the spring, mixed into the bed with fresh compost and shredded leaves.