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alternative weed seed germination

the dilemma of peat moss – seed starting alternatives?

My mother used to grow tomato seedlings in a clay flower pot full of soil from the veggy garden. She also, later, had a hot frame where she grew a large variety of heirloom tomato seedlings. I did this for her a couple of times so have a good idea what was done. I dug out the hot frame down about 2 feet and put in about a foot of well composted hot manure. Then I back filled the topsoil on top. She just scattered the varieties of seed in on top and thru some luck or magical knowledge always managed to get all the varieties to produce tomatoes. She grew a lot of the seedlings that were handed out to a community garden in Pittsburgh. All out of that in a 2 foot by 4 foot, or so, hot frame.

She had a pink tomato that I’d name after her as the momsname Perfect Pink beefsteak. It was a regular leaf pink beefsteak. The stem went into the tomato and never left a single crack or mark of any kind. The bottom was also perfect. The skin wrapped around the sides and just continued. It was a very meaty tomato with small seed cavities. I think she got it from her mom and the tomato may have been in the family since the early 20th century. We lost it the summer before she passed. Every tomato in the garden came up a cherry tomato. Have no idea what happened.

You could worry about picking up a disease or whatever out of the seedling soil, or you could just say well they grew up with an immunity to what they’d just see a couple months later.

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I grow plants in mostly coconut coir for an entire growing season. I typically add a bit of peat, and a bit of weed free compost.

The problem I have with planting into pots of soil, is that my soil is filled with all manner of weed seeds. Lots of weed seeds.

Organic potting soil often contains peat.

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“The problem I have with planting into pots of soil, is that my soil is filled with all manner of weed seeds”

I usually grow my seedlings in 12 oz foam coffee cups, doubled to keep the top cup from water logging. However last year I used a couple 1020 trays as I needed more seedlings for a project. But then I transplanted what I needed in my own garden into the cups. In the cups I put my usual stones then a small layer of peat moss, a layer of mushroom manure and topped it with more peat moss. The mushroom manure was steamed a couple times while used to grow mushrooms. And then I aged it. I found that this made the plants healthier but still, as usual, leggy. I transplant into the garden and put the tomatoes as deep as a foot, so the leggyness isn’t a problem, at least in my own mind.

I bring this up because you could substitute garden top soil for the mushroom manure. My bottom peat layer served as a filter and the top layer served as a sensibility buffer. If you’re using garden top soil then the top peat layer is a weed mulch. When I plant my tomatoes a foot deep that kind of blocks the weed growth, but remember you got those weed seeds out of the garden where they returned. I came up with this idea because I’ve come to the conclusion that the seeding mixtures don’t have enough nutrition and I’ve never used a chemical fertilizer.

Remember what the intent here is to reduce the use of peat moss.

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Aida Alene wrote: I would like to avoid peat moss completely as it is not a renewable resource. Wondering if sterilized soil really makes a difference? What about loss of beneficial microbes and fungi during the sterilization process? Anyone ever tried starting seeds indoors using just regular organic potting soil?

Here’s the thing, seedlings do not need fertilizer of any sort or amount, using it can lead to stem rot, stem bolt (fall over death knoll).

Expanded mica (vermiculite) and or pearlite are the best mediums (other than sand) for starting seeds without using any peat products. Peat, by the way is an acidifier all on its own.

Once the seedling has that second set of true leaves open then you can add just a little all purpose fertilizer and I mean like 1g per 2L solution.

List of Bryant RedHawk’s Epic Soil Series Threads We love visitors, that’s why we live in a secluded cabin deep in the woods. “Buzzard’s Roost (Asnikiye Heca) Farm.” Promoting permaculture to save our planet.

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Dale Hodgins wrote: Spent coffee grounds are quite inert in the beginning. Although they have nutrient value, it takes some time for the woody texture to break down. No weed seed could survive being roasted, ground up and having hot water poured on it. It doesn’t bind really well, so perhaps something could be done about that, but it is otherwise a suitable medium.

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“may your experience be fruit for all those who follow”

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Aida Alene wrote: I don’t just want to reduce the use of peat but rather eliminate it, I’m also worried about the sustainability of vermiculite. It bothers me to think about using resources shipped from far away that had to use energy to make or extract. Perhaps I’ll try just using soil and see how the seeds do this year

Then you are limiting yourself to using only compost, composted manure, leaf mold, worm castings, bird droppings litter(composted) and river sand, gravel, forest soil. The last three are detrimental to the environment so I would suppose you will leave those out.
That means you are going to have to plant your seeds directly into the soil for the most part.
It also means you are going to miss out on many beneficial substances that are available.

List of Bryant RedHawk’s Epic Soil Series Threads We love visitors, that’s why we live in a secluded cabin deep in the woods. “Buzzard’s Roost (Asnikiye Heca) Farm.” Promoting permaculture to save our planet.

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Medicinal herbs, kitchen herbs, perennial edibles and berries: grown in the Blue Mountains, Australia

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Lorne Martin wrote: A good natural seed starting medium is earthworm castings. Best source to secure larger amounts would be to find a local fishing bait company that breeds worms. A 30 to 50% mix with fine sand will prevent clumping.

Crikey, that is so much easier to find than compost red wigglers. Are they the same worm? I search “red wiggler bait” and it looks like it. I’d love to buy a pound of those cats and wheedle some castings out of the deal. Sure they don’t like being shipped; then I can confine shipping to black soldierfly larvae (though in my NYC compost bin they self-colonized).

A pound of compost worms in the cities is expensive and worse, inconvenient. Plus, country bait worms have fewer neuroses and don’t get bored as easily.

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Geoff Lawton’s potting soil mix is simply 50% sifted compost, 50% river sand. He’s got a river that runs past his property, and they go down to an outside curve and dip it right off the bottom with a bucket.

My addition to that mix is simply to add as much biochar to the mix as I’ve got available. My potting mix is probably 10% biochar.

I’ve got an fine-mess screen sifter that I use to top-off the pots with compost, so that the top quarter inch or so is a fine almost powdered compost material on which to plant the seed, and then I sift a bit more over the pot to cover the seed.

I really don’t even like using peat moss — it’s too rough and clumpy.

At the end of summer, I do a massive garden clean up and get a hot compost pile going with a couple of 5-gal. pails of coffee grounds. By the time the compost is finished, it’s a fine material that is full of nutrients and lots of beneficial microorganisms. Why would you ever sterilize your garden soil? My germination rate is fantastic and the plants quickly grow in the fertile mix. And best of all, I don’t spend a penny buying perlite or other soil ingredients. I get my sand at the beach, my compost from my garden, and the biochar form my fire-pit.

“The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?” Gandolf

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Angelika Maier wrote: RedHawk, usual sharp sand? That is an idea and cheap. I strike all my cuttings in pure sand and use the sand many times (insofar it is eco). Did it really work for you?
I used to use usual potting mix I buy at the landscaper per trailerload and sieve it. There’s some pine bark in it sand and I think cow manure.
I tried to do the hotframe once and it dis not heat up.

Yes I use river sand and bottom heat for seed starting and it works quite well as long you keep them misted so there is no drying out.
I also use pure vermiculite for a few “stubborn” seed varieties since that medium will hold more water while also letting air in.
I should also mention that I do add microorganisms to both mediums, both bacteria and mycorrhizae.

List of Bryant RedHawk’s Epic Soil Series Threads We love visitors, that’s why we live in a secluded cabin deep in the woods. “Buzzard’s Roost (Asnikiye Heca) Farm.” Promoting permaculture to save our planet.

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Medicinal herbs, kitchen herbs, perennial edibles and berries: grown in the Blue Mountains, Australia

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Lately when I make up some potting soil I use coir. I like it although I don’t like the distance it travels to reach me.
I’m determined to start a worm farm this spring just for potting soil use.

I was trying to find if the gravely shale bits in the creek in our back yard might be useful in a potting soil and learned that ‘expanded shale’ called haydite is used for this. When I checked how to do it I see it’s not a do it at home project.
In the search though I found this list of potting soil materials and a bit about each one. The list is aimed at bonsai growers but many are commonly used in potting soil mixes. I think I’ll try the shale bits as they are and see what happens.

“We’re all just walking each other home.” -Ram Dass
“Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder.”-Rumi

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I’ve had pretty good success using compost. We do some composting, but I’m too lazy to keep up the maintenance on the pile, so the results are inconsistent.

However, the nearby town as a composting program that produces excellent compost from mostly yard waste (they accept yard waste for free and sell the compost). It only costs $15 a yard and they typically give you more than a yard.
They are a certified facility (I forget which composting organization) complete with temperature monitoring, etc. so the compost is excellent quality, with all the seeds, etc. killed by the hot temps they maintain.

It’s sifted compost, (unsifted is only $12), I think they use a 1/4″ screen as the larger particles are around 1/4″. The mix of particle sizes provides good drainage with good moisture retention.
For container plants I usually mix in some perlite and wood chips, but for starting seeds, etc. I typically just use it straight.

My opinions are barely worth the paper they are written on here, but hopefully they can spark some new ideas, or at least a different train of thought

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hau Judith, you might try sieving the shale bits so you are dealing with fairly consistent size pieces.

I have used shale once or twice but I have a steel mortar and pestle that I used to grind down some of the chunks I had at the time into smaller bits.

List of Bryant RedHawk’s Epic Soil Series Threads We love visitors, that’s why we live in a secluded cabin deep in the woods. “Buzzard’s Roost (Asnikiye Heca) Farm.” Promoting permaculture to save our planet.

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In my situation have lots of blow sand, sheep and duck manure. There are 3 constants where am right now.
The blow sand builds up in the barn and have to clean it out on a regular basis, so am wondering if it might be
of any use starting seeds. Any suggestions?

Will be moving soon, so it will be plants for the new place.

Nature is a wonderful teacher. Just when you think you have things figured out, she’ll show you how wrong you are. keep trying, you will get it.

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‘Life is a whim of several billion cells to be you for a while.’ groucho marx

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I have always considered peat moss off limits for my gardening needs, too. The industry is just so devastating to wetlands and to the planet in general. Natural Life Magazine has a good article about the subject. The Washington Post reports that they’re trying to phase out its use completely in Britain:

“In Britain, for example, using peat has become taboo. The government’s environmental agency has said it wanted to phase out peat moss for hobby gardeners by 2020 and commercially by 2030. The London-based Royal Horticultural Society, the largest gardening organization of its kind in the world, has reduced peat use by 97 percent at its four major gardens and urges its members to follow its lead.”

The Post recommends substituting compost, coir, shredded pine bark, Pittmoss (a commercial substitute), rice hulls or worm castings.

One commenter at that article recommended just using well aged compost:

“I have had compost piles at the back of the garage for decades. The turning is almost beyond me now, so I do the minimum and just wait longer. I find it far superior to peat, and there are no pH problems. My yard beds have been fed with it for years, and a garden designer told me once that I had ‘great dirt!’. It works well in pots and doesn’t dessicate and shrink like peat does. And it’s free.”

I went looking for more advice and found this idea too:

“Believe it or not. when I was young, I had a neighbor who grew his African Violets in an interesting mix. crushed eggshells, shredded newspaper, and coffee grounds. LOL He grew the nicest violets I have ever seen.:) But he always was one to “swim agains’t the stream””

The University of Florida’s extension office has a good page listing all kinds of ingredients and recipes to use. One of theirs is:

Soil-Based Mix

This mix is heavier than peat-based mixes, but it has good drainage. Vermiculite or perlite can be used for sand.

1/3 compost; 1/3 topsoil; 1/3 sand

I don’t start a lot of seeds indoors, so it’s never been a big issue for me. My go-to mix for when I do is rather nontraditional and probably won’t work for a lot of people. We live next to our local high school and they have a greenhouse where they grow and sell garden plants every spring. The greenhouse is only open for the month of May and after the season they let the employees take home any plants they want and they just toss the rest. My husband gets permission to take flats of them home. Some years I am able to rescue a lot of plants. We planted 40 extra tomato plants last year from some rescued flats. Even if they’re dead, though, I have him pick up the flats and I reuse the trays and the soil mixes for filling new raised beds (combined with soil, compost, dried leaves, etc.) and for starting my own seeds the next year. I figure they contain materials I wouldn’t buy like peat and chemical fertilizers but I’m okay using them when I’m keeping them out of the landfill and they’re free resources for my gardens.

Alicia (Author, forager, homeschooling nature lover)
Our family foraging and Sustainable Living Blog, A Magical Life: (

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I have a feeling all types of moss have probably adapted to absorb water, because they don’t have roots. If i have to scrape moss off the north roof every year, it sure seems like a renewable resource to me, lol. (curmudgeonly gentleman farmer). Anyway maybe any moss is a possible substitute for peat moss.

Shredded bark (true bark mulch) is reportedly high in nutrients. Now I just need a way to shred it. If you hear the lawnmower making a racket that’s just me making potting soil.

I figure the “stump dirt” may be similar to partially-composted woodchips; and probably great for soil but maybe better after adding nitrogen.

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I’m using 2/3 leaf mold (passed through a sieve) and 1/3 sand.

Takes a little planning ahead of time (so it will be available), but there are things you can do to help speed the process along.

. renewable resource, hardly any expense

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I used to think that one needed a sterile potting mix to start plants. My dad, with his commercial chrysanthemum nursery, believed that because he rooted all his cuttings in peat moss and perlite mix. He also imported trucks of peat moss from Canada as an amendment for his grow beds which he tilled and used commercial fertilizers and pesticides. In between crops he would tarp it with heavy chains along the sides of the bed and run steam from his huge oil burning boiler to steam sterilize the beds. Yes, as a 17 y.o. I read “Silent Spring” and from that day on I would fume and argue with my parents on their planet abuse.

I was hanging out looking for a seed starting mix at the local hydroponics store. Yep the one that sells fertilizers with a marijuana leaf on it but haven’t partaked of it since college. They turned me on to Happy Frog potting mix as a seed starter and it’s chock full of microbial wealth. I put the regular cell pack tray with the dome on a seedling heat mat with a block of styrofoam underneath on top of wire shelving in a sunny south window. Put the soil in the cells, plant, water the tray, not from the top, and got pretty much 100% germination. Once germinated, I took the dome off and continued to heat, watering the tray, never from the top. Once true leaves appeared, I pricked the seedlings out and replant into home-made newspaper pots with Happy Frog potting soil and placed them back on the shelves in a disposable aluminum roasting pan, again, watering the tray and not from the top. I didn’t loose any transplants unless I was stupid about hardening them off, which did happen. The seedlings grew fast and lush.

I am now so sold on Happy Frog that it’s the only stuff I regularly buy. I tend not to buy soils because I live in a pretty fertile valley. I do some container gardening because of a gophers and voles. I will use it for my grow bags which I kinda pseudo hugelkultur with a bunch of trimmings at the bottom of the bags. I then fill it with Happy Frog so that it’s not weedy on top. Everything I plant in this mixture is growing really well and I haven’t really had to fertilize it that much for the first year. It’s made of “aged forest products” so it’s kind a hugel on it’s own. It does have perlite in it, and I am emotionally opposed to using perlite in a regular garden bed because the little white fluffs annoy me, but for seed starting and container growing it can’t be beat. No I don’t work for them or get paid by them. Just a totally happy customer.

Meanwhile, the gophers and voles are digging up some good loose soil for me to fill my raised beds with! Turns a problem into a solution. Just need some good gopher cages for my trees and hardware clothed raised bed bottoms. The dog keeps on chasing the stray cats off the property.

How to use sugar to reduce weeds in your garden

That's Alexi Gilchrist's call to arms against every gardener's nightmare — weeds.

Mr Gilchrist is the restoration ecologist at Liverpool City Council in Sydney's south-west.

He was tasked with reducing the weed infestations at Wattle Grove Lake, an artificial water hole in the small suburb of Wattle Grove.

Controversy over the use of herbicides to kill weeds has grown around the world in recent years, with health and environmental concerns prompting a push for chemical-free alternatives.

Glyphosate — the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup — has sparked lawsuits in Australia and the US over claims it causes cancer.

The concerns prompted the local council to trial the use of sugar as an eco-friendly alternative to keep weeds at bay.

The trial is based on a CSIRO study that found sugar reduces seed germination rates of some herbaceous weeds.

"We want to retain our native vegetation and Bidens pilosa is a common weed that is easily spread," Mayor Wendy Waller says.

"The results from the test plots in Wattle Grove Lake are promising. By reducing the use of harmful herbicides it leads to more economical means of weed control."

How does using sugar for weed control work?

After purchasing 1.2 tonnes of sugar, the team at Liverpool City Council got to work.

Two test plots were set up and both were weeded and mulched.

One test plot was treated with a thin layer of white sugar (half a kilogram per square metre), before being mulched.

Within the first three months, only a few weeds were present, and at six months none were germinating.

"Generally native plants prefer low nitrogen soils … so where they're competing with weeds it's good to bring the nitrogen down to levels that favour native plants," Mr Gilchrist told ABC Radio Sydney.

"The sugar causes the soil microbes to go through expanded growth and metabolise the available nitrogen, which is what weeds love and what causes them to grow."

Does sugar kill every weed?

Mr Gilchrist says sugar is recommended for herbaceous annual weeds — plants with soft green stems, fleshy green leaves and exotic grasses.

But people are being warned not to try sugar for weed control on certain areas around the home, including on footpaths or other paved areas.

"I'd only recommend it when they are doing formative gardens … because sugar depletes the nitrogen in the soil and it may affect other species of plants that you want in your garden," Mr Gilchrist says.

"You couldn't do it in your veggie patch, for instance. You need to be applying nitrogen in your veggie patch to promote growth."

Be a part of the ABC Everyday community by joining our Facebook group.

DIY weed controls

In a bid to reduce the use of chemicals in the garden, ABC Radio Sydney listeners had some suggestions of their own:

"Pure white vinegar applied in the sunshine will rapidly kill green growth, including weeds." — Jim

"Acetic acid and sodium chloride is an effective non-toxic solution for weeds." — Callum

"I've used vinegar and it works!" — Jenny

If you're nervous about trying any of these methods, Mr Gilchrist says the time-consuming practice of pulling weeds by hand or using a pick is still just as effective.

"We also have mechanical removal such as chainsaws, brush cutters … which mulch piles of weeds as they move over them."

Boiling water is also commonly cited as a DIY treatment for weeds, but people are being advised against using it in some areas.

"I wouldn't use it in your veggie patch or other garden beds where you want other things to grow, because it will affect the soil microbes," Mr Gilchrist says.

Whatever method you choose, make sure to do your research beforehand, he advises.

Natural industrial methods (but not for home)

Steam weeding is a technique in which high-pressure steam is directly applied to plants using a machine, destroying the weeds' cell walls.

The bulky equipment needed for steam weeding means its use is limited to urban areas, including paved areas like footpaths, carparks and sporting fields.

Flame weeding involves using a backpack flame thrower, which shoots out a jet of flame that destroys cell walls, causing weeds to die.

While the devices are more portable than those used for steam weeding, there are potential risks.

"You run the danger of starting fires, so it has to be used in controlled circumstances," Mr Gilchrist says.

See also  grape limeade seeds