The New Home Economics

Starting seeds? Peat alternatives

5 Comments

If you’ve done any gardening, you’ve likely read that peat moss is a great soil amendment. It is. However, peat moss is–surprise!–not a great choice if you consider the source. Peat bogs are fragile ecosystems that sequester a lot of carbon from the atmosphere, and, like other swamps and watershed areas, help purify run-off water before it can get into our streams and rivers.  Now, the Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss Growers association will tell you that peat bogs can, in fact, be restored. I hope that’s true, but I’m trying to move toward using byproducts instead of, well, products.

Fortunately Mother Earth Gardens, right here in south Minneapolis, is a great source for sustainability-minded gardeners. I picked up some peat-free seed starting medium yesterday:

It contains coconut husk fiber, “forest products,” parboiled rice hulls, and worm castings. It has a real nice texture and the added bonus of not puffing up all weirdly like the peat-based seed-starting mixes do when you add water. Now, neither coconut husk fiber nor rice hulls are exactly a local product for me here in Minnesota.  (Neither is peat.) But they are byproducts, so that’s an improvement.  Will they work?  I’ll let you know.

I’m keeping my seed starting modest again this year, with just one flat on top of the refrigerator under my JumpStart light system. The plantable pots are also made of coconut husk fiber, also called “Coconut Coir.” I plan to buy several peppers and tomato plants at the Friends School Plant sale; they always have a good variety of heirlooms.

Another thing I’m trying this year:

Now that my pickle fridge is almost empty (boo!) I have another flat of recycled plant and yogurt containers chilling out in there.  I plan to convert my boulevard to all native prairie plants this year, so I’m starting some of those seeds, too.  Here I have 5 each of Prairie Blazing Star, Butterflyweed, and Little Bluestem.  Chilling seeds like this is called stratification — it fools the seeds into thinking they were lying under snow all winter.

I also plan to pick up some more prairie plants at the plant sale in May, but starting a few of my own will reduce my bill a bit.  After they chill out in the fridge until the early part of April, I’ll move them out onto the deck to get them sprouting.  (I’ll most likely have to take them in every night for the first few weeks at least.)

Planting fever is upon me!

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5 thoughts on “Starting seeds? Peat alternatives

  1. Pingback: Worm Casting Experiment 1S « From Dirt to Dinner

  2. I might have to ask for tips on native grasses. Our new house has a knoll in the back that’s been weedy with goldenrod and buckthorn. Buckthorn’s invasive and goldenrod creates allergies, so we’ll be re-doing that area, and we’ve still been deciding what to do with it. Native grasses will probably fit nicely whatever it is. I was also thinking dogwood (which is probably just deer treats) and milkweed.

  3. great tips! i’m starting some seeds (a bit late, i know) this weekend and will definitely hit up mother earth for that seed starting mix. i would LOVE to convert my boulevard too, but i think that’s going to wait until next year. i do plan on incorporating more and more native prairie plants into my front yard garden, though. can’t wait to see how yours turns out.

  4. Goldenrod generally is not responsible for allergic reactions as people think it is — the culprit is probably ragweed, which blooms at the same time. Unless you’ve been tested by an allergist for goldenrod, I would suggest not blaming allergies on this innocent (although somewhat aggressive) native plant.

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