Setting up Planters & Mixing the Soil , a set on Flickr.
Last year I used sticks and rope to section off my garden rows and grew everything in the existing soil – which in our case is a blend of clay, hot pink gravel from the previous owner’s discarded aquarium, and feces from a colony of feral cats who use our backyard as a toilet. I’m surprised I didn’t catch some sort of disease from eating what grew out of that amalgam.
After a lackluster harvest – and fears of contamination – I decided to invest in a real set-up. This year I have state-of-the-art garden planters that are filled to the brim with Mel’s Mix– a special soil developed by Mel Bartholemew that comprises equal parts compost, peat moss and vermiculite.
The wood for the planters was very budget-friendly. Around $100 or so for untreated lumber, which we built into 5 planters (4 @ 4 x 3 x 2′ and 1@ 8 x 3 x 1′). But the Mel’s Mix was another story. While compost and peat moss are relatively inexpensive, vermiculite – a mineral that improves aeration – costs around $23 per 2 cubic foot bag. And I needed A LOT of bags. In total, I spent $500 (!) to fill all of the planters.
Should I have went with regular (and cheaper) pre-mixed garden soil? I’m not sure. My plants are thriving, as you’ll see, though they might have done just as well with store bought dirt. But from what I’ve read, Mel’s Mix is worth the investment if you plan to be gardening in the same spot for many years to come. The soil will last a long time as long as you add new compost each year.
There are also other benefits to using Mel’s Mix besides crop yield, and the biggest one for me is that it is extremely hard to overwater your plants with this soil. The mix drains incredible well, so I don’t have to worry if I keep the hose on for a little too long.