Posted on 07 January 2011 by

Spring Tonic for the Gardener’s Elbow & Soilless Mix

soilless-mixBy Mindy McIntosh-Shetter

This time of year my mind starts wondering around the planting table and my garden elbow begins to ache with an uncontrollable desire to start planting my seeds.

I have dealt with this ailment for many years not only in my professional life but also in personal life.

The only cure for this “gardener’s disease” is to get one’s hands into soil immediately.

But in the calendar on the wall says it’s too soon so what to do.

The solution that gives me some relief from my gardening elbow and planting itch is to start making the soil I plan to use for to start my seeds in. This soil is easy to make and provides the most delicate seeds with a good growing medium to take their first breath on and lay down their first roots.

This soil medium is considered a soilless mix and requires the ingredients below. It keeps well in a sealed container until needed.

Soilless Mix for Seeds

  • 2 bushels horticultural perlite vermiculite, calcined clay or humus
  • 2 bushels of coarse sphagnum peat moss or shredded pine bark
  • 6 ounces 20 % superphosphate
  • 12 ounces dolomitic or ground limestone
  • 6 ounces complete fertilizer such as 8-8-8- or 10-10-10
  • Mask, optional
  • Goggles, optional
  • Gloves, optional

Mix all ingredients in a large container with a lid. Once mixed place lid on and store.

When the February winds blow seeds can be started. To start this step gather containers that are at least 3-inches deep such as flats, milk jugs, egg cartons, or cardboard milk jugs. Wash containers in warm, soapy water and rinse in water with a splash of bleach. Let air-dry.

If repurposing items such as plastic milk or cardboard milk jugs is your choice of containers remember to cut down to 3-inches and poke a few holes in the bottom for drainage.

Place soil in your chosen container and tap down on the table surface or counter. Before planting seeds examine them for viability. If they are moldy or several years old the chances are they are no longer viable. If they are new or saved from last year the germination rate should be excellent and these seeds should be used.

Plant seeds according to directions or follow the “Golden Rule of Planting Seeds” that states do not plant seeds deeper than 2 times their diameter. For larger seeds this Golden Rule is easy to follow but for small seeds such as lettuce, greens, and tomatoes this can be a problem. For those very small seeds only sprinkle them on the surface of the soil and cover with no more than a ¼-inch of soil.

The next important step is the initial watering of seeds. A hard spray or flow of water can dislodge the seeds and either plants them too deep, not deep enough or too close. The best approach is to mist the container until water begins to flow out of the drainage holes in the bottom.

Once the seeds are watered they will need to be covered with glass, plastic wrap or a plastic bag. If you planted in flats simply place a layer of newspaper over the flat and top with a pane of glass. This type of arrangement allows for flats to be stacked one on top of the other until seeds germinate. If you are repurposing a container then either cover with plastic wrap and secure with a rubber band or place in a plastic bag and seal.

Once seeds are planted place in a room that is at a constant temperature of 70F to 75F degrees. Check often to see if the seeds have germinated. A good rule to follow is to start checking after 3 days and then every 2 days after that until you begin to see green dots emerging.

After you see the first green appear remove glass or plastic from the top of the container and place seedlings in a sunny window with container on a tray. Placing the container on a tray will protect the surface from water damage.

The success of planting seeds comes from following some basic rules. One plant seeds in rows that are 2-inches apart. This allows seedlings to have growing room and reduces the chances of “damping off.” Next while every garden says they will remember what they planted and where always, always, always label what you have planted along with the date you started the seed. This makes gardening more fun, organized, and less stressful.

Also consider wearing goggles, gloves and a paper mask when mixing soil and placing it in containers. Some ingredients in soil or soilless mixes can be harmful if inhaled. And finally remember that even the most seasoned gardener has had trouble germinating seeds so do not be discouraged if you have a bad germination rate. It’s all in the game and hobby of gardening.

So until we blog again, Aches and pains come and go but the desire to garden is still felt in the bone. The only treatment that can be found is the creation of the soil by which the seeds will settle down, into their slumber until spring comes around.

One Response to “Spring Tonic for the Gardener’s Elbow & Soilless Mix”

  1. Suburban Hobby Farmer Best of the Blogs Friday Jan. 7 Says:

    […] Spring Tonic for the Gardener Mindy shares her recipe for seed starting that includes subjects like ingredients for the soilless mix, the golden rule for planting seeds, watering and more. […]

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