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Square Foot Gardening Forum
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New and Confused in Colorado Toplef10New and Confused in Colorado 1zd3ho10

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.

New and Confused in Colorado I22gcj10New and Confused in Colorado 14dhcg10

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New and Confused in Colorado

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Post  msomers 4/9/2020, 1:50 pm

Hello!! So happy to have found this forum. We're putting in our first SFG, hopefully this weekend, and I really don't want to mess it up by starting off wrong. We're have our beds, two 4x8 beds that are 14" tall, and they're ready to be filled. Which leads me to my questions:


  1. Filling the tall bed...I know the height of the beds is more than we need but I like the look. In Mel's book, he suggests using sand to fill tall boxes then put MM on top of that. He says not to do garden soil, but we're moving some earth to put the boxes in so I'm going to have it and it would be much cheaper and easier than buying sand.

    So...If I fill the first 7-8" with garden soil, with some gravel mixed in for drainage, and cover that with weed cloth before putting my MM in will that work? Or am I going to have problems with that? 

  2. Making Mel's Mix...I have the peat moss and the found course vermiculite in big bags at a local garden center. So I've got 2 out 3 covered for MM!

    However I'm struggling with the compost. We haven't gotten our home compost going yet so I need to get the bagged stuff. In looking locally it looks like I can get a variety of blended mixes, but not a lot of single source composts, which is adding to my confusion.  

    Right now these are the composts I'm looking to pick up...
    1. EKO - Ingredients: Forest products and recycled wood products composted with poultry manure
    2. Permagreen Pro Mushroom Compost - Ingredients: compost, wheat straw, animal bedding, cotton seed hulls, gypsum, and Sphagnum peat.
    3. Worm Castings - Ingredients: earthworm castings 
    4. Earth Essentials Cow & Compost - Ingredients: Aged and screened dairy manure and compost (not sure what is in the compost portion

    I know I have two types of manure and they count as one ingredient but would a couple bags of each of the above give me a good mix? Also, I'm worried about there being peat in some of the blends. What's the best way to not throw of the ratio if peat is listed as an ingredient?



Any help and guidance is greatly appreciated as I really don't want to mess up things up by just filling our boxes incorrectly! 

Thank you!
Megan
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Post  OhioGardener 4/9/2020, 2:13 pm

Welcome from Ohio, Megan!  All of my raised beds are 18" high, to facilitate my aging spine. The first three beds I filled the first 12" with inexpensive top soil, and then filled the top 6" with my modified Mel's Mix.  They have been in use for years, and have never had a problem with drainage, and are very productive beds. The later beds that I added were done as hugelkultur beds, and they have done equally well with even less initial cost. Due to the depth of the beds, I did not see a need for weed barrier cloth, but instead put heavy cardboard on the ground before filling the bed with soil. No weeds or grasses have ever tried to grow through that 18" of soil.

For your selection of compost, you should not have any problems with the ones you mentioned.  You would probably want to go light on the worm castings since they are so rich, and usually more expensive. But a mixture of those composts with the peat and vermiculite should make for a rich soil to plant in.

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Post  msomers 4/9/2020, 3:04 pm

Thank you, OhioGardener! 

That's really helpful. Does having the top soil below your MM allow you to grow carrots and other longer root veggies without a top hat? Or do you still build up areas for deeper root veggies as needed? 

Also, I'm probably worrying too much about the details, but since the mushroom compost lists peat as an ingredient do I need to alter the amount of pure peat I use? If so, how do I know how much? Or is it such a small portion of the overall compost that I don't need to worry about it? 

Thank you again!!
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Post  OhioGardener 4/9/2020, 4:51 pm

The answer to your first question is yes I am able to grow carrots without using a top hat above the bed. But, the first year I had to dig them out as the roots were tightly embedded into the soil.  The next year, though, the grew easily in soil as the compost worked its way down into the bed.

Unfortunately, the amount of peat in the bags that list peat as an ingredient give no idea as too the percentage of peat in the mix.  It could be 10% of the bag, or it could be 50% of the bag, and there is no way to know how much. Personally, I would limit the number of bags of that compost I used in order minimize having too much peat in the total mix. But, that said, we have to work with what we have.  A little more, or a little less peat will not greatly affect the overall soil mixture.

Here are some of the carrots grown in my beds, just to show that they will grow...  Very Happy 

New and Confused in Colorado Carrot22

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Post  sanderson 4/9/2020, 6:07 pm

Megan S,  Welcome to the Forum!  glad you\'re here

1.  Yes, you can use dirt as a bottom filler.  No, you do not need to add any gravel .  Yes, do put weed liner on top of the fill and run it up the sides.  This will prevent mixing the MM and soil.   Some folks use corrugated cardboard in place of weed fabric.  Cardboard will eventually break down

2.  As OhioGardener wrote, we have to work with what we can find.  Worm castings are expensive but it should be limited to 10% of the blended compost, anyway.  Check the EKO to make sure there are no or very little of the wood pieces left.  Wood ties up nitrogen as it breaks down.  Screen it through 1/4" hardware cloth to remove larger pieces of wood if needed.  Mushroom compost looks good, even though there is some peat.  The last one looks fine.  Three scoops each of EKO, mushroom compost and Earth Essentials with one scoop or less of worm castings. Or maybe 2 scoops each of EKO and EE and 4 scoops of mushroom compost with 1 scoop or less of castings. Over time, the worms will find your beds anyway and provide free castings.

If you have a Whole Foods near you, call them to see if they have any of the veggie-based compost in stock.

Check with Home Depot and Lowes to see if they have any Ecoscraps Compost (veggie-based), Nature's Care Really Good Compost and Gardener & Bloome Purely Compost.

Happy gardening.

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Post  Scorpio Rising 4/9/2020, 7:15 pm

Welcome, Megan S!  So glad you found us!  I put my 12” tall beds on top of cardboard right on my lawn, it does fine.  The cardboard does eventually go away.  My long roots (basically potatoes and carrots) do get into the actual dirt at times.  Makes them a bit hard to pull but otherwise I do fine with them.  

As for the mix, I made the mistake of too punch peat my first year in my original bed...just something to keep in mind.  You almost have to eyeball it some?  This isn’t rocket surgery thank goodness!  As you gain experience, you will figure it out!

What are you thinking of growing?
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Post  countrynaturals 4/10/2020, 10:08 am

Welcome Megan, from Northern California. Very interesting thread. Can't wait to see pics of your setup. First year gardens are a true adventure! New and Confused in Colorado 1280598131
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Post  AtlantaMarie 4/10/2020, 10:12 am

Hi Megan. Welcome from Atlanta, GA!
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Post  msomers 4/10/2020, 1:31 pm

Thank you for the warm welcome everyone!! I feel like I struck SFG gold, so much helpful info and I'm feeling much better about getting our boxes set up tomorrow. The fact that I can't just go wander my favorite garden center is definately making things a little harder. Google definitely has it's limits when it comes to this stuff! 

Sanderson, the specific comopost mixing advice is beyond helpful...I'm definitely a bit type A and having specific ratios for mixing makes me feel so much better. I heard back from the mushroom compost company and there's only 5% peat in their mix so also feeling really good about that! Doing a Home Depot run and will see if they have any veggie composts to add to the mix. 

Scorpio, thanks for the heads up on the peat and good to know about your root veggies. We're doing some salad greens as well as cucumbers, summer squash, kale, chard, snap peas (my 2.5 year old's favorite!), herbs, lavender, borage and some tomatoes. I wanted to do more but cut myself off there. Might add in some carros and chives once I get the other stuff going. I'm starting most everything, except the tomatoes, from seed this year since it looks like we'll be hanging at home for a while longer Wink 

Lots of experimenting happening over here but excited to see where it all goes! Will post some pictures once we get our beds in this weekend. 

Thanks again everyone! 
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Post  mollyhespra 4/11/2020, 4:50 pm

Welcome, MSomers!

Also get yourself a PH & nutrient testing kit. My first year SFG ended up being nitrogen deficient because one of my composted manures (horse) ended up having too many bedding wood chips in it. Even though I had plenty of variety in compost, I didn't realize that the wood chips would steal so much nitrogen. It was supposed to be "composted" and "aged" but it wasn't enough.

ALSO, a WONDERFUL thing about a first year garden? Hardly any pests!!!

Enjoy!!!
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