It is February which means it is time to start those indoor seeds!
One of the hardest things to figure out as a new gardener (at least for me) was what soil to use when. There's potting soil, top soil, raised bed soil, compost and so on. So let's take a minute to break down the first soil you will need to use this gardening season if you are starting your own seeds, seed starting soil.
If you start seeds inside you will hear/read a lot about special seed starting mix. The advertised "purpose" of using a special seed starting mix is to have a sterile soil that you can be sure has no chemicals or pathogens in it.
If you buy seed starting mixes from a store or nursery you will notice they generally come in small packages and can be a bit pricey. If you are only starting a few trays of seeds a small bag is probably fine for you, but if you are starting a larger amount of seeds you may end up spending a small fortune if you buy a bunch of those little bags.
Well here's my take: SEED STARTING MIX IS NOT NECESSARY.
I start thousands of seeds each year and have never used seed starting mix. Okay that's a lie, I bought a small bag of the stuff once and started a few trays of seeds with it and didn't really understand why I was spending so much money on the stuff when it is mostly just peat moss.
You can use any soil to start your seeds. I use Pro-mix potting soil that I get at Wal Mart. It is inexpensive, cheaper than if you were to make a mixture yourself, and way cheaper than any soil marketed as seed starting mix. There are so many potting mixes out there you can use to start your seeds in that will not break your bank.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Moisture retention. When you pick a mix to start your seeds in look for something that holds moisture well, look in the ingredients for peat moss or coco coir. These ingredients will generally make up the bulk of the mixture. An indoor potting mix is a good option because they usually have great drainage and moisture retention. Having worm castings or other nutrients in the ingredients list is a huge bonus.
Drainage. You want something that is going to make your soil nice and aerated so the water drains well, such as perlite. You do not want your seedlings sitting in water or you will run into major problems down the road such as damping off and possible fungal diseases, both which will kill your plants.
Worm castings. Worm castings will give your seedling the nutrients they need without burning them or overloading them and harming them.
You will want to avoid planting in JUST peat moss or cocoa coir. They are great mixed with other amendments like perlite and vermiculite but alone they are going to turn into a hard, compact brick of soil that will decrease your germination rates.
Topsoil. It is not going to give your seeds and seedlings enough aeration or drainage to thrive.
Compost. Compost is great mixed in with other things but alone it is not the best option because it will dry out quickly and you will have to water a lot. It is a great option to add to your own mixture of peat moss/cocoa coir to help retain moisture and something like vermiculite or perlite for added drainage.
Is there anything wrong with using seed starting mix ABSOULTELY NOT, just know there are other alternatives out there that will get the job done just as well, if not better.
P.S. Be sure to get that soil nice and wet before you plant in it for best results.