Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Spring Mix

It is the most promising time of the year. Finally, after months of winter, I can do more than just dream about gardening. When I put in the garden boxes four years ago I used the method outlined in the Lasagna Gardening book and have been very happy with the results. For the past three years I have just added mushroom manure to "feed" the soil, but decided this year it was time to give the garden an added boost. I pulled out my copy of All New Square Foot Gardening and looked up the recipe for author Mel Bartholomew's famous garden mix. If Mel is to the gardening world what Jamie Oliver is to the cooking world, then consider this mix to be the equivalent of Jamie's famous Guinness stew recipe.

My go-to gardening books
In theory Mel's mix is simple. By volume you put together one part peat moss, one part vermiculite and one part compost. He suggests using a combination of five different kinds of compost to maximize the different nutrients going into the mix.

Mel leaves out one important piece of advice in his book. Find some volunteers to help stir the ingredients.

Here is where Mel's simple mix got a bit complicated. Being about as dense as the bags of peat moss we spread out on the tarp, I had overlooked one small fact. Peat moss is compressed in its package and once it is released into the wild it doubles in volume. Let's go back to Jamie Oliver's Guinness stew recipe. I had just accidentally added in four cups of Guinness instead of two. In order to get the proportions close to what Mel suggested it meant sending my volunteer labour back to the gardening store for more compost. The good news is my garden boxes ended up with twice as much of Mel's mix as I had originally planned on. The bad news is, not surprisingly, it also cost twice as much as I had budgeted for.

Here is my new and improved garden. There are two things to note in this picture. In the bottom right corner is my garlic crop, looking very promising at this early stage. Garlic gets planted in the fall, and tends to poke out of the ground about the same time as the daffodils and tulips. Not as pretty as flowers, but much better tasting.

If you look closely you will also see some little white things sprinkled throughout the soil. When I was at the gardening store I decided to buy just one bag of vermiculite and for my second bag get perlite. The reason? Perlite is similar in action to vermiculite, but costs considerably less. It turned out to be a classic case of getting what you pay for. Had I bothered to read the section in All New Square Foot Gardening about vermiculite vs. perlite I would have seen this tidbit:

"...because it's white, it looks rather unsightly and unnatural."

My garden now looks like it has just snowed. Not quite the look I was trying to achieve. Especially when the morning after doing this garden upgrade I woke up to the real thing.

I think I need to add one more book to my collection. Gardening For Dummies.


  1. You are inspiring me! I would like to add at least one garden box this year. I don't know if I have your ambition though to actually mix up all that soil. I hope you had some little tasty for your willing helpers :)

  2. I have heard great things about the square foot gardening. I'm going to have to look into it this winter to plan for next years veggies...

  3. My gardening is limited to planters on the deck. I moved to Washington a few years ago and learned that I'd have to share my garden with garter snakes (harmless I know) which creep me out big time.

  4. The boy and I gardened on Sunday - he dug out the compost box for me. Delightful black gold!

  5. I love how you got your helpers to pose for the picture! ;)

  6. @Maureen - That is the beauty of volunteers. You have them do the mixing! And yes, they were rewarded with plum crisp toped with whipping cream.

    @Jennifer - I will keep you posted on how this soil mix works out. Have you gone to his website? There is some good info there.

    @Pat - Oh my gosh. I would never step foot in my garden again if I thought there was a single snake in it. I'm with you!

    @kate - See, this is why we have children. They make excellent gardening companions. :-)

  7. @Aneta - When I asked if I could take a picture Anita commented on how she could sense a blog post coming. Every time I get out the camera now my family gets suspicious.

  8. Wow, no wonder your garden is so productive. I would have gone with the perlite too--costing less and being just as effective, it's worth the interesting appearance. As for the snow, at least it highlights the new growth. =)

    I love your blog too, I can't understand anyone unfollowing you. I'm confused by the block, it's a little extreme. But perhaps it's insulating me from some future aggravation--I think it's probably a good thing.

  9. I was just thinking we had our unnatural and white coating here yesterday when you showed yours! We are onto our third summer with lasagne gardening and love it. We put in some chard and beets and spinach seeds already, figuring that since the seed packs were half price we could gamble the two bucks if there werea bad frost after they come up!

  10. We had a huge snowstorm yesterday!! It has to stop soon!
    I love your garden and am very jealous. We are in the forest and as much as we've tried, nothing grows.