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Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

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Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  Shpigford on 2/7/2014, 8:28 am

In the SFG book, they suggest sprouting seeds in pure vermiculite and then moving those to seed trays w/ Mel's Mix until they're ready to be transplanted outdoors.

The vermiculite-seed-sprouting step seems like a lot of hassle, so is there any real reason not to just start seeds directly in seed trays using Mel's Mix?

Curious what the pro's/con's are.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  landarch on 2/7/2014, 9:04 am

You want your seed starting mix to be sterile to help prevent disease.  You would probably need to sterilize your Mels Mix...I think others have posted about using the microwave to do this.

I buy a seed starting mix specifically for starting seeds...once the true leaves appear, I transplant into small containers of Mels Mix or aged compost.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  tumtumsback on 2/7/2014, 9:12 am

Don't quote me on this, as I could be completely wrong, but I think the reason Mel recommends starting in Vermiculite is because he is all about super-pampering of his babies. To me, it seems like starting a sprout in Vermiculite is like putting a baby to sleep in a bed with 600 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.

Throughout reading the book (2nd Edition All New Square Foot Gardening), I've gotten the feeling that the less stress that a plant endures during it's life, the more bountiful of a yield it will produce. Starting the "baby" off in Vermiculite might make it so it doesn't have to stress much to "stretch out it's arms;" as for me, I have been starting my seeds directly in MM and have had great success. I don't feel that starting in Vermiculite is necessary, but you get out what you put in. Maybe if I start my seeds in Vermiculite, instead of my eggplant weighing 4-6 oz a piece, they might weigh 4.1-6.1 oz a piece (yeah, super pampering)...

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  boffer on 2/7/2014, 10:00 am

@Shpigford wrote:...The vermiculite-seed-sprouting step seems like a lot of hassle, so is there any real reason not to just start seeds directly in seed trays using Mel's Mix?...
I agree with you, and start everything in MM.  At one time or another  I've started the seeds outdoors in MM, so  why not indoors as well.  

I keep temperature and humidity in the moderate range, and haven't had any disease issues.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  H_TX_2 on 2/7/2014, 12:21 pm

I just started some seeds and I did a combination of the two. I filled my pots with seed starting mix. I then used a pencil and created a hole in the middle of the mix about the width of my thumb and about 3/4 inch deep. I filled the hole with vermiculite and planted the seed in the vermiculite. The vermiculite should keep the seed nice and damp until it sprouts and then the seed can easily push through the vermiculite when it sprouts and send roots down into the seed starting mix.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  mapspringer on 2/7/2014, 1:33 pm

Last year I started seeds from a batch of MM that had already been outside in a box  and had no disease issues whatsoever.  I used my 2-inch soil block maker (which I absolutely LOVE) from Johnny's Seeds to make blocks of MM, and my starts grew strong and healthy under (2) 32w daylight shop lights.  This year I plan on mixing a fresh batch of MM specifically for making soil blocks.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  sanderson on 2/7/2014, 3:21 pm

I'm a one year Newbie. I have used MM for all my seeds over the last 12 months. I spritzed this time with a water-hydrogen peroxide mix to wet the surface. The only draw back I can see is that I have tomato seedlings in a lot of the pots. That's fine with seedlings with specific leaf shapes but a close call in the tomato pots. But since I used Mel's pencil and my straw to deposit each seed in a specific location, I usually know when a sprout is wrong. I will use a potting mix next year for my tomato seeds just to make sure!

A question for you experienced folks. Do tomato and pepper sprouts look the same until the true leaves appear??

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  plantoid on 2/8/2014, 12:33 am

Here is my take on why to use vermiculite against MM.

 MM is a fairly high nutrient soil less growth medium , it can have quite a variable moisture content in the top couple of inches  as well depending on the temperature and wind.

 Vermiculite has a more uniform capillary action to keep the top seed germinating layer at a consistent moisture level ( so long as there is indeed water available )  Plants just love constant conditions ..the more variable they are the more it affects the plants development .

The greatest secret of all gardeners , visible to the naked eye but hidden from many peoples brains is that plants grow well in consistent ideal conditions . ( Yes, that's common sense but most don't realize or practice it  )


Vermiculite has no nutrients as such , other than those provided in the water you put on it & the food etc. within the seed itself .
The seeds can happily germinate in this sterile medium , there is enough nutrient in the water long enough ( at least 4 to 5 days normally ) to develop a decent tap root & a decent fine capillary root system coming off the upper part of the tap root .

It can be interesting to set up an experiment of a couple of dozen small plant pots filled with MM in the bottom half and fine grade horticultural vermiculite in the top ,sow the seeds &  water gently .
On day three gently tip slide  the contents of the first pot out on to some black paper or surface carefully move the vermiculite aside till you find the seed . get a magnifying glass and look at the seed has it swollen ,has it split , where did it spit  , how long are the various roots .
The next day take the next pot and do the same ... if growth was not evident in the first pot it won't belong before you start to see when each day you empty a pot and examine the contents.

 

In MM the above root system can take in too much nutrients and affect the development of the plants ( they try and out grow what nature designed them as )  .
( commercially grown plants suffer from this tendency a heck of a lot as speed of through put is a commercial necessity in most cases )

Your plants tend to actually grow too fast in many cases , though it is not always apparent .  Nature has developed almost all our plant life to follow natures patterns .

 If you look at a natural grown plant that self seeded it germinates in the top 1/2 inch ( 15 mm ) or so of the rain washed out low  nutrient soil .

Once germinated it sends down long rap roots to anchor it , sends out capillary roots from nodes on the tap root to take  advantage of the nutrients found lower down in the soil , the capillary hair roots develop to bring in the moisture & nutrient in large enough quantities for the plant to survive .


Because you can also grow your pants inside and get a steal ahead on nature why would you choose not give the plants the optimum start in life ?

 Another fact is that when you germinate a seed in vermiculite that will eventually be planted out as an immature plant ..... say for instance a cabbage seed . There is little or no binding of the root system in the vermiculite as it is so light and uncompacted , you can easily lift the seedling out without breaking the delicate root system .

 In MM sown seeds  I guarantee that you do break a lot of the very fine capillary hairs, (unless you practice flooding the area with room temperature water and easing the seedling up on a spatula) this breaking of the capillary hairs does indeed hold back the plants development  for a short while till grows new hair roots & heals the damaged torn off root ends & fights off infection in the damaged areas . 


Perhaps it's better to think of it as a form of plant stress that need not happen because you now have the skills and knowledge to prevent it .  Stressed plants are like humans ..in that not being as healthy as unstressed ones , it  lends them to being prone to developing sicknesses during their lives .  You may not at first  be observant enough to see these small problems but they will be there


Now all the above may seem a total waste of time to many , you'll rarely notice the growth & health difference in the ways you raise your plant...... I can live with that.

Though to prove or disprove what I've said try the ideas , keep records and not only will you  learn more about your plants you'll start to see things that were hidden to your eyes & mind previously..

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  plantoid on 2/8/2014, 12:38 am

@tumtumsback wrote:Don't quote me on this, as I could be completely wrong, but I think the reason Mel recommends starting in Vermiculite is because he is all about super-pampering of his babies. To me, it seems like starting a sprout in Vermiculite is like putting a baby to sleep in a bed with 600 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.

Throughout reading the book (2nd Edition All New Square Foot Gardening), I've gotten the feeling that the less stress that a plant endures during it's life, the more bountiful of a yield it will produce. Starting the "baby" off in Vermiculite might make it so it doesn't have to stress much to "stretch out it's arms;" as for me, I have been starting my seeds directly in MM and have had great success. I don't feel that starting in Vermiculite is necessary, but you get out what you put in. Maybe if I start my seeds in Vermiculite, instead of my eggplant weighing 4-6 oz a piece, they might weigh 4.1-6.1 oz a piece (yeah, super pampering)...

That baby will have a better calmer start to life than a kiddy put in a lumpy bed made of hessian sacks full of dust .. treat your seeds like you would like to be treated yourself or perhaps even better and you'll get fantastic results .
 As for your last paragraph .. you may find that not only will you get a slightly bigger sized fruit  , there will be a few more of them and  you'll have them a couple of days earlier.


Last edited by plantoid on 2/8/2014, 12:44 am; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  martha on 2/8/2014, 12:41 am

Well written, Plantoid!

 way to go

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  Marc Iverson on 2/8/2014, 1:16 am

I was convinced before, but after reading plantoid's responses, I'm double-convinced!

In all fairness, though, I had to make some mistakes of my own before planting in sterile potting soil and then even in straight vermiculite started sounding better and better. And had to take a look at some things differently. The sprouts I grow (sandwich-eating type sprouts, I mean) are all grown in nothing but water and grow great ... so I've been seeing it provably true for years on end now that plants don't need nutrients to start out. Yet for some reason, I was at first reluctant to believe growing in a non-nutritive medium would be possible with ... other seeds. Why? Because I'm dopey, I guess.

Only caveat is, it's possible to water vermiculite too much. Doesn't mean you have to. But I did. And I thought I was being careful! Not careful enough, obviously.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  sanderson on 2/8/2014, 4:15 am

I'm going to have to seed some replacements and I think I will use vermiculite to get them started. Marc and Plantoid (and others), when do you put them in pots with MM or other potting material? It will still be a while before I put them out in the boxes.

Thanks

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  plantoid on 2/8/2014, 12:24 pm

I have been using a 1/2 to 3/3 filled plant pot using lightly pressed down sieved MM and use a pencil to poke a core 'hole into it , fill it level to the top of the hole with fine grade vermiculite,  lay the seed centrally on it and cover the seed with 3 to 5 times the height  of the seed with more vermiculite ( depends on how deep the seed is suggested to be planted. then water it with room temp rain water.


 Once the seed breaks out the vermiculite I leave it in place for another day or so till the second set of leaves develop into true leafs of the plant and the them take it off the heat& light  bed unless it is the type of tender plant that needs 50 o F ( 10 oC ) heat to grow (tomato's egg plants peppers etc.)

 I take the plant out into the glasshouse and put it in a bigger pot as follows.
 Half fill the bigger pot lightly tamp the mm down , slip in an empty pot of the same size that holds the plant , gently tamp some MM round the empty pot till you fill the bigger pot .
Remove the empty pot , you now have an excellent hole in the bigger pot for panting the plant .
Now carefully lay the plant & it's pot in one hand give it a tap and slip the core of MM vermiculite and plant into the cavity water it in with room temp rain water . My glasshouse bed is also heated so I put the newly planted pots on it set to 43 oF for the under bed heat and then cover the plants with a section of white garden fleece to retain the heat but allow the plants to breath .


 If you think about it the plants can be various sizes when the second leaf set develops ..it depends on what plant you are growing.
 For me this system works well
 I have also grown lots of plants in neat vermiculite filled egg cups , sowing several seds in each cup as needed .. once the seedling emerged and got to about 3/4 of an inch tall I've transplanted the emerged seedlings into the small sized pots filled as above  and if needed instead of planting out in the beds I've re-potted them to an even bigger pot.

You should remember like Mel says you can over pot a plant ... if you  use too big a pot ... it often tends to go tall and straggly.
I'm not sure it is because it gets lonely or if it is to do with nutrients available.  Laughing  Laughing

I've stopped growing in the neat vermiculite and potting on as soon as the  plant is about to put out the second set of leaves ( first true plant leaves )  as my spine ,  eyesight and finger tip sensitivity is not so good these days .

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  R&R 1011 on 2/8/2014, 1:45 pm

Is it okay to reuse vermiculite you've used for seed starting in Mels Mix?

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  plantoid on 2/8/2014, 2:29 pm

Is it okay to reuse vermiculite you've used for seed starting in Mels Mix?

Just incase I 've miss understood the post

I just  drop the used vermiculite  in the compost bin or put on one of the beds so the ultra violet from the sun can kill things off just incase it has started to develop mould spores etc. that can kill off the new seedlings or prevent the seeds ever making it to seedlings.


There is nothing more frustrating that wasting a week or so in your planting / growing  schedule because of you doing something that caused the delay .

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  R&R 1011 on 2/8/2014, 3:16 pm

@plantoid wrote:Is it okay to reuse vermiculite you've used for seed starting in Mels Mix?

Just incase I 've miss understood the post

I just  drop the used vermiculite  in the compost bin or put on one of the beds so the ultra violet from the sun can kill things off just incase it has started to develop mould spores etc. that can kill off the new seedlings or prevent the seeds ever making it to seedlings.


There is nothing more frustrating that wasting a week or so in your planting / growing  schedule because of you doing something that caused the delay .
That answers my question, thanks.  Smile

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  Marc Iverson on 2/8/2014, 3:35 pm

@sanderson wrote:I'm going to have to seed some replacements and I think I will use vermiculite to get them started. Marc and Plantoid (and others), when do you put them in pots with MM or other potting material? It will still be a while before I put them out in the boxes.

Thanks

Once they grow their true leaves, they're big enough to move out of seeding trays. And they don't need the warmth and humidity of a cover as much, so pots become more appropriate (and roomy).

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  Marc Iverson on 2/8/2014, 3:38 pm

@plantoid wrote:
 I take the plant out into the glasshouse and put it in a bigger pot as follows.
 Half fill the bigger pot lightly tamp the mm down , slip in an empty pot of the same size that holds the plant , gently tamp some MM round the empty pot till you fill the bigger pot .
Remove the empty pot , you now have an excellent hole in the bigger pot for panting the plant .

Love this! It's the type of thing that in hindsight seems so perfectly obvious that it's kind of embarrassing you didn't think of it yourself.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  plantoid on 2/8/2014, 3:47 pm

When I read it many years ago it was much more confusing than that , they kept referring to sentence i, ii, iii iv & v etc. and used old fashioned Kings English as spoken in the UK over 100 years ago .
It was only by trial and error that I really understood what they were on about.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  sanderson on 2/8/2014, 4:39 pm

Thanks.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  sanderson on 2/10/2014, 1:48 am

I opened the new bag of vermiculite to make some more MM for my last box (2 x 2) and it was quite fine! Like chicken feed? My DH bought it at HD, the last 2 cu. ft. bag on the shelf, for $5 off because it had been taped. I can use in the front muddy flower bed when we work it this spring. Can I use this for sprouting more seeds? It seems like it would be fine for that. Back to the store for some medium grade.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  Marc Iverson on 2/10/2014, 3:27 am

Home Depot is the stuff I got too. Disappointingly fine, and I can't convince myself it doesn't matter. Still, it was better than nothing.

It's so easy to compromise yourself millimeter by millimeter, inch by inch, out of making proper Mel's Mix, though, that I am reluctant to buy such less than optimal stuff again unless I really have no choice. Seems great for seedlings, though. And I have to admit it did help a lot in keeping even stuff in my very porous burlap grow-bags moist this terribly hot summer.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  plantoid on 2/10/2014, 6:39 am

I feel that anything smaller than 1/8 of an inch in size  ( 3.5 mm ) that is not dust is good for the single seed sown  in plant pots method or small number of seeds in a single plant pot that I was on about .

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  jimmy cee on 2/10/2014, 8:25 am

When first I purchased vermiculite, 2 bags were the very fine type, just about the sand size.
I mixed 1 bag in my herb garden, I'll be trying this out for seeds this season and report back.

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Re: Skip vermiculite seed sprouting and go straight to Mel's Mix?

Post  H_TX_2 on 2/10/2014, 11:15 am

I know this is not exactly an experiment but due to lack of control and low numbers but I thought I would share it anyway. On Feb 2 I started my seeds. I started 3 pots with yellow pear tomato seeds. I place seed starting mix in the pot then make a small hole in the top and fill it with vermiculite. I then plant the seed in the vermiculite. As I was finishing up my seeds I had just a small amount of seed starting mix and one extra pot. I doubt there is anyone here would not have planted an extra of something given one extra pot and enough mix to fill that pot 3/4 full. I decided to plant another yellow pear tomato in the pot. This pot I didn't make a hole and fill it with vermiculite. I just planted the tomato seed in the seed starting mix. As of this past weekend all the other tomato plants started in the pots containing a vermiculite filled hole in the top of the mix were sprouted and growing tall. Late Sunday I was finally able to see a stem from the seed started in just the seed starting mix. I was able to see part of the stem but it was U shaped or an upside down U. The top of the stem had not yet poked out of the ground and I was unable to tell which end was the root and which end was the top. I have not seed this on any of my other seedlings planted in the vermiculite.

I think the vermiculite creates a better environment for the seeds and they sprouted days before the one planted straight into the seed starting mix. Once the seed sprouts I think the vermiculite makes it much easier for the seedling to break through the surface and start growing upward. the poor seedling started in the mix can't quite get his head out of the starting mix. I'm sure it will be okay and be growing upward in a day or two but it is already several days behind the others.

I do think you can skip the vermiculite all together and have successful seedlings. We start seeds indoors to get a jump start on growing and vermiculite I feel gives us an additional jump start. I feel like starting the seeds in vermiculite and then lifting them out and placing them into a different medium is a waste of a step. I combine these into one step and get the benefit of the vermiculite and don't have to worry about the transplanting.

-this is my first year starting seeds indoors and I am only basing this on 4 pots of seedlings so take from this what you will.

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