Make your own seed starting mix

This is straight from Steve Solomon’s excellent book Gardening When It Counts. What he says has worked well in my own garden for two seasons now.

Here’s how he says to make your own seed starting mix:  Mix together one- half bucket of your own garden dirt, with half a bucket of peat moss and one cup of complete organic fertilizer. Mix and moisten, then put into four-inch pots or whatever you are using for containers to start your seeds, and plant away.

This is much more economical than buying those teeny bags of very expensive seed starting mix at the nursery. It also gets the seedlings used to your own garden soil, which they will have to live in when they get bigger. I am of the opinion that sterilized soil may give you one hundred percent germination, but if you can live with ninety-five percent germination, you don’t need the sterilized stuff, if you start with good seed that has a guaranteed high germination rate–this is key.  One caveat is that this homemade starting mix tends to dry out more rapidly than commercial mixes, because it doesn’t contain moisture beads.  You can add some, but I just watch the containers carefully and water as needed, and it works fine.  I have used this to start both vegetable and flower seeds with success.

Give it a try, and see how it works for you!

If You’re In Gardening Zone 8, Then It’s Time to Start Vegetable Seeds Indoors and Out

Now, around the middle of March, is when I start my tender seedlings indoors. They include plants such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, as well as flowers, that I will use as starts out in my garden beds later in the season. Starting seeds is less expensive but more work than purchasing them from a nursery, and you get a much better varietal selection by using seeds. Some seeds require light and some require darkness for germination–delphinium seeds need darkness, for example, while some can go either way. For the either-way ones, I usually put them under lights, because bottom heat will often speed germination, and just having the lights on will help to warm up the seeds even more.

Late in the month, I also start hardy greens outside in prepared beds.  The beds are redug and weeded, then raked.  Next I add a quart and a half of complete organic fertilizer and dig it in, raking smooth.  After that I add a quarter-inch of mushroom compost on the top of the bed and rake it smooth.  Then I take my rake handle and press rows into the soil, which is where I will plant my rows of seeds.  After the seeds are sown, I cover them with some of the compost from in between the rows, and press down.  Water the seeds gently but thoroughly with a water can.  At this time of year, it is still not reliably forty degrees at night, and therefore you have to raise the temperature a bit in order to have successful germination.  In order to do this, I go to the local hardware store and purchase three half-inch pvc plumbing plastic pipes–they usually come in an eight-foot length.  These can be cut to size if needed with a hacksaw with each end cut at an angle, and then pushed into the ground creating half-circle hoops over your bed.  Then simply cover the bed with clear plastic, and hold down the edges with rocks or bricks.  As long as you water it well right after sowing, you don’t need to uncover it, because we get a ton of rain and it soaks in under the plastic, taking care of watering for you.  Plus when it does warm up during the days, condensation on the plastic also helps to keep everything nicely moist.  By keeping the plants covered, they will grow much faster, giving you homegrown salads much quicker.  Just be sure to keep an eye out for unseasonably warm days–it does sometimes shoot up to eighty.  On those days,  open up the plastic.

I use tough greens that can take a little cold, such as spinach, mustard greens, beet greens, swiss chard, arugula and others.

Good luck, and give it a try–this is easy to do!