Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
Time to get those seeds started! This year save some money, be more sustainable and, instead of buying potting soil, consider mixing your own with this nutrient-rich recipe cultivated by Natalie Bogwalker, the founder of Wild Abundance and the Firefly Gathering.
Every spring, Bogwalker uses this soil recipe for seed starts on her seven-acre homestead and permaculture school, which teems with life, wild edibles, and garden-grown food. Every seed needs a good start to reach its potential, and this potting soil blend is tried, tested, and easy to make at home.
How to Make a Soil Mix for Starting Seeds
You will need:
• 1 cubic foot of pre-hydrated peat moss (or 7 shovel full) or you can use coconut coir as a substitute for peat moss, which is a much more sustainable, though not quite as easy to use of a product.
• 1 cubic foot of compost, homemade is best, but commercial is an option too (7 shovels full)
• ½ a cubic foot of perlite (3.5 shovels full)
• ½ cubic foot of vermiculite (3.5 shovels full)
• ½ cup of dolomite lime (handful)
• ¾ cup of feather meal, cottonseed meal (cotton is grown with lots of chemicals, so we tend to avoid cotton seed meal), or other slow release fertilizer (a full handful), Though we are fans of using urine to fertilize plants, we tend to stay away from it for starts that are being raised indoors. The smell can become rather unpleasant)
• Place all ingredients on a tarp and roll it around and mix it up (friends help with this step)!
• Moisten Soil
• Fill your seed trays with the soil blend and tamp firmly using the bottom of another set of seed trays. Soil should be ½ inch from the rim of the pots at this point.
• Sow your seeds
• Cover with ¼ inch of slightly moist to dry soil, make sure that there is still at least a ¼ inch gap between the top of soil and the top of the pot (so the seeds and soil don’t float or get lost).
• Water your seeds!
“There are many benefits to starting your seeds indoors or in a greenhouse,” says Allie Showalter, a former gardening apprentice at Wild Abundance, and a youth garden teacher with Muddy Sneakers and Forest Floor.
“It extends your season, gives you a jump start when growing tomatoes, peppers, basil, which just take off once you transplant them in the ground. And, you save a lot of money starting from seed.”
For lighting, Showalter recommends T5 grow lights, and she keeps the lights 4-8 inches from the top of the plants. If using regular fluorescent lights, she recommends that plants be within 3 inches of light.
Bogwalker, after having lived without power for many years, tends to start her plants in a sunny window, and brings plants outdoors into the sun on warm days. She sets up a cloche where she puts her starts once they have germinated, and leaves them in unless temperatures fall dangerously low.
3 Vital Elements for Starting Seeds
Once you have your planted seed trays, they will need water, light, and warmth to thrive. “When I start my seeds,” says Showalter, “I feel like I have 100 babies that need my attention everyday.” For high germination rates, Showalter says that there are three vital elements to provide your seed starts:
1. Relative warmth (germination is usually faster with higher temperatures, but some plants, like peppers and basil require higher temperatures than others like lettuce, or even tomatoes. Bogwalker has used heat mats to provide moisture from beneath the soil with great success).
2. Moisture (don’t let them dry out)
3. Oxygen: “When a seed is dormant, it’s still breathing,” says Showalter, “and that’s why, after planting you don’t want to over tamp the soil around the seed.”
And, don’t forget to always label your seeds!
Aiyanna Sezak-Blattis a writer, beekeeper, and organic gardener living in Asheville, North Carolina. She also works as the Development Coordinator for Our VOICE, Asheville's rape crisis center. Read her other articles for Mother Earth News here.
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