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Seed Starting Soil Mix


Starting Seeds!
Simplest is right in the ground where you want your seeds to live when they grow up! It’s easy to make special soil for indoor seed starting. If they need a little tlc who says you can’t put this mix in a little planting hole or trench and start your seeds right where you want them in the ground?! Transplant your indoor seedlings when they and the temps are ready or the right space opens up. Or ditch the mix and just buy a bag of great starter ‘soil.’ Starting your seeds indoors and early gets your plants in the ground SIX WEEKS sooner!

Starting Seedlings is a sacred art all its own! It starts with the ‘soil’ they are planted in.

Number 1 is in the Earth herself!

Whether as is, or amended, planting in the ground, in good loose loamy soil, is just about as nutritious as it gets! The soil organisms, mycorrhizal fungi, oxygen, moisture, bird, animal poop and worm castings, and decayed leaves/plants, minerals, create a rich humus. Humus holds water. Tiny roots find their way through and a thriving plant is born.

Worm castings are a special addition because they help with immunity and, they speed germination!

The advantage of starting seeds in the earth is they don’t have to be transplanted later. Some seedlings have super delicate root systems, others, like carrots, put down tap roots instantly and transplanting can damage those important roots. In the case of carrots, that quick root IS the carrot!

You need to wait until the last average frost date, and start them when both air and soil temps are right for that plant. You can always take a chance and plant earlier in the ground, that there won’t be a stretch of exceptionally cold weather and no freezes. Of course when we say ‘average,’ you are still taking a chance. If there is a late freeze, you either start all over again or head to your local nursery for transplants. Some gardeners, who especially want that particular variety (that they can’t get at nurseries) do backup indoor starts just in case this very thing happens.

DIY Seed Starting Mixes

If it isn’t a year round in-the-ground plant, you get a 6 to 8 week’s time advantage by starting seedlings earlier indoors or in greenhouses before the last average frost date. It is important to get indoor early-started seedlings in the ground when they are mature enough and ground and air temps are right. One way to cover that problem is to plant two or three rounds. One will be right when conditions outdoors are right.

Start with peat moss or coir. Blend it with treated compost that has been heated to 150 degrees to kill off pathogens/weed seeds. Add worm castings, no more than 10% by volume.

Damping off, kinda like crib death, is a sad foe of seedlings. No fix, no cure. The baby just topples overnight and it’s over. A 2005 North Carolina State University study found it’s not the mixture but what’s on top of the soil that counts most. Damping off differences almost disappeared between commercial organic seed-starting mixtures and various homemade mixtures after all of the seeds were covered with vermiculite instead of a planting medium.

Cinnamon for Seedling Damping Off Disease Prevention!

The super simplest home prevention is Cinnamon! Just sprinkle it on the soil! Sprinkle on plant injuries and they will heal. It is a rooting hormone. Mildew, mold, fungal diseases? Mix 4 tablespoons cinnamon in a half gallon warm water, shake it vigorously, steep overnight. Strain through a sieve or coffee filter and put it in a spray bottle. Add ¼ teaspoon liquid dish soap as a surfactant, lightly spritz your plants, undersides and tops of leaves! (In Santa Barbara area buy powdered cinnamon in big containers at Smart & Final.) Also, it repels ants!

What is Vermiculite?! It is composed of two natural minerals, absorbs and retains several times its own weight in moisture while still holding some oxygen.

Rodale’s April Johnson says seedlings need a loose, well-drained fine medium. Don’t use potting soil – often, it’s too rich, doesn’t drain well enough. April, who has experimented many years, prefers this mix:

4 parts screened compost
1 part perlite
1 part vermiculite
2 parts coir

Barb Fick, consumer horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service, explains that our typical backyard soil is too compacted, full of weed seeds and it is not pasteurized, causing seedling diseases and death, often doesn’t drain as well as seedling mixes. It can develop a crust that prevents seedlings from pushing through the soil. Barb’s recipe is

one-third pasteurized soil or finished compost
one-third sand, vermiculite or perlite
one-third peat moss

Or, just use half peat moss and half perlite, vermiculite or sand.

You can see from this last combination, that soil or compost is not needed to get a seed started! However, if you don’t use compost, when your seedling gets true leaves (the first two after the cotyledons), it gets hungry as the nutrition in the seed is used up! Give it a spritz of half strength fish emulsion. Some nurseries lace their planting mixes with those little tiny fertilizer pellets. Your baby plant gets nutrition when it needs it.

Before planting, clean your pots, trays and flats. Rinse them in one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water solution to kill plant disease microorganisms that could weaken or kill your tender young seedlings.

Wet your soil before you plant. Keep adding your starter mix until you get the level you want. Leave enough room to add a thin layer of vermiculite on top after you plant your seeds.

Chopsticks can be used in a couple helpful ways. Mark one of them at 1/4, 1/2, and 1″ on the stick. That way you can get your seeds at the right planting depth. Using your marked stick keeps you mindful; planting goes faster with less wondering! Seeds planted too shallow can dry out, too deep they take longer or never come up – they can use up all their nutrients before they make it.

If you are installing delicate sprouts, make a planting hole, and if you are good with chopsticks, grasp the sprout gently, carefully place it. Smooth the soil, water gently. Check out Seed Soaking/Presprouting Tips & Ideas!

Rather than top watering, causing your seeds to be washed, bunched to the side, buried too deep, or uncovered, or tiny just-starting seedlings to be damaged, you can put your planting containers in a tray with water in it and let the water wick up into your seedling mix. Wicking is good; all the soil gets wetted. Keep a spray bottle handy for any top watering you think they need. Set it on mist to start.

Here are another couple recipes!

4 parts fine compost
2 parts coir or peat moss
1 part vermiculite
1/2 part perlite

If you don’t want to sift compost:

3 parts peat moss or coir
1 part vermiculite
1/2 part perlite
1/4 tsp lime/gallon peat moss (don’t add if using coir)

You see gardeners have their preferences, even the pros differ! Go by your own intuition. Maybe you will use one mix for some plants, another mix for others. Your own mix might be different than any of these. Experiment, but maybe try an old standard at the same time just in case your mix doesn’t work. Might take you a few seasons to find what works best for the particular plants you grow.

Readymade Seed Starting Mix

Pre-made mixes have advantages! First, mainly that they are premade! Just go get ’em! But, just in case, do read the ingredients list. They come in small or large bags. The mix is pasteurized. Some of them have wetting agents. Yes! Others have lime for pH balance to stop damping off. Instead of buying all kinds of bags of component materials, then storing all the extra leftover stuff, you use what you use, store the one bag, and that’s it! Unless you have a large scale operation and have specific needs, premade mixes are perfect!

Have fun raising your baby plants!

Latest update 12.25.19

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The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA, Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are in a fog belt/marine layer area most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

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Choose the right manure for your Veggie Garden!

Manure is an organic amendment. Organic matter improves soil aeration, water infiltration, and both water- and nutrient-holding capacity. Well aged organic matter is an important energy source for bacteria, fungi and earthworms that live in the soil. All your soil needs is 3% organic matter! You can see how adding too much manure can upset your soil balance really quickly. Sometimes soils are ‘poor’ because they are over amped!

Fresh manure is a no, no! Ammonia is not good for your plants. A minimum of 6 months to a year of aging is recommended. Composting manure changes it – ammonia off gasses, there is less Nitrogen, but more phosphorus, potassium, and salts. If salt levels are high in your garden, no adding manures! Home composting simply doesn’t get hot enough to get rid of pathogens. That’s why manures are not recommended for veggie gardens, especially for soil touching root crops like carrots, radishes, and lower lettuce leaves. Yet manures have been used for centuries for growing veggies. But, be warned, ok? Organic farmers follow strict guidelines when using manures. If you have plenty of time, in winter simply till it into the soil and wait for Mama nature to do her work; plant in spring! The exceptions are rabbit or goat, sheep that compost in place quickly. Dig ’em right in.

Manures and grass clippings decompose quickly, days to weeks. Compost takes longer, 6 months, depending on the system you use and how you do it. When applying to your garden, a combination will give immediate and long term improvement. Sheet composting can be speeded up by using THIN layers of chopped green wet materials in combination with straw brown dry layers. Remember, manures and compost are not quick fixes for ailing yellowing plants low in Nitrogen. If you need quick, blood meal and fish emulsions will work faster.

The word on Cow Manures! Hold your nose. They contain methane. What goes in comes out, that could be hormones, chemicals. That’s not organic. It’s less ‘hot’ than chicken manure. Dairy cow manure is more water holding than steer manure. Ask if there is straw or sawdust mixed in. That’s good for composting, but not if the nutrient content is reduced by waste water and urine also mixed in.

Buy manures bagged, or find a SAFE local source.

  • Ask what the creature has been eating. If a horse, you may get lots of weed seeds if they field forage. They only digest about 1/4 of all the grass and grains they consume. Cows, on the other hand, have 4 stomachs, so their manure is more digested, equals less seeds.
  • Ask if the animals or chickens have been given any hormones or drugs like antibiotics.
  • Has any of their food or bedding had an herbicide used on it?
  • Ask if the manure pile has been sprayed with insecticide to kill flies or keep them away.
  • Are the animals healthy?

Rabbit or goat, sheep? Rabbit! It’s twice as high in Nitrogen, 3.5%!  Work any of these three manures, these fab little pellets, fresh right into the top 2” of your soil! All that area that’s exposed makes them compost right in place quickly, and they don’t burn your plants! With bedding they are great in compost piles!

Cat, dog or pig manure are not good. They can have infectious parasites. Cat manure can be harmful to unborn babies.

One of the oldest, safest sources of Nitrogen, urea breaks down fast in your soil, compost pile or compost tea. The human NPK ratio is almost 45-0-0!  Be careful, it’s potent. Dilute it, a lot, unless you use it along perimeters to discourage predators or gophers.

All raw bird manure is premixed with urine and manure.

  1. That would be bat and seabird guanos. Bird guanos are not a quick fix; they take awhile to break down in your soil. Adding guanos high in P, Phosphorus, at planting time is perfect timing for when your plants are ready to bloom! Some say they are better applied as foliar teas, but still, the release time per Colorado University Extension is FOUR MONTHS even for powdered guano! Know your guanos! Guanos vary hugely in NPK percents! Mexican bat is high N (leaf growth, plant vigor) 10-2-1. Jamaican bat is high phosphorus (blooms) 1-10-0.2. Peruvian seabird is high in N and P (leaf and bloom) 10-10-2. Jamaican is your best choice. Bone Meal gives early blooms. Add Jamaican for late season blossoms!
  2. Chicken! Besides eggs, they make grand hot manure for the dollar! Perfect for high production leaf crops like lettuces. And, it suppresses nematodes.  3-4-2 Be very careful using it. Nursery bags are composted at the right ratios, ready to use.  Strawberries don’t like the salts in chickie manure.
  3. Pigeon?!  Yes, prized in Europe as super manure!  It’s the winner at 4.2-3-1.4  And, if you find it available, it’s likely free! From Compost This: ‘…only compost it from healthy, captive birds (such as racing stock), as poop from wild birds may contain harmful diseases or pathogens.’ It needs composting, is highly alkaline, so don’t use it with acid needing plants like strawberries, beans, celery. See more

Vermicompost – worm manure!  According to Rhonda Sherman, North Carolina State University:

‘Earthworm casts are covered with mucus from their intestinal tract; this layer provides a readily available carbon source for soil microbes and leads to a flush of microbial activity in fresh casts. Vermicompost improves soil structure, reduces erosion, and improves and stabilizes soil pH. In addition, vermicompost increases moisture infiltration in soils and improves its moisture holding capacity.

Plant growth is significantly increased by vermicompost, whether it is used as a soil additive, a vermicompost tea, or as a component of horticultural soilless container media. Vermicompost causes seeds to germinate more quickly, seedlings to grow faster, leaves grow bigger, and more flowers, fruits or vegetables are produced. These effects are greatest when a smaller amount of vermicompost is used—just 10-40 percent of the total volume of the plant growth medium in which it is incorporated. Vermicompost also decreases attacks by plant pathogens, parasitic nematodes and arthropod pests.’  The Soil Ecology Center at Ohio State University is the leading vermicomposting research laboratory in the United States. it includes scientific papers on vermicomposting.

Worms are easy to tend, use your green waste, you know what they have been fed.  The more quality stuff you feed them, the more quality comes out!

Green Manure – Grow Your Own! Over winter, or when you soil will be unplanted for a time, legumes, like favas and clovers, and blue lupines, peas, clover, buckwheat, Lucerne, oats, broad beans and wheat, are perfect to plant. Not only are they a living mulch, but legumes feed your soil, gathering N from the air, depositing it in little nodules on their roots! Chop and drop your crop, let it lay on the surface 3 or so weeks, dig it into the top 6”, leave all those nodules right where they will do the most good! Presto! Plant your crop in about 2 to 3 weeks!

Pellets or piles, be knowledgeable in your choices. A combination works best, providing the various nutrients your plants need for their overall health! Sometimes FREE is not a good choice.  Ask questions and if you still don’t feel right about it when the ‘right’ answers are given, trust yourself. Could be the stuff is good but not the right thing for your plants right at that time. Or maybe the answers weren’t completely honest. Wait. Do something else. Or nothing. Your plants’ lives depend on you.

Last updated 4.23.20

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Love your Mother! Plant bird & bee food! Think grey water! Grow organic! Bless you for being such a wonderful Earth Steward!

The Green Bean Connection started as correspondence for the Santa Barbara CA USA Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden. All three of Santa Barbara city’s community gardens are very coastal. During late spring/summer we are often in a fog belt/marine layer most years, locally referred to as the May grays, June glooms and August fogusts. Keep that in mind compared to the microclimate niche where your veggie garden is.

Read Full Post »

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