Mixing Soil. Like a Boss.

I wrote about my soil mixture that I use for my raised beds here a few years ago. It’s a mix of 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 manure or compost.

It’s essentially “Mel’s Mix” from the Square Foot Gardener Mel Bartholomew. Here in Edmonton you can find the large 3.8 cubic foot block of peat moss just about anywhere (Walmart, Canadian Tire, any Garden Centre). I buy my 118 litre bag of vermiculite at Apache Seeds and the manure wherever I can find good selection. Altogether it costs about $52 to make up a large batch of soil which I use to supplement my existing beds or make new ones.

Some of my raised beds don’t really need more volume, they just need the addition of compost or manure. Every fall I dig in leaves and grass cuttings which help to lighten the soil, then in the spring I like to add some composted material as well. This keeps the garden healthy and helps with moisture retention over the warm summer months.

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I use a tarp to mix my soil

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Peat moss, vermiculite and manure

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Topping up my raised bed

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Square Foot Gardening is Anything but Square

For the past three years I’ve been utilizing the square foot gardening techniques outlined in the book, All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew.

I plant my vegetable garden in raised beds which are ten feet long and five feet wide. Ideally, a square foot garden should be planted in a four by four raised bed to allow for easier access to the plants, but I had these raised beds already built long before I switched to the new system of planting.

The concept of square foot gardening is that you can more efficiently use the space in your garden by planting each individual foot separately in an organized pattern. For example, you may plant one cabbage in one square foot, four lettuce, nine spinach or sixteen carrots in another.

As the plants mature and are harvested, the square can be replanted with another crop. So a radish square may become a lettuce square in it’s second go-around.

The look of the square foot garden is what initially attracted me to it, but I did some math and calculated that it also saves space and produces more. Weeds are easy to keep at bay because they fall outside the pattern of the plants and can be easily identified and plucked.

Every year I enhance my soil by adding a combination of vermiculite, peat and compost. The raised beds tend to settle with each season, so I add the mix to compensate.

I made the grid in my garden using recycled blind slats from the ReStore, and I use a set of cardboard stencils to plant my seeds; a quick and tidy method. In some of the squares I plant flowers to add some panache.

Conveniently, when you are ready for more space you can simply add another raised bed wherever you like. A four-by-four raised bed near the back door is ideal for an herb garden.

Setting up the Grid

Early in the Season

Further Along in the Season

Enjoying the Fruits (and Veggies) of my Labour