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Hello Guest!
Welcome to the official Square Foot Gardening Forum.
There's lots to learn here by reading as a guest. However, if you become a member (it's free, ad free and spam-free) you'll have access to our large vermiculite databases, our seed exchange spreadsheets, Mel's Mix calculator, and many more members' pictures in the Gallery. Enjoy.

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Post  philflash 2/19/2012, 7:44 pm

Hi everyone:
My wife and I were new to Sq Ft gardening last season and unfortunately ended up being less than impressed with the results. It’s not like we are virgin gardeners either, we have in fact had many fine gardens over the years at the various places we have lived in Alberta and BC. I built 6 4’x4’ boxes from 2by untreated lumber, 4 were 6” deep, 1 was 8” deep and the last was 12” deep. All of the boxes had plywood bottoms with drainage holes drilled in them. I gave the beds a good watering every other evening and every evening during the hot stretches. We used Mel’s Mix, or as close as I could get to Mel’s Mix, I could not find course vermiculite in anything other than small bags so I used fine vermiculite instead. Things got off to a good start with a great first crop of Radishes, Lettuce and Spinach. Things, unfortunately, went downhill from there. The second planting of Radishes were slow to grow and didn’t amount to more than pencil thin little nothings. The second planting of Spinach was also slow to grow and bolted early. The Carrots, Parsnips and Beets (all planted in the 12” deep box) were very slow growing; never did get any Beets or Parsnips that were worth harvesting and the biggest Carrots were only about three inches long by the end of the growing season. We had some Zucchini and Patty Pan Squash in the same box and they spent virtually the entire season as short yellow leaved plants that produced a sum total of one 3” Zucchini. My first thought, after seeing the poor results, was to question the use of the fine vermiculite...soil to compacted? It didn’t seem that way to me, we had grown in a lot crappier soil (in terms of feel) than that before. Any thoughts regarding the use of fine vermiculite, I see that others on the forum have said they have used it? With the new growing season fast approaching, I am wondering what to try differently. Perhaps I should run a soil test? The compost we used was a variety of animal manures, mushroom and some just labelled “compost”, all mixed together. Despite the fact that locals reported that it wasn’t a great growing season last year (started off wetter than usual and not a lot of heat during the summer), I still feel we should have seen better results. If anyone has any thoughts regarding my rather longwinded rant, I would appreciate it.
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Post  camprn 2/19/2012, 8:07 pm

Hey Phil! Not Impressed 396615 to the SFG Forum. My beets and carrots last year were nothing to write home about either. But the year before the beets went gang busters. I just chalked it up to the weather. I too had less than desirable results with my squash, I am hoping for better this year. I have a few questions about what went into the original Mel's mix besides the fine vermiculite. Did you use the recommended 5 different compost blend? With your second plantings did you add compost to recharge the mix? Are you planning on adding compost this spring before planting? When I had poor results like you are describing I had Mel's mix that had sunk considerably in my boxes so I added a few wheel barrows full of homemade compost to bring the mix level with the top of the box and had better results the next planting.


Last edited by camprn on 2/19/2012, 9:07 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : typos, per usual.)

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Post  CharlesB 2/19/2012, 8:34 pm

philflash wrote:All of the boxes had plywood bottoms with drainage holes drilled in them.

None of your plants are going to be impressive if you have bottoms in the boxes. They need to be able to stretch their legs.

Root Depth's
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Post  boffer 2/19/2012, 8:45 pm

frustration
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Post  camprn 2/19/2012, 8:54 pm

CharlesB wrote:
philflash wrote:All of the boxes had plywood bottoms with drainage holes drilled in them.

None of your plants are going to be impressive if you have bottoms in the boxes. They need to be able to stretch their legs.

Root Depth's
I quite disagree Charles. A lot of folks have very successful gardens of the table top /plywood bottom variety. I myself do not have table top gardens. The only time I need more than 6-8 inches of root growing space is when I am growing carrots and parsnips. I have found that the root systems will move laterally and the fact that there is no close cultivation allows for this. I currently do not have any thing like asparagus or artichokes that have a tap root, that require greater growing depth.
These are my Brussels Sprouts that grew in 6 inches of Mel's Mix
Not Impressed Img_1412

My Gilbertie tomato plant grew to 10 feet tall. Here are the roots that grew in 6 inches of Mel's mix.
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Here is my garden all 6-8 inch growing medium depth.
Not Impressed 00914
All of these grew in 18 square feet and 6 inch depth.
Not Impressed Oct_0912

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Post  camprn 2/19/2012, 9:02 pm

boffer wrote: Not Impressed 828840
Not Impressed 641297 LOL, stop that, you will hurt yourself. geek Would you please show us a few of your Table Tops Boffer? Please.
Not Impressed Images?q=tbn:ANd9GcSvcyByo_YUVNbrRRdd3zEq0lQTwfjcwQ6tukAy9z2Iqb5nKgsIEY86ZzM


Last edited by camprn on 2/19/2012, 9:09 pm; edited 1 time in total

____________________________

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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

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Post  jamesindetroit 2/19/2012, 9:09 pm

Preview
Hi Phil,

Sorry
about your less than impressive turnout with your SFG. I too had some
disappointments with my first go. I got a late start with most of the
crop and had very disappointing carrots, squash, got powdery mildew all
over my cukes, and had less than impressive results in my peppers (all
varieties).

However, the boxes that I noticed did the worst were
the ones I first mixed my Mel's Mix for. They were not done with a
variety of ingredients, and I wound up with too much manure. Long story
short, I wound up supplementing, and still had poor results.

But
with my first go, I was encouraged and learned some good lessons. This
year I will be freshening up the soil with some more composted
materials, ones that I lacked in the bed previously. I am also going to
test the soil. Last year I did pretty darn good, and I have VERY little
south sun at all. Talk about planning each square to the detail, we were
counting the minutes of sun on our patio...here is the thread that
shows my progress https://squarefoot.forumotion.com/t6908-3-tabletopsnow-to-measure-the-sun#,

You can definitely see the odds I was against with the sun. So all things considered, I think I did very well with the SFG method. I planted tomatoes straight in the ground out there one year, and got okay results, but even better with the SFG.
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Post  sfg4uKim 2/19/2012, 9:23 pm

You mentioned that the compost you used was a "variety of animal manures, mushroom and some just labelled 'compost', all mixed together".

Regarding mushroom compost . . . from Oregon State University:
Mushroom compost can supply nutrients and increase the water-holding
capacity of the soil. But mushroom compost can be too much of a good
thing for seeds, seedlings and young plants, said OSU's Hart.

"The soluble salts and other nutrients in fresh, undiluted mushroom
compost, are too concentrated for germinating seeds, young plants and
other salt-sensitive plants including members of the heath family such
as rhododendrons, blueberries and azaleas," said Hart.

To avoid killing germinating seeds and stressing heath family
members, Hart recommends mixing mushroom compost with garden soil before
using it on young plants. Or, order a supply of mushroom compost in the
fall and let it sit uncovered, to "cure" over the winter.
LOL your "longwinded rant" is just fine. First let me say Not Impressed 61949HI and welcome to the Forum.
Regarding the stuff that was just labeled "compost", I'm not sure if you knew to check out ALL of the ingredients. Many things sold as "compost" contains a large percentage of peat which can easily throw off your balance.
Not REALLY sure about the fine vermiculite, other than it might not allow enough oxygen in the soil . . . plant roots need plenty of air space to grow really well.

I too had a horrible growing season last year but it was due to the weather. My beets didn't produce at all, but I had wonderful greens . . . until the stink bugs invaded. Hurricane Irene threw a tree on my SFG, so that REALLY did in my garden last year.

The question about whether or not you added blended compost after your first harvest is a good question. ALL intensive methods of gardening pull nutrition out of the soil very quickly.

____________________________

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Post  Windsor.Parker 2/20/2012, 2:46 am

philflash wrote:... I gave the beds a good watering every other evening and every evening during the hot stretches.
... If anyone has any thoughts regarding my rather longwinded rant, I would appreciate it.
philFlash,
You call that a rant? Rolling Eyes
Your results might be more impressive if you do as I do and never water anything (except the gardener) in the evening! Not Impressed 433311

Oh, I almost forgot... Not Impressed 396615
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Post  AvaDGardner 2/20/2012, 3:16 am

Windsor.Parker wrote:
philflash wrote:... I gave the beds a good watering every other evening and every evening during the hot stretches.
... If anyone has any thoughts regarding my rather longwinded rant, I would appreciate it.
philFlash,
You call that a rant? Rolling Eyes
Your results might be more impressive if you do as I do and never water anything (except the gardener) in the evening! Not Impressed 433311

Oh, I almost forgot... Not Impressed 396615

+1

Evening watering makes warm wet roots over night which invites infestations and bad bacteria.

Could you have over-watered? Mel's book is always talking about water conversation and how you don't need much. You only need a good soaking when you are first setting up the mix.

Here the irrigation system waters very early in the morning (5am?), so the plants don't burn on smoking hot days. If you are spraying, you want the plants to dry before it gets really hot. (I've seen the sun come up and be 90 degrees...yuck!)

If you can't find vermiculite, you could try pumice. Or lava. They will aerate, but not provide water retention.

Welcome...and I'm sure you'll find some answers.
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Post  sfg4uKim 2/20/2012, 6:51 am

Guess I cut & pasted into the wrong area on my original post.

Of course: "LOL your 'longwinded rant' is just fine. First let me say Not Impressed 61949HI and welcome to the Forum" was supposed to appear first.

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Post  camprn 2/20/2012, 7:26 am

AvaDGardner wrote:

If you can't find vermiculite, you could try pumice. Or lava. They will aerate, but not provide water retention.

Welcome...and I'm sure you'll find some answers.
Perlite is recommended in the ANSFG book and is a perfectly good substitute for the vermiculite.

____________________________

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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

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Post  BackRiver_SFG 2/20/2012, 8:24 am

Not Impressed 00914
All of these grew in 18 square feet and 6 inch depth.
Not Impressed Oct_0912



WOW! Your veggies and gardens are bountifully plentiful! Awesome harvest pictures. Not Impressed 109486 for sharing
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Post  roper2008 2/20/2012, 8:37 am

I wouldn't put a plywood bottom unless I had no choice.
This may not be the source of your problem, but when I
pull up some of my veggies in fall, I find that the roots
will sometimes extend into my clay soil underneath.
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Post  RoOsTeR 2/20/2012, 8:58 am

First off, welcome philphlash! There are lots of great gardeners here with tons of great hands on experience, including certified SFG teachers. I bet the problems you have had can be resolved and hopefully we can get you up and going for a better second season!


Bottoms on the boxes are perfectly acceptable provided they have proper drainage. Mel discusses using bottoms on boxes with a 6" deep bed of Mel's Mix. If Mel's Mix is made as Mel describes in his book, roots have all the nutrients they need and don't need to go any deeper...
There are too many gardeners here who use table top boxes and boxes with bottoms to substantiate the fact that plywood bottoms on 6" deep boxes do indeed work.

ANSFG pages: 58 plywood bottoms, 87 Mel's Mix Essentials, 50 existing soil not needed, 39 bottoms and portability, 30-31 Only 6" Deep.
These are just a few pages I found rather quickly discussing bottoms, depth, and Mel's Mix. Not Impressed 3170584802

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Post  Josh 2/20/2012, 10:10 am

Hi philphlash!
I've had some pretty awesome SFGs, also some SFGs not as good as others. Your problem could be the weather if everyone else was having a crappy garden too. I don't think it would be the fine vermiculite. I'm thinking more like compost or weather. I keep a few SFGs at our County Extension office, they bought all the supplies to make them. They bought fine vermiculite, I used it in one of the SFGs, using the fine, it takes a lot if your going to make it 1/3 of the Mels Mix, they didn't buy enough to make it 1/3 so I just used what they gave me, and used more compost to make up the difference. I used course vermiculite in the other two SFGs and they all did fine at growing that year, so the only difference in the 3 gardens was the one with fine vermiculite cost more to make than the other 2 because the fine vermiculite cost more, I couldn't even tell it was in there when I mixed it all up, and the next year I added some course vermiculite.

We have a Table Top 4 x 8 six inches deep, plywood bottom with drain holes. First year when my dad made it, it didn't do very well at growing stuff! The reason I'm sure was we were in a hurry, so we just bought all the compost from a nursery that sold it by the truck load. We were very disappointed, and the first thing everyone wanted to blame the results on was the plywood bottom and not deep enough. However the next year we took a blend of different compost purchased at a variety of stores that sold compost. We added it with a little more peat and vermiculite, and added it that to the TT. That year it had bumper crops growing in it. Never had any troubles since, and we usually have a better garden than anyone else that uses a traditional garden when the weather causes a garden to not do well.

The neighbor lady has a 4 x 8 6 inches deep TT with plywood bottom, and hers doesn't grow as good as mine, she just lives a few blocks away, the reason hers doesn't grow as good is because hers is not in full sun, and she doesn't water it enough.

WOW I didn't know I could write that much stuff!!!

While I'm doing so much talking here, let me just say this too, the SFGs that are on the ground have no bottom, but the roots do not go down deep into the ground, they stay within the Mels Mix, maybe just a little into the ground on the tomatoes, but not much.

Not Impressed 1911398

Not Impressed 1911401

I grew all this in 6 inch deep SFGs.

Not Impressed 1911382

Not Impressed 1255914

If I can do it philphlash..you can do it!

Did you buy all your compost at the same store?
I always buy the bags of compost from different stores, never the same one. Try making your own compost too.
Don't give up!
Josh
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Post  elliephant 2/20/2012, 10:13 am

To me, if the first crop did well and it went downhill from there, it sounds like it is most likely an issue with your compost...not replenishing enough, or replenishing with stuff that was lacking in nutrition. Does that sound like a possibility?
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Post  squaredeal 2/20/2012, 10:42 am

I had, or felt that I had, problems with the box that had fine vermiculite, too. Rotton luck with almost every root crop and cabbage/broccoli development that was glacier. And it was bottom free. But when I used peat, coarse vermiculite, and homemade compost in a flower garden, everything grew well. So I plan to twiddle with mix and try again.
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Post  Cincinnati 2/20/2012, 12:33 pm

WOW!. And by looking at your pictures, it was actually in less than 6" of MM. You said in your post you had most boxes from 2x6's, and a few 2x8 or 2x12.

Those 2x6's are actually only 5-1/2 inches high. In your photos, the soil looks an inch or two down from the top. If that is true and you're using 2x6's then you grew in maybe 4" of MM. What's your opinion on this?

Thanks for posting, because I was beginning to think I needed deeper boxes than the 6" Mel is now recommending.
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Post  RoOsTeR 2/20/2012, 1:26 pm

Thanks for posting, because I was beginning to think I needed deeper boxes than the 6" Mel is now recommending.

Mel wouldn't recommend it if it weren't so Very Happy He's got a reputation to uphold and a method that depends on it Not Impressed 3170584802 There's a reason why his book has sold over 2 million copies and is a best seller!! Very Happy

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Post  boffer 2/20/2012, 1:41 pm

camprn wrote:...Would you please show us a few of your Table Tops Boffer?...
Only for you, camp! Wink

Most of us realize that the depth of our MM growing medium is insignificant to the quality of our harvests, excluding extreme heat/humidity climates. Apologies to the OP because his topic got de-railed.

Every year the local row gardeners keep telling me it can't be done, yet every year I keep adding a couple new TTs because they work so well.

Not Impressed Dscn0615

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Post  Windsor.Parker 2/20/2012, 2:32 pm

camprn wrote:...
These are my Brussels Sprouts that grew in 6 inches of Mel's Mix
Not Impressed Img_1412

...
Not Impressed 5571 camprn,
That's actually the 1st time I've actually SEEN Brussels Sprouts plants in the garden, NOT in a package from the grocery! I started several from seed 2 weeks ago. The seedlings look strong, and I'm hoping to see some like yours later this Spring. Not Impressed 240315


Last edited by Windsor.Parker on 2/20/2012, 2:43 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : typos)
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Post  philflash 2/20/2012, 3:18 pm

Thank you all for the wonderful thoughts, tips and advice...and so quickly. Wow! We won't give up on the SQFT gardening method just yet. I plan to run some soil tests this spring. I will also try and track down some course vermiculite and add it, along with the proper proportion of peat and compost, to the soil that we already have (we want to make more boxes anyway). Our compost had come from a variety of different places and was comprised of 7 or 8 different types all mixed together. When the squash started to turn yellow I thought I might be watering too much (I definitely watered myself to much last summer Windsor), but from what I read in the SQFT book one can't realy do that. We should also have some of our own compost to add this spring. Those were impressive brussel sprouts Camprn! My wife was green with envy. Our brussel's were 6" high at the end of the growing season and not a sprout to be had. Very impressive gardens Joe and Josh and Boffer, thanks for the pics.
Happy Gardening
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Post  martha 2/20/2012, 4:25 pm

Hello, Philflash! I'm late to the party, but I want to say "Welcome!" and I'm glad you are going to hang in there!
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Post  quiltbea 2/20/2012, 4:41 pm

I missed this til just now.

Welcome to the forum. Sorry you weren't very pleased, but you'll just have to bear with it and tweak a few things here and there to get it working for you. Weather can also be a problem for SFG and then their are the plant diseases and devastating insects that creep into the garden and play havoc. You just have to persevere.

It must work. Look at all of us with our SFGs and loving it. My first year I was lucky and only lost my sweet corn (I think the seed was too old) and some squash, yet row gardens all around my area were almost completely lost due to heavy rains day after day. I had a good harvest considering everyone else. So stick with it and I hope you get better results this year.
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