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Seed Starting Medium?

 
Nick Dee
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What do you use for a seed starting medium? Why? Im just curious.
 
Dan Boone
gardener
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Last year when I was too broke to buy anything I had OK results from wandering out into our hardwood forest with a bucket and a screen. Shoveled up leaf litter and the decomposed matter under downed trees and a bunch of wood so rotten it would pass through 1/4" hardware cloth. Found some particularly rich humus and leaf mold in the crotch of a huge bifurcated sycamore tree where leaves and water had been collecting and rotting for many years. A bit of soil found its way in to the mix as well, mostly from when I would dig my shovel too deeply into the forest floor.

It worked rather well except that of course it was not sterile; I had volunteer germinations from the forest floor seed bank that I had to distinguish from my own seedlings.
 
Akiva Silver
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Dan, did you notice any nitrogen deficiency with using the decomposed wood or did it seem fine?
I've often thought of using the stuff I find inside hollowed out trees.
 
ev kuhn
Posts: 55
Location: N-E edge of Atlanta
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1/2" screen and a pile of old, old wood chips, pine straw, compost ...
and no, I did not sterilize it in the microwave or boil it or anything the like
 
Cristo Balete
Posts: 421
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
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The best seed starting mix I ever had was 50% mushroom compost and 40% my clay soil and 10% sand (usually granite). Mushroom compost is magical. It was the straight stuff from a mushroom growing operation. A bagged product that has it might work if it DOES NOT include "Forest products" which is bark, wood, etc.

I keep a bag of potting soil around that does not contain "forest products" and add 25% to 50% granite sand, or any sand that is not beach sand with salt. I get the seeds to germinate, then always water with compost tea. I don't make really formal compost tea, I don't aerate it with a pump. I just make tea in a bucket with it, and strain off the liquid.

I don't even use any compost that has wood products, bark, chips, bits that still look like wood in the garden. It just absorbs the nitrogen and the roots of the plants don't get it. Completely broken down wood, however, does well around mature plants and perennials.
 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a) ~39" rain/year
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Akiva Silver wrote:Dan, did you notice any nitrogen deficiency with using the decomposed wood or did it seem fine?
I've often thought of using the stuff I find inside hollowed out trees.


It seemed fine. But I was only using this for seedlings that got transplanted into rougher soil fairly young.

The wood I used was enormously decomposed. I don't know how long it takes a fallen oak tree to crumble into a powder you can pass through quarter-inch hardware cloth, but that's how long this stuff had been laying on the forest floor. I would guess "decades" at a minimum. My thinking is that most of the nitrogen demand that occurs during woody decomposition had already been satisfied.
 
leila hamaya
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Location: northern northern california
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i generally add some of the native soil, screened, to a bag soil/seed starting bag soil. right now i am working through the end of a bag of coconut coir, its soooo nice! but usually out of my budget.

i also add a lot of river sand. sometimes i add the sand right to the bottom of the pot, put a handful or more if its a medium/larger pot or add rocks to the bottom, then a handful of the native screened soil, then the top part is bag soil, with some sand thrown in or not depending. often i recycle the bag soil...from pots that didnt come up, and whatever else i can get together, and make big batches. so its always different.

its always nice to get a fresh bag of seed starting soil, but its not something i want to spend the money on, but it does drastically improve my seed starting. sometimes if i happen to have a lot of it, i will use that straight, and for tiny pots, usually adding at least a bit of sand because it works well and is free for the digging.

for one theres bugs in native soil, which isnt that bad on larger older plants, but is very bad for young seedlings. especially if i take them inside, then it just turns into bugs taking over the seed starting area, not good! sterilizing it is such a bother.
for two the native soil...if i add too much, gets weird funky, not ideal for young seedlings. like either stiff or funky, or has bunch of tiny wood pieces in it that get weird/funky bad. well its hard to describe, and cause it depends on that batch, but the seedlings struggle in it, as opposed to the nice fluffy seed starting soil.

straight sand may work ok for some things, theres no nutrients in it so its not good for long term, but for certain things its very good. or mostly sand, little bit of native soil/bag soil works very well too.
 
André Troylilas
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Location: North of France
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I often use cheap compost WITHOUT any fertilizer mixed with vermiculite and a little bit of sand. I also use the substrate from my potted plants when I change it, because it's supposed to be poor after one year of "feeding" a plant.
I used to use seed starting mix but it's much too rich for the seedlings, and once I put them into the soil, they feel depressed.
With poor substrate, I think the seedlings do better when they are transplanted.
I've heard that seeds have everything to get the seedling going for 6 to 8 weeks, so it depends on when you're going to transplant the seedling.
My $0.02.
 
Sharon Carson
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I usually buy a bale of organic seed starting mix that has microorganisms in it. I transplant up when the first true leaves come into a potting mix that I make with my horsemaniure in sawdust compost ,course sand and either peat or coconut coir .I do not turn my compost but it is completely broked down full of living organisms . I water seedlings with compost tea or nettle tea as well as liquid seaweed and fish .
 
Rue Barbie
Posts: 70
Location: Coastal Southern California
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I use a mix of 2 parts potting soil from the bag, one part peat/coir, and one part perlite for small seeds like lettuce, spinach, onions, peppers, tomatoes etc. I screen this through a sheet of quarter inch hardware cloth (no frame needed). I also plant in small sections of plug flats cut down for easy handling. I've tried many things, but this is the most reliable for getting good germination and survival.

For larger seeds such as squash and beans, I'll use used planting mix in larger old pony packs. I also transplant small seedlings ready to move up into pony packs with used mix.
 
Hans Quistorff
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Location: Longbranch, WA
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My 100 year old apple trees have been hollowed out by a large wood borer. I read that their castings was the original potting soil so I tried it and it worked very well. The borers are very long lived and get as big as a thumb before they metamorf. I put them in a bucket with the wood they were working on. This reminds me I need to check tomorrow and see how they are doing.
I built my greenhouse over an existing garden soil that was very sandy. It stays mostly dry now as I grow things in the planters. I can sift the sand from the floor and use it for potting mix If my seeds don't germinate I may get something interesting like snapdragons that have persistent tiny seeds. Other volunteers are California poppies, broccoli, bok choy, holly hocks and alpine strawberries.
The neighbor's cow has been getting out and mowing my field for me So I am thinking of trying to make some shredded paper and cow dung pots by molding the with an old muffin tin.
 
Gabriel Goto
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Location: Buckingham, PA
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In the most recent podcast, part 3, Paul cautioned against using purchased top soil and other items due to concerns about persistent herbicides. I have used seed starting mixes to start my seeds indoors. If I did not want to buy seed starting mixes, what would I start my seeds in?
 
Alex Apfelbaum
Posts: 49
Location: Northeastern Spain (Mediterranean, zone 9b)
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You can make a very good seed starting mix made of equal parts of peat, perlite and vermiculite.

I don't know about potential risks of residual persticides in peat though..
 
Tobias Ber
Posts: 388
Location: Northern Germany (Zone 8a)
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i use compost from our garden. it s still mixed with clay soil, so i add some sand and lots of organic material to that compost and let it rot.
it s not perfect by now, because we started with the compost heap that already was there. so theres clay-soil in it and too much coarse, wooden-bits.

i do indoor soil-sprouts alot (peas, barley-grass, wheat-grass and sunflower), so i m practically "seed-starting" all the time. i add organic matter buried in the pots (flowerboxes) for the soil sprouts and some worm-compost which still contains some worms. so the pots keep producing and improving the soil. to prevent mold, i add a very thin layer of sand to the top.
when the trays are harvestet, they go into a flow-through-worm bag.


so you can produce and recycle your own potting soil
 
Travis Johnson
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I use soil taken from a forest setting (diversity), perlyte, and sheep manure from my sheep, then put it in my cement mixer and tumble it. It mixes well, any clay balls up and is discarded, along with any sticks, roots or other "junk", leaving me with very workable potting soil.

You can mix all this by hand if you do not have a cement mixer, but I suggest just about everyone get one. I use mine more for mixing dirt then I ever do cement. Harbor Freight tells small cheap ones for $100! Not a bad investment.
 
Larisa Walk
Posts: 134
Location: South of Winona, Minnesota
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For over 30 years we've used our garden soil, mixed with perlite (if soil has more clay) or vermiculite (if soil has more sand) and sifted compost. About equal parts. Have never bought potting soil. We do amend our garden's soil with minerals using William Albrecht's formula (cation saturations of 60-70% Ca, 10-20% Mg, 3-5% K, up to 1% Na, depending on soil types). See more at http://www.geopathfinder.com/Soil-Fertility-Nutrition.html
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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I've been sheet mulching for years with wood chips -- HEAVILY -- particularly among my fruit trees. When I need potting mix, I start first by going out into the citrus orchard, pull back the mulch, and take a couple of big shovelfuls of soil from there. It's usually full of mycelium, nicely aggregated and has a high carbon content. Then I mix it with equal parts sharp sand and well-finished screened compost. I don't buy anything.

It does the trick.

I don't keep buckets of the stuff around, but mix it as needed. I want to use it "fresh" while the fungi and bacteria are still living and active.
 
Tobias Ber
Posts: 388
Location: Northern Germany (Zone 8a)
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when i plant starts into bigger containers, i add some leaves and/or kitchenscraps near them bottom. so i ll save medium. and end up with having more and better medium afterwards. it can be done indoors. i like to add worm compost with worms (earthworms) to the bigger trays/ containers. the worms help aeriating and improving the soil and help processing the leaves/kitchenscraps. they ll propagate there, so the worm-population (worm bag or garden) will be imporved, also.


i work on that system to stay independent of bought pottingsoil/seed-starting-mix for plants in our flat. and for convenient disposal and harvesting of used soil with the worm bag. in our garden we ll have enough finished compost in 1 or 2 years. should be much better than what we found there.
 
Gabriel Goto
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R Ranson wrote:I merged your stuff with the following thread. I hope that is okay by you.


Absolutely! The information provided is excellent.
 
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