The Seed-Starting Process

I am very slowly working toward getting my first seeds started for 2008. So far, I have all of my seed orders in (besides the extra fingerling potatoes), and I have all of the ingredients for my special organic seed-starting mix assembled: the bale of peat moss that is the base, perlite and vermiculite for loft and moisture retention, sand for drainage and heft, horticultural lime to offset the acidity of the peat moss, and new this year, a few packages of worm castings.

One of the problems with putting together your own standard seed-starting mix is that there is generally no fertilizer in it unless you use compost in your mix (seedling, or seed-starting mix is different than what’s referred to as “potting soil,” which is meant for more mature potted plants and does contain fertilizer of some kind–the balance of nutrients depending on what blend you buy or make).

I don’t use compost in my seed-starting mix for a couple reasons: because I hardly ever have a finely-screened, weed seed-free batch of compost sitting around this time of year, and because my laissez-faire method of composting would compel me to sterilize the compost before adding it in order to kill pathogens and weed seeds, thus also killing off the good microbes that make using compost so beneficial. This tells me that getting a hot compost together just for seedling mix is a good sustainability goal for this year–either that or putting together a vermi-compost box and keeping it going through the winter months so I don’t have to purchase/order/have shipped an off-farm source of fertility.

Anyhow, The absence of extra nutrients in a seed-starting mix isn’t so much of a problem with fast-growing crops (like brassicas) that are moved quickly from flat to field, but it is more problematic with plants that stay longer in the flats/pots–tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant; leeks and onions; parsley, etc. With fast-growing and quickly-transplanted crops, fertility in the mix isn’t as important because the basic packaging of the seed itself provides a little bit of nutrient to get the seed going (kind of like a chick growing inside an egg).

With slower-growing crops, you really need to provide a bit of nutrient in the watering if it’s not in the mix. In the past, I’ve used fish/seaweed emulsions to provide the extra nutrients, but they tend to be a little stinky in a closed environment like my house. So, I’m going to try the worm castings directly added to the mix this year, and see how the seedlings respond. If they simply vibrate with good health, then the vermi-compost box will be a must-do project, rather than a “one day, when I have time” project.

But, I still have a few steps to complete before blending the mix. I’ve managed to get the basement work area cleared out and the carpet vacuumed. I’ve got the trays from my light shelf removed for cleaning and sterilizing. I had thought maybe we’d have a unseasonably warm day so I could do this project outside, but that won’t likely happen ’til Sunday. I also have to get some sort of container cleaned out for the peat–that stuff is incredibly dusty, and I don’t want to cut open the bale until I have a way to store the rest.

The informal deadline I’m working with is February 9. That’s when, according to my records, I started my leeks, onions, and parsley last year. I am not necessarily interested in beating that record, but I would like to at least get them started before February 15, which was my start date in 2006.


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