Making Sense Of Seed Starting Mixes


Gardening is a joyful collaboration between God and man. God blesses us with all the things we need to grow food –fertile earth, rainfall, and sunlight. In return, we till the earth to bring forth a harvest, and offer our thanks to the Lord.  In Isaiah 55:10, we read:

“For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater.“

Here we learn that the Lord sends forth rain and snow, not for His benefit, but for ours. Later, in verse 12, we read:

“For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

Although these scriptures allude to the salvation offered to all men, they also offer vivid imagery of the bounties of the earth. Planting a tiny seed and watching it grow is truly a joyful and miraculous experience, which can increase our faith in a living God.

If you’ve gained some experience with basic vegetable gardening techniques, you might be interested in the next step, which is starting seeds indoors. Through this highly satisfying process, you can avoid the high cost of nursery plants. You can use heirloom, open-pollinated seeds which you’ve saved from previous harvests. You can also plant a much more varied selection of plants than if you relied solely on nursery transplants.

To start seeds yourself, you first need a good starting medium. Regular garden soil is too heavy for good germination and often harbors diseases, which thrive in the moist, warm environment necessary for seed starting. Commercial seed starting mixes are expensive and may contain pesticides. Make your own instead by following one of two recipes from the Oregon State University Extension.

Recipe 1:

Combine equal parts peat moss and perlite, vermiculite or sand.

Recipe 2:

Combine one part pasteurized soil or compost, one part sand, one part vermiculite or perlite, and one part peat moss. To pasteurize soil, which kills any pathogens, spread the soil on a cookie sheet and place in an oven set at 250 degrees. Bake for thirty minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the soil reads 180 degrees.

Both recipes work well. The first recipe is simpler, but costs a bit more. The second recipe is more labor-intensive, but costs less because you use ordinary garden soil as an ingredient. To start seeds, fill seed starting trays, empty yogurt cups, or plastic containers with the seed-starting medium. Cut slits in containers so water will drain.

Plant the seeds six to eight weeks before the last expected frost. Sow the seeds shallowly, with the exception of large seeds, such as bean or pumpkin seeds. Sow these at least half an inch to one inch deep. Fill a spray bottle with water and mist the soil so it is damp, but not soggy. Cover the seed tray with plastic wrap and place in a warm location, such as on a heating blanket set to low or on a radiator or the top of the refrigerator. Check the seeds frequently and moisten the soil so it stays evenly moist. Once the seedlings germinate and appear, remove the plastic wrap and move the seed tray to a sunny window or place the tray under a grow light. Keep the soil moist. Move the seedlings outdoors when they stand four inches high.

To minimize transplant shock, harden the seedlings off before planting them in the garden. Place them outdoors in a sheltered location for a few hours each day. Slowly extend the time to acclimate them to outdoor conditions.

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