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Experimenting with Potting Soil Mixes

April 26th, 2017

One of the things I love about gardening is being able to experiment. I’m always planting different varieties to see the difference between them. While I was at the feed store a few weeks ago, I spotted their Pro-Mix potting mixes. I’m a big fan of the 512 Mix from Johnny’s Seed and have been using that for quite a long time, but I decided to give Pro-Mix a try.


So I made a flat of soil blocks with each of the three mixes. As far as soil blocks are concerned, the Johnny’s Mix and the Pro-Mix Premium seemed to form better blocks. The regular Pro-Mix has a lot more perlite in it, so the blocks don’t seem to form as well or be as strong.

I seeded three different seeds in each type of potting mix to watch germinate and watering rates.

The seeds are just starting to germinate and so far they’re pretty even across the board. The Johnny’s mix definitely retains water much better than the other two varieties. Pro-Mix Premium is in second place and the Pro-Mix is in last place, it’s drying out much more quickly than the other two.

What experiments are you doing this gardening season?

Potting on the Peppers

April 24th, 2017

My peppers are growing very well this year, probably better than they’ve ever grown. Typically, I plant them directly in the garden in their soil blocks. This year they outgrew them and needed potting on.



Now they are happily enjoying more root space and the warmth of the office. My tomatoes are just starting to germinate, hopefully they will be ready to transplant directly into the soil without repotting. I used to start them early and pot them on, but I found out they don’t seem to produce any earlier and it’s a lot more work.

What’s growing in your seed starting area this week?

The Importance of Fresh Seed

April 6th, 2017

I’ve talked before about the importance of using fresh seed. Some types of plants, like brassicas and nightshades, maintain seed viability longer than others. Other seeds like alliums barely germinate after a year. Lettuce is supposed to last a few years, but I have found that fresh seed is worth the few extra dollars each year. The length of time it takes for old seed to germinate and grow can mean that you are harvesting your lettuce two or three weeks later than if you had fresh seed. In a short growing season like mine, those 2-3 weeks aren’t worth it. I also find that the time saved under grow lights is another reason to purchase fresh seed each year. If I can move plants outside 2 weeks earlier I can start another flat much earlier.

In order to illustrate this point, I used year old lettuce seed (these seeds were purchased in 2016) and new lettuce seed. The variety that is from last season germinated very quickly last year and grew very vigorously. In fact, it was the first lettuce to produce heads. You can easily pick out which seed is from last year and which ones are from this season. I’ll keep you updated on the growth rate throughout the season.

One of the reasons for the decline in viability can be due to age of seed since we don’t know how old seed is when we buy it. That’s one reason I like buying seeds from Johnny’s Seeds, they do germination tests and put the date of the test and germination rate right on the seed packet. Old seed not only has lower and slower germination rates, but it has less vigor overall. Plants take longer to grow and reach maturity.

Just because seed isn’t fresh doesn’t mean you have to throw it away. Mix all your lettuce and endive seeds together to make a mesclun mix and direct seed that in the garden or under grow lights in the fall/winter. Purchasing and sharing seeds with friends is a great way to be able to have fresh seed every year without increased costs. Truthfully, most seeds stay fresh for a few years, lettuce and alliums are the only two I make certain to purchase fresh every single year. The rest get a few years before they are repurchased.

What seed do you make sure to purchase fresh each year? Have you noticed reduced germination rates and slower plant growth in certain varieties?

Head on over to this post for a seed viability chart I made a few years ago.

A Favorite Free Item

March 29th, 2017

Many years ago (in fact I think one of the first years I started seeds), I started using an old dish soap container to water my seedlings. I think that this is the still the original container, which means it’s probably 15 years old.

This container waters seedlings like a dream, especially soil block, which can be sensitive to too much water at once. You can drop water onto flats that haven’t terminated yet without worry about washing away seeds. You can also squirt a lot of water at once when you’re bottom watering entire flats of seedlings.

The only down side is that it’s small and needs refilled quite often, but that’s a small price to pay since it’s such a wonderful (and free) tool.

Do you have any items you repurposed for gardening that you’d love to share?

Getting Better with Time

March 20th, 2017

When it comes to edible gardening, one area I always felt like I struggled a bit was succession planting.  Sometimes I simply forgot to sow the additional seeds, other times my various sowings matured at the same time. Over the past few years, I noticed that it’s starting to become second nature to me and I’ve figured out a few things to make it work for me.

One of the things I learned was that it’s not always a good idea to start something “every two weeks” as the gardening books tell you. If the soil and the temperature is cooler, things grow more slowly and sometimes the later planting will catch up to the early one. Starting additional planting in flats indoors also makes them grow more quickly than those planted outside. If your first planting is just being planted in the garden, transplant shock and cooler temperatures can slow growth rate allowing the indoor seedlings catch up.

Perhaps this is only something that affect us northern gardeners, but after a few years I find that a three or four week schedule is often better than the two weeks most normally recommended. It also makes it easier to manage because I’m not doing it as often. It’s nice to be able to have fresh lettuce throughout spring/summer/fall, which is the main reason I have been trying to improve my success in this area.

Do you plant in succession to have a longer growing season? Do you have any great tips to share? Is this an area you struggle? 

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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