To a certain extent I saw the hand writing on the wall last year when readers wrote and asked me about which seed starting mix to buy. From what I understand from readers, forums, and general reading — it’s become difficult to find small bags of soilless seed starting mix that don’t have Miracle Grow in them and other additives that are not good for those like us who want to garden organically.
Because of saturated marketing by Scotts, the masses have accepted Miracle Grow as a magic elixir guaranteed to make plants grow. Of course, it takes a bit of searching to find the part of the story they don’t tell you.
In case you don’t already know about Scott’s Miracle Grow and their cohort, Monsanto, you might want to begin by reading two previous posts, A Readers Thoughts and Mine — Some Facts to Consider about Scotts and Vegetable Plants – What about Buying Them.
Soilless Grow Mix for Starting Seed
A soilless (no soil in it) grow mix is recommended for starting seed. The idea being that these mixes have no pathogens in them that could cause your plants to become diseased. If you use soil or compost mixed in — you don’t know what pathogens they contain. If you sterilize your compost you kill some of the good stuff in it.
I think there are probably many long-time gardeners who use their own compost (not sterilized) with much success. But it’s generally agreed that soilless is the way to go for a seed starting mix. And I especially recommend it for the relatively new gardener.
Inadvertently I Gave the Wrong Name
Here it is the winter solstice and readers are already asking about what I use for a grow mix. I inadvertently replied that I used Pro-Mix —– so a correction is in order. Allow me to explain:
I used Premier Pro-Mix for years until last year. I ran out before the season started last year. A trip to The Great Big Green House in Richmond (2 or more hours from us) revealed that they no longer carried Premier Pro-Mix.
Instead they were carrying Sunshine Mix #1 Grow Mix by Sungro Horticulture. I read the ingredient list, was satisfied, and bought it. (I bought two big 3.8 cu.ft. bales to make sure I could get through almost two years.)
For some reason — I guess just second nature – I’ve been referring to it as Pro-Mix— which of course, it is NOT. So I apologize if I have inconvenienced anyone with this subconscious slip.
Hopefully no one has purchased Pro-Mix. ——-“Why?” you ask.
I don’t frequent stores very often and thus, haven’t seen what type of grow mix is being offered in small sizes in garden supply stores.So I wanted to do a little research to try to find something online that I could recommend for readers who are getting ready to start their seed via the winter-sown method.
I checked on Pro-Mix at Amazon first. I was surprised that all the ingredients were not listed. And there seemed to be different Pro-Mixes although I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to figure it out. After a bit of searching I finally found the ingredients for Pro-Mix on another website. The first few ingredients I expected:
- peat moss
- mycorise (fungi that benefit the roots of a plant)
- dolomitic limestone (often added to grow mixes as a ph adjuster)
The last two I did not expect:
- macronutrients and micronutrients (Don’t know what form these take, but this is not needed in a grow mix. I can take care of my seedlings needs without these.)
- wetting agent — not approved for use by Organic Gardeners. (Most are detergents and known to be carcinogenic.)
The Pro-Mix I used in 2010 and 2011 was purchased at the beginning of 2010. Perhaps they’ve changed their recipe since then. In any event, I have no recollection of those last ingredients being in the Pro-Mix I used.
Sunshine #1 Mix – Grow Mix
The Sunshine #1 Mix – Grow Mix by Sungro Horticulture that thought I purchased at the end of 2011 is OMRI approved for use by organic growers has the following ingredients:
- peat moss
- coarse perlite
- organic starter nutrient charge
- Gypsum and dolomitic limestone.
I found those ingredients listed here. (Note how the package looks.) I did however notice the bag was different than mine. When I checked the ingredients on my bag this afternoon the ingredients were the same.
I then went to Amazon. They show the bag of Sunshine Mix (although a different number) that looks like mine EXCEPT in addition to the ingredients listed above they add: “a long-lasting wetting agent.” (Note how this package looks compared to the one previously linked to.)
I also noticed there was an organic offering by Sunshine on Amazon with a so-called “organic wetting agent” and “nutrients”. I did not see an OMRI (Organic Materials Research Institute) approved seal on the bag. It could have been there, but after seeing the confusion that exists— I don’t think I’d buy it unless the OMRI seal was on the bag.
We can Still get What we Want — We just need to Change our Approach
All you need to start seed is a mix of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. That’s it!
Some have gypsum and dolomitic limestone which is ok. The beneficial fungi mycorise is ok —- although not needed.
If you search and are unable to find a grow mix with just the ingredients you need for organic growing — it is very easy to make your own.
Making Your Own
I’ve seen numerous recipes online, but the one that appeals to me most is simple:
- 3 parts peat moss (a substitute sometimes used is coir made from coconut husks)(addendum: be sure read the warning by Ernie Hodge in the comment area below this post.)
- 1 part perlite
- 1 part vermiculite
To make your own, buy the ingredients separately. Use any container to measure your ingredients. ( I’d probably use the bottom half of a plastic jug.) Get a large container to mix it all in. (A small trash can might be good or a plastic tub.)
After you mix it, wet it. The mix should be thoroughly damp, but not soggy. I usually add the water and let it sit for a few minutes to soak in. It’s much easier to fill your flats or jugs with grow mix AFTER it’s already wet.
(Update note added May 17, 2015 – I’m making my own grow mix this year, but still haven’t perfected the amount of perlite and vermiculite used in the peat moss. I’ll just keep working on it until I have it right and then report back. Might be another year. 🙂 )
With strong marketing pulling the wool over the eyes of most of the public, we organic gardeners have to stay a step ahead and be willing to change our approach when we have to in order to get what we want. If you can find a mix you like, it is indeed easier to buy it pre-mixed.
But it’s pretty simple to make and if that’s what I have to do to get the grow mix I want — I’m willing. How about you?
Organic Gardening is easy, effective, efficient — and it’s a lot healthier.
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