I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about how to mix the perfect soil for your garden. As you know, in Square Foot Gardening we call it “Mel’s Mix.” Seeing as how the truck of the commercially bagged Mel’s Mix has been delayed, people want to get started, so here are some ideas. In fact, two of my sons and I had to mix 30 cubic feet of Mel’s Mix for a client yesterday and today because the truck didn’t come in (watch for an upcoming post when I will have a video of his amazing garden!). We really don’t like doing it, I’ll be glad when the bags are here! (Although, if the price is right, you could probably hire Dylan and Ed to mix yours!)

So here’s what we did and where we found it (all of this is in Newark, Ohio 43055)….
We bought chicken manure and Posey Power (TM) at Cedar’s Lawn & Garden Center (1655 Mt. Vernon Rd., 740-366-5004). I know, I know, Posey Power isn’t exactly SFG “spec” but it is pretty close and is a source for sterilized horse manure. They also had coarse vermiculite, 4 cu.ft. bag for $18.99! That is a great price. [On a side note, I also bought packets of Watermelon Radish, a sweet radish that gets 2 to 4 inches across, yet still takes about a month until harvest. We look forward to this yummy treat. And they had all blue and all red potatoes - the color goes throughout the potato, not just on the skin. I can make patriotic red, white and blue potato salad for Independence Day!]

We found two different types of mushroom compost from Hope Timber Garden Center (2135 West Main St., Newark, 740-522-6558), but I really didn’t like the kind in the red bag. It would be good for a top dressing in landscaping or something, but too much whole fibers for Mel’s Mix.

I bought peat moss and cow manure at Lowe’s and every garden center stocks these. Now that I know I can find good sources at local garden centers, I probably won’t be shopping the big box stores for supplies anymore. I like the idea of supporting our local economy by shopping at the small, locally-owned shops. Of course, Wal-Mart has a lot of this stuff, too, but same goes.

If you have a pickup truck, some sources for bulk compost are Elm’s Recycling (1242 Mt. Vernon Rd., Newark 740-366-3340), Price Farms Organics, Ltd. in Delaware, and The Compost Farm, Johnstown [7795 Jersey Mill Road, Alexandria, Ohio 43001, 740-924-4202 or 740-817-0161 (cell)].

I didn’t make it to Wilson’s Garden Center (10923 Lambs Lane) this time. Not sure why, just found what I needed before I got there. Silly, really, considering that the client is just down the road in Marne! I did stop by there today to see how our demo SFG is doing and talked with Jan, the vegetable specialist and person in charge of caring for it. The kale looks to be VERY happy, the radishes are up about 2 inches and every thing is doing great. Jan had stuck a tomato in one of the middle squares and I suggested she move it to a side square so we can trellis it. That is the next step I need to do for them – get the trellises in place.

Ok, got off on a bunny trail again (and bunnies really like SFGs!)…. back to mixing soil. I have found that Mel’s instructions in the book for turning on a tarp is just too cumbersome for me. We’ve found that a commercial compost tumbler works great. I have one that turns end-to-end instead of sideways and it can be a little difficult to dump, but the mixing part works. To make sure we have a good compost blend, we first mixed the bags of compost together in the tumbler and then store it in a plastic trash can. Mel says you don’t have to and with the tarp method this makes sense, but I find since we are mixing small batches in the tumbler, it works better to blend the compost first. Notice above, that we only found 4 sources – cow manure, chicken manure, horse manure and mushroom – Mel recommends 5. I’d like to get worm castings because they are so yummy to the plants, but I haven’t found the source yet….

THIS JUST IN!!! As I was looking for an address above, I found a source in Columbus for worm castings! One20Farm has worm castings for $7.00 per pound. Read more about it here. Now, I can’t say anything about this business and it is too late in the night to call for more info, but it seems to be worth checking out. They also are vendors at the Westerville Farmer’s Market which starts in June.

Ok… back to the soil…. so I already mentioned that we like to blend the compost first. Then we simply layer compost, coarse vermiculite and peat moss into the tumbler using a 5-gallon bucket for measurement. Spin and you have homemade Mel’s Mix!

Where do you find your compost? Post a comment and let everyone know.