Garden Supplies seed starting

Vermiculite – Perlite – Use Caution – Seed Starting

In the post Starting Seed – Seed Starting Mix I told you all about the grow mix I use to use, why I no longer use it, and what I was going to experiment with to start my seed.

(That post gives lots of information on what you DON’T want when you buy pre-mixed stuff.  So be sure to review it if you’re new to all this.)

Purchasing the Components of My Homemade Seed Starting Mix

I didn’t have any trouble buying the plain peat moss. I was careful to read the labels to make sure nothing else had been added.

The big surprise came when I tried to buy bags of perlite and vermiculite which I would think every garden center in the world would have. Well, they had it alright, but most of it had MIRACLE GROW in it!!!

(If you don’t know about Miracle Grow read the second post I’ve listed under related posts at the bottom of the page.)

I ended up buying both coarse perlite and vermiculite on line in order to get it without Miracle Grow.

I really objected to the high price of vermiculite, but Bill was sick and I was desperate to get seed started. So I ordered one bag to give me time to sort things out.

Protect Yourself From the Dust

When I first opened the bags I didn’t realize vermiculite and perlite were so extremely “dusty”. Common sense told me to hold my breath. After that I used a dust mask.

Both products can be harmful to your lungs if you breath them.  And the perlite dust particles can be harmful to your eyes. (Any kind of dust can be harmful to your lungs.  For example, dust that fills the air when working with straw, peat moss or any else.)

Vermiculite – Possible Asbestos Contamination?

Some vermiculite is contaminated with asbestos.  Supposedly vermiculite sold for gardening use today is safe. Probably it would take breathing a lot more asbestos fibers than we gardeners would to cause severe lung disease. Nonetheless, it pays to be cautious.

  • Lower potential risk by dampening down the vermiculite before mixing into soil or peat moss.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Work with it outdoors where there’s good ventilation.

Perlite is volcanic glass.

We don’t have to worry about asbestos contamination in perlite, but we do have to be concerned about the dust which literally goes everywhere when you open the bag to remove some.

A dust mask to protect your lungs is imperative. And I recommend an inexpensive pair of safety glasses to protect your eyes from those tiny particles of volcanic glass that fill the air as you work with it.

A More Sustainable Way – My Plan

I ‘m definitely going to find a more sustainable way to start seed.

In the meantime I’m not buying any more vermiculite.  There’s got to be a less expensive way that works just as well.

I have plenty of perlite and will use only that with the peat moss and see how it works. I’ve read several good reports by folks using just perlite and peat moss. (I’ll start with 3 parts peat and 2 parts perlite.)

Most sources recommend a soiless growing medium to avoid pathogens. My garden is pretty healthy so I’m going to experiment with some of my soil and some soil from my cold compost  pile.  If it works for me it will be much more sustainable.

Final Thoughts

Every gardener should have a dust mask.  They are less than $5 for package of 3 to 5. You’ll have lots of opportunity to use them.

Goggles you won’t use as much as the dust mask, but they’re important to have on hand BEFORE you need them.

Bill and I keep our dust masks and googles handy on hook right at the back door.


Related Posts:

Starting Seed – Seed Starting Mix

A Readers Thought and Mine – Some Facts to Consider About Scotts

Vegetable Plants – What About Buying Them


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  • Hi Theresa,
    I’ve been thinking about what is best for seed starting for a while now. The recommended products are expensive, especially if you have to pay for shipping. I think I’m going to try using some aged compost in the gallon jugs. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

  • Susan, I’ve read many accounts of gardeners using aged compost with great success. I think the main thing we need to remember when we experiment is to not put all our eggs in one basket. Always have back up just in case.
    I’ll be anxious to learn how it goes for you. Hopefully, you are starting fall crops and will let me know your results soon.
    And I agree 100% about the recommended products being expensive. I want to work towards more sustainable gardening in every way — so that I will be able to do without purchased inputs or at least keep them to a minimum.
    Thanks for commenting Susan.

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