Making Mel's Mix

This is a companion entry to my Potager Garden post. Many people have asked how much soil I filled my raised bed with. Technically... there's no "soil" in the raised bed. Yes. That's correct. No garden soil. No potting soil or added topsoil. Just a special growing concoction called "Mel's Mix." 

If you're not familiar with Mel Bartholomew - he is the originator and founder of Square Foot Gardening and the creator of "Mel's Mix." His method of planting (in a nutshell) maximizes yield in a given (usually small box) area... and lessens the upkeep of that area.  To learn more about him and the Square Foot Garden Method (which is how I planted my bed) click here. You can read about all the awesome benefits of square foot gardening (yada yada yada) on his site. I'm sparing you the details because I hate offering information that can be found elsewhere in better form. I'm only offering you my take on his mix.


Now on to the good stuff...


Mel recommends that your growing mixture be comprised of:

            • 1/3 Vermiculite
            • 1/3 Peat Moss
            • 1/3 Compost* 
* Compost gathered from as many DIFFERENT sources as possible. 

In the above photo you can see some of my materials. The vermiculite was the most expensive part of the mixture costing me something like $48. Ouch! I overbought on the peat moss (which is fine because I'll use it this summer/fall) but the compost is the craziest part. I hunted and hunted for at least 5 different kinds of compost. It took me several weeks. Now, when I say "kinds" of compost, I mean - compost from different sources. NOT different brands of compost.

Finding products that were labeled specifically as a compost drove me nuts, so I ended up gathering some manure/compost mixtures. *Some gardeners warn against using manures in the mixture because it can burn your plants... but so far, so good. Here's what I picked up:

          • Chicken Manure - Chickity Doo Doo (this is a compost/manure mix)
          • BuffaLoam (also a compost/manure mix)
          • Rotted Cow Manure Compost
          • Mushroom Compost
          • Leaf Mold Compost

The mushroom compost was my favorite find. I like the illustration on the bag.  Its consistency was much sandier than any of the other composts.
 I used a tarp to mix all of my goodies and that blue bucket served as my measuring cup. 1/3 of everything. Equally. You can kinda' see how many bags I was working with. It felt like a lot... especially when hauling it back and forth. Out of my car, into the garage, then out into the front yard... Pouring and dumping and remembering counts of matter; it all ends up looking the same after a while.
Oh yeah, vermiculite. I was entranced. It was so shimmery and pretty! We made a few masterpieces in the mixture before it was time to get serious.
If you've never mixed anything using a tarp, I highly recommend it. Great workout! Word of advice though - get a good tarp. Like, the heavy duty kind. Not the $1.98 kind from Menards, or you'll have to spend 20 minutes duct taping holes...
 Back and forth and end over end. I mixed five tarps to completely fill the bed. The total amount was approximate 13 cubic feet of mix.
The Mr. was kind enough to help me mix and carry the full tarps over to the bed. "Don't spill it... you got it all over the side of the wood!" He was happy to be done helping me that day. :)
 Weeks later and my veggies and herbs are loving it. The Mel's Mix creation was a lot of work, but I'm glad I decided to use it. Next season, all I have to do to prep the bed for planting is add a bag or two of fresh compost. Ba-da-bing!


Mel's Mix is quite controversial in some garden circles because of its use of peat moss and vermiculite. So, if you were planning on reading me the riot act - you don't have to. I've read all sides of the argument. Thanks! ;)

Are you a square foot gardener? If so, I'd love to hear from you. Successes or failures? Drop me a note!


  1. That looks like a great workout LOL. Can't wait to see how the plants turn out!

    1. Oh, Amy. It was. The plants are monsterish. I'll try to post some updated pics soon.

  2. You can buy a whole pickup load of vermiculite for $40. Ask the local nurseries where they get theirs.

    1. Thank you for the tip, Jerry. I definitely won't be purchasing bags for that price next season!

  3. Wowza! I agree, that does look like a great workout! The raised bed section you guys created looks wonderful. Such a clean look. I'm not sure if you said so in another post, but what are you growing in terms of veggies? Looks great and there's nothing better than home grown!

  4. Oh boy - I crammed a lot in there. I was assessing my design this morning after fixing storm-blown plants. I'm not so sure that the square foot method was right for this planter, but everything seems to be thriving despite being crowded. My plants are huge, stocky and strong. I planted: radishes, carrots, beets, mixed lettuce, arugula, spinach, nasturtiums, a cherry tomato, sweet banana peppers, two "other" types of tomatoes, basil, summer squash, poblanos, tomatillos, cucumbers, peas and edamame!





Sarah Brackney is R&S Garden. A gardening fiend. She is no expert, she just gardens. Her gardens are her art. And yes, she has weeds in her garden; she just chooses not to show them to you. Thanks for visiting.