I'm more than ready to start the new gardening season. I've BEEN ready since the last one ended. I went through my saved refrigerated seeds last month and bought replacements for the ones getting too old or that had been used up last year. I emptied old soil out of planting pots. I cleaned all the pots and planting trays. I threw away the damaged ones and got new replacements out of the shed.
A little story on that. 15 years ago, I bought a nearly lifetime supply of trays and 6-packs. It made sense. At the bulk prices, more started to become almost free. I'm only 1/2 through the BIG BOXES now.
But what I didn't have was seed-starting soil. And that is slightly a technical term. It's not "potting soil" (though I have often used that in the past and it seems to work pretty well). Seed-starting soil is sterile and has no fertilizer. That helps avoid moss growth, fungal diseases (a seedling's worst enemy), and weeds. Plus, the stuff is very loose so roots grow quickly.
This year, the only seed-starting mix I could find was ridiculously expensive and even the potting soil was poor (highly-fertilized Miracle-Gro or a cheaper brand that was (I discovered last year) dyed to look better than it was and wouldn't retain any moisture.
So I decided to return to my past habits and mix my own seed-starting soil... My gardening book had a good recipe: 4 parts compost, 2 parts peat moss, 1 part vermiculite, and 1/2 part perlite. I can't tell you what vermiculite is (does "hydrous phyllosilicate mineral" tell you anything? Me neither). All I know is that it is lightweight, non-compacting, and retains water. Perlite looks like ground-up styrofoam, but it seems to be like popcorn made from volcanic ash. It is also very light and holds water.
I don't have to know that, just that those 4 items make a really good seed-starting soil. So I found all the ingredients over the weekend and set about mixing them together today. OMG! It took 4 hours. I had to sift the peat moss and compost through 2 meshed screens (when you are filling 2" planting cubes, you can't have sticks and pieces of bark in there). Then I had to mix the sifted peat moss and compost with the vermiculite and perlite.
I have to laugh. It took four 5 gallon buckets and 3 large trash cans and a small 1 gallon bucket as a scoop, a lot of lifting and dumping, and when I was done I had enough on the basement floor to fill a 5 gallon bucket to add into the finished product. I filled a 40 gallon trash barrel right to the top perfectly!
Its the best-looking seed-starting soil I've ever seen. I figure it cost $50. An equal amount of commercial product (with fertilizer I didn't want, dyes I didn't want, and less of the vermiculite and perlite I did want) would have cost almost the same ($48).
But I still have 2/3 of my raw materials leftover! So for 4 hours work, I have a better quality seed-starting soil at 1/3 the cost plus more raw material for future use. I am very pleased with my work.
Tomorrow, I plant seeds!