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Welcome to the official Square Foot Gardening Forum.
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Post  twheeldon Fri May 20, 2011 5:27 pm

How important is precision when mixing Mels Mix?

I have 3-2x4, 2-3x3, and 2-4x4 beds as well as 5 pots so far.
I needed about 40c.ft. of Mels Mix so I got (approx) 15c.ft. each of compost, vermiculite, and peat- counting on having leftover. I knew that everything was not going to be exactly precise so I had gotten an extra bag (of a 6th type) of compost. While mixing I began to fear that I had over estimated how much compost I actually had. The compost bags were only marked with weight except 1 so by comparison I estimated the volume of the other bags. The problem came when I was opening the bags. After mixing the composts together I added the vermiculite and visually the volume was significantly different. And again when I added to peat.

My questions are these.
Is it that relevant that I should do something about it?
Should I go get more compost and mix it into my beds before planting?
Or Could I supplement the soil with some bone meal or blood meal?

This is my first year for SFG and do not want the outcome of my garden to depend on something as simple as compost. I have no doubt that, even as it is, this garden will far out perform any garden I have ever had here before but could this be the difference between a good garden and a great one? thinking
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner Fri May 20, 2011 6:42 pm

twheeldon wrote:How important is precision when mixing Mels Mix?

I would say it's important to get as close as possible without losing sleep.

twheeldon wrote:I have 3-2x4, 2-3x3, and 2-4x4 beds as well as 5 pots so far.
I needed about 40c.ft. of Mels Mix so I got (approx) 15c.ft. each of compost, vermiculite, and peat- counting on having leftover.

To answer your original question better, this sounds fine. I would even go so loose as to pile them into three separate piles and try and make them the same size. Sure, one will be 14 cu ft and another may be 17. That's close enough imo. You are generally third/third/third at this point.

twheeldon wrote:I knew that everything was not going to be exactly precise so I had gotten an extra bag (of a 6th type) of compost. While mixing I began to fear that I had over estimated how much compost I actually had. The compost bags were only marked with weight except 1 so by comparison I estimated the volume of the other bags. The problem came when I was opening the bags. After mixing the composts together I added the vermiculite and visually the volume was significantly different. And again when I added to peat.

Here is the breakdown imo. You don't really have any idea how close you are to third/third/third because you mixed it all together in one big batch. It should still be close because you have bought 15 cu ft of each. However, with one being measured by volume and other ingredients being measured by weight, we can't compare apples to apples anymore. We need to create some way of knowing they are approximately equal.

It may be too late now, but the best method people here use is to grab a 5 gal bucket and fill it once with blended compost (all 6 types mixed together to make one big pile). Dump it where you will be mixing it (like on the tarp). Now, go fill the bucket again, but with the peat moss. Go dump it where you dumped the first bucket. Now, go get a bucket of vermiculite. Dump it where the first two buckets went. You should have one bucket of each ingredient in a pile the size of three bucket fulls, if that makes sense. Now, mix those together. Repeat the process. (Of course, you could do 2 buckets of each or 5 buckets of each...whatever you can handle.) This is the best way to make sure things are equal that I have heard of.


twheeldon wrote:My questions are these.
Is it that relevant that I should do something about it?

I can't really answer this. But, you maybe have a feel for how "off" you may be. If you didn't grossly misjudge things, you should be ok. However, if you feel you really missed a measurement somewhere, then, yes, you should do something about it.


twheeldon wrote:Should I go get more compost and mix it into my beds before planting?
Or Could I supplement the soil with some bone meal or blood meal?

The real pickle, to me, here is that we don't know for sure if we goofed bad enough to hurt our veggies' growth. We have to understand we MAY have made a mistake and watch for signs of nutrient deficiencies. If you shorted your peat moss, you will likely not notice...other than your MM won't be as fluffy. But, if it's your 1st SFG, you may not know what properly mixed MM feels like versus a mix heavy on the compost. Same goes for the vermiculite. If you shorted your compost, you will likely know it fairly quickly. The plants won't seem to grow like they should, and they may even "yellow" a bit. THAT is when you start thinking about bone meal, compost tea, or other ways to boost your nutrients. And, it's not something I am really good at yet, either.

I, myself, read about the bucket mixing method AFTER I installed my MM this winter. I mixed everything right there in the box and hoped my calculations were right when I bought the ingredients. I can tell you I am close to third/third/third...very close....but, I don't know an exact number. It could be 14.6 cu ft of peat moss instead of 15....that won't bother me a bit. But, if it were 12 cu ft when it was supposed to be 15, I would worry.....and my plants would be telling me I missed my measurements. Mine aren't. I got lucky. I hope you do, too.

But, any future boxes will be mixed using the bucket method. That's for sure.

twheeldon wrote:This is my first year for SFG and do not want the outcome of my garden to depend on something as simple as compost. I have no doubt that, even as it is, this garden will far out perform any garden I have ever had here before but could this be the difference between a good garden and a great one? Mels Mix 601593

Happy Gardening. I hope this helped you. You will likely be just fine. But, keep a vigilant eye for awhile. If you sense something, post pictures for us to help you get to the bottom of any issues, too.

I think it would also be appropriate to welcome you aboard to the forums. And, congratulate you for asking the question. You have likely just helped 10 other people with the same question. I hope we see more of you around here!
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Post  twheeldon Fri May 20, 2011 8:18 pm

I should have mentioned I didn't mix it all as one large batch. I had 2 bags each of 5 different composts and 1 larger bag of a different kind, 7 bags of peat that were 2.2c.ft. and 3 bags of vermiculite that were 4c.ft.
Now I'm feeling like a dork geek
I just did the math and feel like I really wasted your time!
Thats 15.4c.ft. of peat, 13.2c.ft. of vermiculite and an est 13c.ft. of compost. I mixed 1 each of the five different composts plus half of the large bag, then one and a half bags of the vermiculite, and 3 1/2 bags of the peat. Done in two batches it wasn't difficult to handle. I was able to get all the mixing done and all the beds filled in about 2 hours. (I need to note here that my husband told me I was over examining everything. He says I tend to do that occasionally Smile Thank you so much for your reply though and I promise to try to relax and enjoy my garden sunny
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner Fri May 20, 2011 9:22 pm

Well, I NEVER overanalyze, so we have that in common. Wink

Good to know you were so close. And, you didn't waste my time. I wanted to type that response. It's what we do here. We help when a question comes up from someone, especially someone rather new to the system. We love this system so much that we are just "giving back" so to speak.

Hope you join in, too. It's a great (not so little anymore) community.
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Post  UnderTheBlackWalnut Fri May 20, 2011 9:51 pm

Hi! Double check with BBG on this one, as I too am a newbie. But, if your peat comes compressed, then you will want to be sure to "fluff" it first. Basically you are pulling it apart and loosening it up. Some peat comes in compressed "bales" and will double in volume once it's fluffed. The volume needed is the "fluffed" volume. So, for example, if I need 6 cu ft of peat, I'll by a 3 cu ft compressed bale. You'll know it's compressed because it's like a brick and you have to really manhandle it to get it apart and fluff it. Smile Happy gardening and great work on getting all your composts! Smile
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Post  shannon1 Sat May 21, 2011 3:10 am

Soon you will see why I call Mel's Mix, Mel's Mircale Mix Mels Mix 485967
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Post  jbh29 Sat May 21, 2011 9:59 am

I recently joined this forum and have been learning so much! I wish I had looked for it last year when i was making my beds. So to add a little to this conversation, I just read in another post that a 50 lb. bag of compost is 1 cu. ft. and a 40 lb. bag is .75 cu. ft. I didn't know this last year and none of the bags we bought had this info on them. So we (in our overanylizing) figured way low on our compost needs.

Just yesterday, I finally got to 'town' to buy more compost. I found 5 varieties and I will mix it up and begin adding it around my veggies today. I'll be adding about 4 cu. ft. to each of my 4x8 beds. I've seen lots of yellowing plants in my short life as a sfg and now I know it isn't because the plants were being burned, it was because they were HUNGRY!

Now... another thing I just learned in this thread is from UnderTheBlackWalnut. You said that the peat moss should be figured on the fluffed up volume, not the compressed volume. I really can't remember if we did that! I'm rather thinking that we bought big bales of the compressed peat, and used the volumes marked on the bales! So, what do I do now? Not only has my mm been deficient in nutrients, it has been way too high in the peat (which I think is acidic?)! Considering I was able to grow anything last year, I still think mm is a miracle! Shocked

I just might be the most pitiful sfg in all the land! Rolling Eyes But I'm sticking with it. Even this spring the all of the soil problems I'm dicovering my peas, lettuces, brocoli, carrots & most tomatoes look good.

So, hope it helps someone else to know the volumes of the compost bags. It sure helped me!
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Post  walshevak Sat May 21, 2011 11:06 am

I was the one who posted the weight/volume information and it was based on 1 bag of compost I bought that listed both the weight of 40lbs and the volume of .75 cuft. The rest were just quesstimates base on that. This gives you a clue as to how much to buy. However, if you want to be precise in the 1:1:1, you should blend all the composts and then use a measuring device - bucket, milk jug, big flower pot - and combine the peat and vermiculite 1 bucket each to 1 bucket compost. I was willing to be close but not precise.

The problem with excess peat is not the acidic nature, but the fact it has no nutrients. If you got anything at all last year and you are getting fair results this year, your peat may not be as far off as you think and adding the new compost is going to change your ratio significantly. In fact you may need to add some vermiculite to keep it fluffy (scientific term).

Anybody else got some ideas here?

Kay

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Post  jbh29 Sat May 21, 2011 12:04 pm

I'm glad you jumped in, Walshevak. Thanks for the post about the volume on compost.

I'm beginning to think I should mix a small amount of mm again with what I know now just so I can see what it should look like. It seems like I could buy small bags of vermiculite & peat moss just for a sample mix.
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner Sat May 21, 2011 2:17 pm

jbh29 wrote:I'm glad you jumped in, Walshevak. Thanks for the post about the volume on compost.

I'm beginning to think I should mix a small amount of mm again with what I know now just so I can see what it should look like. It seems like I could buy small bags of vermiculite & peat moss just for a sample mix.

I think this would be a good idea for anyone that is questioning how they mixed things the first time.

As for Walnut's comment, it's spot on. If you buy a "compressed bale," you will know it. They are pretty heavy and don't have any "cushion" to them when you carry them. It's almost like carrying a big brick. A "compressed bale" is roughly double the volume once you open it up and pour it out. 3 cu ft becomes close enough to 6 for mixing purposes.

"Fluffing" means to break up the clumps. Breaking up the clumps is super important. Most of them will just fall apart, but some may require banging with the rake or shovel as you mix. You can also must use your hands. They crumble really easily. It's not a lot of extra work. But, ignoring this will really mess with "wetting" your garden. The center of a clump of compressed peat moss literally NEVER gets wet. You want as much "fluff" as you can get in your SFG and MM.

And, to add to Kay's comments on nutrients, compost addition, and peat moss. She's right, too. Remember that peat moss and vermiculite DO NOT decompose!! They are there forever. The stuff that disappears over time is the compost portion. That is why we only replenish with STRAIGHT COMPOST (bought and blended 5 types, from your own pile, or a combination of both). DO NOT REPLENISH WITH MEL'S MIX! That will only add more peat moss and vermiculite to your gardens....diluting the space available for compost. This will affect your garden drastically over time. You will have less and less nutritional value for your plants.

Again, replenish with compost only, not MM.
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Post  jbh29 Sat May 21, 2011 3:44 pm

I just made a small bucket of mm using very equal parts peat, verm. & compost (mixed). I then took a pic of some of my mm from last year (that I know I under-composted and over peat-mossed) next to this new mm I just made. The darker pile on the left is the mistake batch from last year. The lighter one on the right is the evenly mixed batch I just made. Both are very dry - ingredients stored in the garage.
Mels Mix Mm_com10

My mistake batch must appear darker since there isn't as much vermiculite in the mix.

I'm ready to ammend my beds with more compost (when it stops raining and my beds dry out a little), but I wonder if I should add more vermiculite too? I don't think I'd be able to measure my mistake that well, though. Best I could do is to eyeball it. Not sure that's a good idea or not.

I can't believe I botched up my mm so badly - now to fix it. Mels Mix 601593
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Post  walshevak Sat May 21, 2011 5:39 pm

jbh29 wrote:I just made a small bucket of mm using very equal parts peat, verm. & compost (mixed). I then took a pic of some of my mm from last year (that I know I under-composted and over peat-mossed) next to this new mm I just made. The darker pile on the left is the mistake batch from last year. The lighter one on the right is the evenly mixed batch I just made. Both are very dry - ingredients stored in the garage.
Mels Mix Mm_com10

My mistake batch must appear darker since there isn't as much vermiculite in the mix.

I'm ready to ammend my beds with more compost (when it stops raining and my beds dry out a little), but I wonder if I should add more vermiculite too? I don't think I'd be able to measure my mistake that well, though. Best I could do is to eyeball it. Not sure that's a good idea or not.

I can't believe I botched up my mm so badly - now to fix it. Mels Mix 601593

This is a WAG and about as unscientific and strictly personal opinion as any remark you will ever hear, but since Mel advises people in other country to use pure compost, I think I would just err on the side of excess compost and forget about trying to get an exact balance. Especially since the beds are already planted. Top dress generously with your new blended compost now and perhaps later. Feed your babies. You may even have to use some compost tea or other boosters this year. Make a note of how much compost you add over the growing season.

Then next spring add 1 part vermiculite to every 3 parts compost already added and stir it all up before planting. This is just to help keep it fluffy. Then go from there treating it as though it is correct. Add more compost before new plantings just as you would if the mix had been correct in the first place.

Plants will grow in 100% compost, but will not make it in 100% peat or 100% vermiculite.

Kay

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Post  BackyardBirdGardner Sat May 21, 2011 11:32 pm

...but since Mel advises people in other country to use pure compost, I think I would just err on the side of excess compost and forget about trying to get an exact balance.

I like the advice, but the reasoning always hits my hot button. The 3rd world country thing doesn't make it ok for those of us with access to the proper ingredients. If the ingredients were readily available world-wide, Mel would never say "well, 100% compost is fine; do what you want."

I would add vermiculite, as Kay says, next year when plants aren't in the squares. Mix it in well.

For the record, I don't mind overloading your "replenishment" with compost, either. That stuff breaks down. Always err on the side of too much compost and too little of peat and/or vermiculite if "WAG"ing....lol. Once you've overloaded with vermiculite, you can't go back. It would be really, really hard to remove the pieces one at a time, ya know?

Now that you know what you're looking for (in terms of proper MM), you can get it closer. But, still, don't sweat it too much. It's still going to be a great garden. Just remember to do get it right if you add more beds in the future. Someday, you may refer to this one as your "almost SFG" like I do with one of mine...lol.
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Post  shannon1 Sun May 22, 2011 1:10 am

Before I got Mel's new book and my TT built I planted some containers with just 100% compost. After reading the forum I planted some containers with MM. The containers with MM are far out growing the straight compost. Still if one had to make a mistake with MM too much compsot would be the least harmful IMHO.
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Post  jbh29 Sun May 22, 2011 4:00 pm

Thanks for the great advice walshevak & BBG. It makes sense to topdress with compost and add vermiculite this fall or next spring. I will keep track of how much I add. I'm going to save my little batch of correct mm for comparison when that time comes.

Another question... when topdressing with compost, I'm going to mix it into the top layer of mm, but I can see it will bring the mm up a bit around the stems of my little plants. I know tomatoes can be planted deep, but will other plants be harmed by adding to the depth of the soil a bit? My specific plants are peas, brocoli, peppers, parsley, lettuces, spinach, squashes, melons, radishes, carrots and green onions.
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner Sun May 22, 2011 4:06 pm

Depends on how much higher the soil gets. If it's an inch, probably not a big deal. If you top off with 4 inches of compost on a 3 inch seedling, you see where I'm going? It's all relative. Unless you completely bury them, you won't suddenly kill them....you'll have signs if you stressed them out.

Topdress and mix in where you can. Compost on the top of the soil only won't do much good. Get it down to the roots. Those fresh nutrients will do better down there. However, be cautious not to disturb the roots of the existing plants. This is hard to describe, but easy to do. Don't worry about it much.

Once you get to winter, when the plants are out of the SFG, add the vermiculite. Mix everything again well. Use a big metal rake or a shovel to kind of stir it all together. Again, this will be a kind of big chore, but nothing like tilling old row gardens. Because of the friability, you should cruise right through this mixing process....provided you don't have hundreds of squares to do.

Happy Gardening!
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Post  michael.homan.73 Wed Jun 06, 2012 12:55 pm

As far as replenishing the compost in your plots, how often do you add new compost mix and do you just add the mixed compost to the bin and mix or pull out current MM to tarp add compost mix and refill?
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Post  gwennifer Wed Jun 06, 2012 2:23 pm

Well hello there michael Mels Mix 396615 to the forum!

How to add fresh compost depends. If your whole SFG box is empty, and your grid can be removed, it's faster and easier to just dump a whole bucketful of fresh compost in and mix it up, then re-level the bed and put your grid back on. No need at all to take out all the mix and do the tarp thing all over again.

You can also just add compost a square at a time, just like Mel says in the book. When a square is empty, add a trowelful and stir it in. Do this every time you pull out a spent plant and it will be ready with fresh nutrients for whatever is going in next.

Do you have a SFG bed up and running now?
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Post  michael.homan.73 Wed Jun 06, 2012 3:55 pm

Yes gwennifer I do. I put 2 4x4 x6" beds in last Sunday. I have one dedicated to 3 sisters with pumpkin and corn now,and will plant beans when corn about 4 inches. the other I have tomatoes, peppers, lima beans, and cantaloupe and cucumbers on trellis. I am putting 2 more in this weekend another 4x4 with Brussels and more beans and a 4x6 foe watermelon. I read his first book a few years ago and have puttered with this but just moved and put in new beds and mixed up some MM. I will make more this weekend and start/build a new compost bin for the future.
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Post  Coelli Wed Jun 06, 2012 5:05 pm

michael.homan.73 wrote:I read his first book a few years ago and have puttered with this but just moved and put in new beds and mixed up some MM. I will make more this weekend and start/build a new compost bin for the future.

You got the new version of the book, right? Don't do what I did and make the version of the mix that's in the 2005 version - I ended up with 16 cubic feet of really sandy, screwed up soil. I wound up having to build a second bed, shovel a bunch out of the first bed, put it on the bottom of the new bed, and then top both of them off with the appropriate mix. I didn't use everything we shoveled out, so it's everywhere now in various containers throughout the garden. Every time I pot something up, I mix the sandy stuff with a bunch of compost. What a disaster it turned out to be. Very Happy Not to mention it doubled the initial project cost because I only meant to start with one bed!

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Post  michael.homan.73 Wed Jun 06, 2012 5:30 pm

I have not gotten the new book yet but I did use the recipe from it. I like this mix much more. I will be getting the new book friday I think. I have a Ton of room now for garden so this year I think I will stop at the 4 beds but I have potential for many many more now. family and friends will love me and I will be freezing and learning to can I think Very Happy
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