Question #1 – A reader asked what potting soil I use to start my seed.
I use what is called a “grow mix” or “soilless seed starting mix” to start my seed.
“Potting soil” usually indicates a mix that you’d use for growing plants in containers. It’s heavier than a mix for seed starting. (I use potting soil for my house plants.)
As I pointed out in a previous post about seed starting mix it’s difficult to find soilless mix that doesn’t have Miracle Grow and/or wetting agents. Those things are not suitable for use in an organic garden.
I would look for the OMRI seal on a bag of grow mix before I’d buy it.
I make my own since I don’t have access to any that’s suitable for organic growers.
What to Use for Starting Seed
A soilless mix is generally recommended for starting seed. The idea behind that is that soil or compost might have pathogens that could cause your plants to become diseased.
It’s a good idea for beginners to start that way.
It’s easy. All you need is peat moss, perlite and vermiculite.
Start with a ratio of 3-1-1. Mix small batches until you know you have the mixture you’re satisfied with. If your first try is not to your liking, change the amounts until you get what you want.
An ideal mixture doesn’t dry out quickly and won’t get rock hard when it does dry.
The vermiculite acts like a sponge, retaining water. The perlite, although it absorbs some water, basically improves aeration, keeping the mix light even when it’s dry.
(Be sure to read the ingredients on every bag you purchase to make sure it doesn’t have stuff you don’t want. Even vermiculite and perlite can have Miracle Grow in them. Read all labels to be safe.)
Protect Your Lungs
Vermiculite and perlite are natural substances, but it can be harmful to breathe the dust that comes from them. I usually wear one of those inexpensive little dust masks when mixing.
Other Possible Ingredients for Grow Mixes
Once you know more about what you’re doing and that you don’t have any diseases to be spread, you can get creative and use various ingredients like shredded leaf mulch, compost, garden soil, peat moss, perlite, and/or vermiculite for your mixture.
(I like to use shredded leaf mulch to lighten my mix and at the same time hold water. )
Question #2 – Black trash bags – leaf compost?
My reader wrote that at a friend’s suggestion she tried placing leaves in black trash bags – thinking it would end up as compost come spring.
Opening the trash bag recently, full of expectation, all she had was a bunch of heavy, wet leaves that stuck together in a clump!
She wrote: “Not sure what I did wrong – did I poke too many/too big holes?!”
Principles Involved in Composting
Two of the principles of making compost is that it needs the “right” amount of water and air.
These apply whether it’s a compost pile out in the open or if it’s being made in a container.
One of the reasons I stopped making a heated compost pile more than 35 years ago, is because I didn’t want to take time to bother with turning the pile or watering it. (I do have a cold compost pile for weeds; kitchen scraps I dig right into my beds.)
I don’t need or want anything extra to do, so I do only what’s needed. Thus, I follow nature’s example with leaves.
I lay them on my garden beds in the fall and sometimes cover them with another layer of straw. Then I’m done.
The soil life breaks them up and pulls them into the soil. By the time hot weather arrives there’s no indication of leaves in 99% of the garden.
Break Up Matted-Together-Clumps of Organic Materials
If leaves, straw, pine tags, etc. have been in a pile for sometime before you get to them, they can mat together. These clumps won’t allow rain to penetrate and won’t break down easily. Break them apart before you put them on the beds.
Question #3 – Where Are My Earthworms?
My reader has conventional raised beds. She has augmented the soil as I suggested with cut up leaves, pine needles, etc.
Her concern is she doesn’t see any earthworms in her vegetable beds.
She asks, “Shouldn’t I be seeing them? Part of the soil is still frozen so am not sure if they are deeper underground. I do see earthworms when I turn over the grass that’s not planted a few feet away from my beds.”
Even with this limited amount of information, a few things come to mind right away.
– If the ground is frozen the worms are down much deeper so they’ll be protected from the freezing temperatures that’ll kill them. (This is probably the case in my reader’s vegetable beds. And the earth under the sod <grass> nearby may not be frozen since it’s insulated more by the sod.)
– When temperatures allow the worms to come to the surface, they feed on decaying matter, leaves and other plant material. If there is little or no plant residue there will be few worms because they won’t have much to feed on.
– In summer droughts when the soil can be dry even under mulch, the worms also go deep to protect themselves. They’ll return with the rain and moist soil assuming there’s food for them.
If you have questions, I may have answered them in one or more of 700 posts of TMG. If not, feel free to write to me and I’ll try to help.
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