Most experienced vegetable farmers will tell you that one of the secrets to growing healthy plants is to start with healthy seedlings. And, one of the key ingredients to growing healthy seedlings is choosing the right potting mix.
Here’s a quick overview of some of things to consider when you’re selecting a potting mix for your farm or homestead.
What Is Potting Mix?
Beginning with the basics, what exactly is a potting mix? Basically, potting mixes are growing mixtures designed to help young plants become as healthy as possible.
Though some people call it “potting soil,” most potting mixes don’t contain “soil” at all. Rather, most mixes contain a variety of ingredients that are designed to create a lightweight mixture that will promote airflow and drainage. Sphagnum moss, coir, perlite and vermiculite are common ingredients that give potting mixes their airy texture.
Additionally, many mixes contain amendments to provide the seedlings with nutrition. One of my favorite mixes, for instance, contains a manure compost, gypsum, blood meal, bone meal and kelp. Not all potting mixes are organic, however, so make sure to check the label and ingredient list.
What Kind of Mix Do You Need?
Next, think about the basic type of mix that you need. Do you want your mix to be organic, for instance?
Also consider the amount of time that your plants will be growing in the mix. Will you just be starting seedlings in the mix for a few weeks at a time? Or, will you be using the mix for potted herbs that will be growing in it all season?
As a general rule, the longer plants will be growing in the medium, the more nutrients it should contain.
Homemade or Store Bought?
The next question is whether to buy your potting mix or make it yourself. In order to make this decision, start by considering your scale.
For the average commercial grower using several tons of potting mix a year, it’s probably most efficient to buy in the mix (and in bulk). If, on the other hand, you’re a homesteader or small-scale market-gardener, making your mix may be more cost-effective.
If you’re interested in making your own mix, do a quick cost-benefit analysis to finalize your decision. Begin by calculating how much potting soil you anticipate needing, and what it would cost to buy that amount from your local supplier. Then, decide on a potting soil recipe that fits your needs and price out what it would cost to buy all of the ingredients separately.
Make sure to factor in the time it will take to make the mix, as well as any additional equipment you’ll need to buy. Many growers end up purchasing a small, 1/4 horsepower cement mixer for the job.
There are numerous great resources through Hobby Farms on how to make your own potting mix, including a general overview of some common ingredients to consider, as well as some specific recipes.
A Middle Ground
Although some hardware and home improvement stores carry good potting mixes, many growers buy their mixes from local farms or compost operations. If, however, you can’t find a quality potting mix in your area, you can also supplement what’s available to you by adding in individual ingredients as you use the mix.
But make sure you know the ingredients of the potting mix that you’re adding too. You don’t want to overload a mix by adding a nutrient that the mix already has enough of.
Given how important potting soil is to the health of your starts, it’s worth taking the time to make sure that your mix is serving you as well as it could be. You’ll be sure to notice a difference.