New Lebanon, New York
Local food/farms
10 April 2015 08:58AM
Laura Shea-2


As we seem to be cautiously dipping our toes into Actual Spring these days, my fear of starting seeds has begun to subside.

PHOTO #1: We are NOT scared to plant.

So, we started the day by digging out our seed trays and then heading over to the local garden supply store to get as many bags of organic seed-starting soil as we could find.

But, we could find zero.

Sadly, there was no shortage of the commercial, fertilizer-rich stuff.

That stuff was everywhere.

They did have organic potting soil and, while this isn’t ideal for starting seeds, it is a good jumping-off point.

We decided to make our own seed-starting soil and considered what we’d need.

PHOTO #2: A start.

Our soil is heavy and clay-rich. Because of this, we are constantly (by which I mean, yearly) adding infusions of rotted horse manure, home compost, and organic topsoil to slowly change the composition of the soil we need to work.

For seed-starting, however, we needed to mix the potting soil with vermiculite to condition the soil. This addition helps create air channels which allow the soil mix to breathe. The air is necessary to allow for healthy root development and expansion, as well as maintaining vigorous plant growth.

PHOTO #3: Adding organic vermiculite to the soil

This mixture creates a balance between moisture retention and sufficient drainage–the two most important features for seedling success.

If the soil becomes too wet, something called “damping-off” can occur. This is a fungal disease that ends with the depressing death of the newly-germinated seedlings.

They literally drop dead.

This is not a good way to start a garden.

Just as undesirable is if the soil dries out too quickly. In this case, the seedlings will simply lose color, shrivel up, and die.

By including organic compost, topsoil, vermiculite, and rotty manure in our mix, we hope we’ve hit a harmonious note that should yield good results for our seeds.

Now, if we could just find a way to convince the stores that organic supplies are worth keeping on their shelves, perhaps more folks would use organically-produced products.

In the meantime, I guess we’ll all just have to soil ourselves.

PHOTO #4: Our mix

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