After choosing your containers, you’ll have to decide what kind of soil mix you want to use for you seed starting efforts. There are all kinds of options: store bought soil less mix, home mixed medium, soil blocker mix, coconut coir, and peat pellets. There are all kinds of ideas floating around about what you should use for starting seeds. Some people say you shouldn’t use compost in your seed starting mix, others say you should because it’s good for the plants. Some people are against peat for environmental reasons and claim coconut coir is the way to go. Some people prefer the convenience of peat pellets or store bought soil less seed starting mix, some people mix up their own.
Here at Chiot’s Run I like to mix my own and I have since the beginning. With the amount of seedlings I start I’d spend a fortune on starting medium if I bought it. After trying all kinds of recipes I settled on one that consists of 40% peat moss and 40% medium vermiculite and 20% worm castins (I’ve tried using coconut coir and haven’t been as happy with the results as I am with peat moss). I like to add some Dr. Earth Organic Starter Fertilizer as well (I use the directions on the package and mix it in at half strength). Seedlings don’t really need fertilizer until they get their first or second set of true leaves, and you can’t fertilize with full-strength fertilizer because you run the risk of burning the seedlings. Always use half strength when adding fertilizer to seed starting mix or when watering with fish emulsion.
I’ve also experimented with watering my seedlings with weak a fish emulsion every week or two instead of using Dr Earth Starter fertilizer. I prefer adding the starter fertilizer directly to my seed starting mix, it seems to give me better results and it saves me from remembering to add fish emulsion. Some people use this mix and add 30% peat, 30% vermiculite and 30% compost instead of a fertilizer (you can us perlite instead of vermiculite if you’d like, I don’t like perlite so I always use vermiculite). I don’t have a ton of compost so I save it and add it to the holes at planting time, I also use it in my homemade potting soil mix. Some people recommend only using sterilized compost or peat to start seeds, personally I would never sterilize my compost, pear or anything I’m using to grow plants, part of the value of is the microbes. But I also drink raw milk, so I’m a big believer in the beneficial microbe world.
The main reason I mix my own seed starting mix is to save money. I buy the peat moss and vermiculite at my local farm supply store (the drive-thru feed type store). It costs me about $25 for 8 cubic feet of final seed starting mix. I like to mix it up in small batches in plastic storage containers. I make sure to mix up a batch in the fall and store it in the basement for late winter seed starting mix.
Whether you mix your own, buy it in a bag, or use peat pellets, your seed starting medium will need to be wet before you can plant your seeds. It’s often difficult to get peat to absorb moisture if it’s really dry. The vermiculite or perlite helps it absorb moisture and using hot water is also very beneficial. I warm water in my small teakettle and pour it on the dry mix. I keep adding water till the tray feels heavy and the soil is nicely moistened. If I add too much water and there is some collecting in the bottom tray I usually wait an hour then pour out any excess water. I also like to wait a day before adding the seeds to allow some of the moisture to evaporate, too much moisture is the most common seed starting problem and it can lead to disease problems. Then I plant the seeds according to their needs.
What’s your favorite seed starting medium? Do you have better luck with one kind of soil? Do you mix your own?
The rest of the Seed Starting 101 Series
Why Start from Seed
The Needs of Seeds
Diseases and Problems
Learn More Each Season
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