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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Soil Mixes Experimenting (Part 1)

Ok, so I have finally came up with my soil mixes that I will be experimenting with. I have also bought the seeds that I will be using in the experiments. I will be using Tomato Costoluto Genovese by Thompson & Morgan. I got them from Gales Garden Center, and choose these particular tomatoes mainly because they had a lot of seeds in the package (450 seeds), they were also pretty cheap ($2.69 -20% discount). This tomato is a beefsteak with a cool ribbed look to it. 450 seeds should hopefully be enough for me to experiment with, hopefully :) For each soil mix I will be planting 10 seeds in each, that should be enough for me to get some accurate results.

So now you know what the seeds are, and here are the seeds starting mixes. Most of the mixes I got from a good site with Potting Mixes for Certified Organic Production (site by ATTRA) on this page not only do they have many, many organic soil mixes but they also describe the ingredients used in all of them, good info.

Seed Starting Mix #1 This mix is a very simple mix that I have wanted to try myself for a while

2 parts Peat moss
1 part Vermiculite

Seed Starting Mix (+Fertilizer) #2
This mix will actually be the same as mix #1 except I would like to experiment with fertilizing these seedlings soon after they have sprouted. Normally I do not fertilize seedlings till after they have been transplanted if I am going to do so. But since I am experimenting I will be trying things that I don't normally do, why not, right? I am not exactly sure what I will be fertilizing with yet, but will figure it out soon.

2 part Peat moss
1 part Vermiculite
Fertilize after sprouting

Seed Starting Mix #3
This one I found on the ATTRA site linked above (Titled- Sowing Mix).

5 parts compost
4 parts soil
1-2 parts sand
1-2 parts leaf mold
1 part peat moss

Above is the exact mix recipe from the website, I may end up altering it when I mix it, will see.

Seed Starting Mix (+Fertilizer) #4
The next recipe will also be for the ATTRA site (Titled- Tipi Produce Recipe).

2 parts Sphagnum peat moss
1 part coarse vermiculite
1 part coarse perlite

+fertilizing mixture of:
3 parts steamed bone meal
2 parts kelp meal
2 parts blood meal
1-2 parts dolomitic limestone

The original recipe called for larger portions but I cut them down since I will not need to mix such large quantities for experimenting.

Seed Starting Mix #5
Not sure what this mix is going to be yet, most likely I will just use one of the above mixes (maybe mix #1 or #4) and try fertilizing the seedlings with another fertilizer mix that I come up with.

I almost forgot I will be starting some in the normal store bought mix that I normally start my seeds in, so that will be Seed Starting Mix #6.

So those are my mixes. I will be starting the seeds probably some time this week or next weekend. I have to get my regular seeds started first and I also must get the mixes ready and I also plan to do soil tests on all the mixes first before planting.

I can not wait to actually get started with the planting and start to see some results, it should be interesting.

Just thought I would give a little info on the different ingredients that my mixes will consist of.

Peat Moss
Description- comes from (bet you couldn't guess) the sphagnum moss plant
pH- Acid
Nutrients- does not contain any itself, but will absorb them very well
Benefit- light weight, can hold water well if not allowed to completely dry out
Other Info- Some love peat moss and others hate it, I am kind of in between. If allowed to completely dry out it can be extremely hard to get wet again evenly. On the other hand if it is kept wet it can be better for a potted plant than regular soil (texture wise).

Description- A mineral similar in appearance to mica
pH- near neutral
Nutrients- contains calcium, magnesium and potassium
Benefit- aids in air circulation
Other Info- It is very light weight, if the soil you are planting in is heavy or more compact adding vermiculite can allow the soil to breathe. All plants need some are circulation, and if you have a problem with that, vermiculite may be just what you need to help.

Description- Decomposed leaves, grass, plants, vegetables, the list goes on and on
Nutrients- A very nutrient rich source
Benefit- A lot depends on what is in your mixture, but compost is one of the best nutrient providing substances that you can add to a soil mixture.
Other Info-

Description- Regular topsoil
Nutrients- May also be a nutrient rich source (a lot depends on the quality of the top soil)
Other Info- Some say and believe that regular soil is not good for potting mixes because it tends to become to compact and not allow optimal air circulation, of coarse I am determined to find out how true that is. I myself want to believe that regular soil can be a good part of a potting mix if mixed correctly along with other ingredients, we will see. I could be wrong or I could be right.

Description- coarse sand is best, fine sand can become to compact for plant to grow
pH- neutral
Nutrients- Does not hold water very well, thus nutrients tend to drain through along with the water
Benefit- Drains very easily, also warms up very quickly (just think of how hot a sandy beach can be on you bare feet)
Other Info- Sand can be good and have benefits, just not all by itself

Leaf Mold
Description- Decomposed leaves
pH- on the acid side
Nutrients- calcium and magnesium
Benefit- Increases moisture in the soil
Other Info-

Description- A volcanic rock
pH- neutral
Nutrients- Potassium
Benefit- aids in air circulation and improve water drainage, also will hold 3 to 4 times its weight in water without causing potting mix to become overly wet
Other Info- When heated perlite expands to as much as twenty times is original size, and becomes very light and kind of puffy, much different from its original rock form

For Fertilizers:

Bone Meal
Description- crushed and ground bones
pH- alkaline
Nutrients- phosphorus, calcium
Release Rate- Very slow, coarse grade will last longer than fine grade will
Benefit- Promotes good root growth (which makes them good for root crops such as carrots and onions) and is also good for plants that form tubers and bulbs.

Kelp Meal
Description- Dried and ground seaweed
pH- neutral
Nutrients- potassium, and good source of many micronutrients as well
Release Rate- slow
Benefit- Aids in seed germination, contributes to good plant and root growth, and can aid in control against plant diseases

Blood Meal
Description- dried powdered blood
pH- may raise the acid level in soil
Nutrients- one of the best sources of nitrogen
Release Rate- slow
Benefit- Use to add nitrogen to soil

Description-(also known as Lime)
pH- will lower acid level in soil (more alkaline)
Nutrients- calcium and magnesium
Release Rate-
Benefit- (Wood ashes and eggshells could also be used instead of lime)

In doing research on the above components of my soil mixes I also learned that both vermiculite and perlite can be used alone by themselves to help start root cuttings. Sounds like a good experiment for the future, doesn't it? Starting plants from cuttings using different methods. Ok, sorry, one thing at a time, right? But it is something to keep in mind for the future :)

When I was searching around on the web I also ran across this tread on the Garden Web, What is a substitute for Seaweed or Kelp Meal? I thought it contained some good info and thought it was worth mentioning, and may also provoke some more good experiments in the future.


Just in case you would like some more useful info on the subject, here are some more good sites with lots of info on fertilizers, soil amendments, and soil mix ingredients:

Contains charts for what to use for what problems
Organic Fertilizer and Soil Amendment Guide

Here is a link to the ATTRA site again, but this page is a list of soil amendments
ATTRA- Alternative Soil Amendments

More soil mix recipes
Potting Soil Recipes from Backyardgardener.com


Well I think that is enough for now, wow what a long post. Now I have to get to work with planting my seeds. I know, still have not done that yet, really need to get that done. Off to work.

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