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Hello Guest!
Welcome to the official Square Foot Gardening Forum.
There's lots to learn here by reading as a guest. However, if you become a member (it's free, ad free and spam-free) you'll have access to our large vermiculite databases, our seed exchange spreadsheets, Mel's Mix calculator, and many more members' pictures in the Gallery. Enjoy.

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The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden

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FarmerValerie
WolfHeart
jumiclads
Smartchick
myhouseofBOYS
BackyardBirdGardner
boffer
Dunkinjean
fiddleman
CarolynPhillips
auntiemommy
middlemamma
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Post  middlemamma 4/7/2011, 6:22 pm

We
all know why we use vermiculite in a Square Foot Garden. We use it for
water retention. But, vermiculite also has a quality that helps break up
the soil and keep things friable, as Mel would say. Vermiculite is a
mineral that expands and contracts in response to changes in
temperatures more easily than other minerals. The constant expansion and
contraction, as well as, the holding of water for longer periods of
time is what makes it such an invaluable tool to the SFG. However, that
isn't the best use for vermiculite in this gardener's opinion.

Vermiculite
is an amazing seed starting medium, too! It holds moisture very well
allowing you to moisten less often with confidence, a tremendous quality
for those of you that work long hours....or are just plain forgetful
like me. It is also so loose that you can pull those little seedlings
right out and put them where you want them without placing undo stress
on the new plants. It's also a time-saver! In this post, I intend to
tell you why I tried it, and why I fell in love with the technique.

Why did I try it?

Honestly,
I was sick of getting leggy seedlings and having to harden everything
off. I wanted to skip those steps and go directly to the MM. It gets
rather frustrating trying to keep track of what plants are in which
stage, who needs what light, what temps, and who needs to be planted,
and who needs to be transplanted when you are trying to stagger all your
harvests with several different kinds of veggies.....all at the same
time! It was getting to be a job. So, I dug into my book (All New SFG)
and looked up seed starting again. I thought I had seen something in
there about vermiculite cups and just pulling the seedlings out and
popping them in the garden....pages 122-126. Specifically, page 124
reads: "After the seeds sprout, take your pencil and make a hole in one
cell of your four-pack, or outdoors in your garden." We have two
choices. The former still requires hardening off. The latter goes right
smack into your MM....my goal! I was excited out of my mind to try this.
But, here are some other things I noticed, too.

1- By
controlling the temperatures at which you start your seeds
(indoors..preferrably on a seed heating mat, the top of your fridge,
etc), you can use the vermiculite to get into your garden faster than
just planting the seeds in the cool soil. Take for instance spinach.
Mel's chart on page 252 breaks down germination times and temperatures.
At 41*F, spinach will germinate well, but it takes 23 days. However, at
77*F, it takes only 5 days! I can now be in my garden growing spinach
over 2 weeks sooner!! Quicker into the garden, quicker into my salads.
Lettuce goes from 15 days down to 2 days....almost 2 weeks again!

2-
Baby plants might not know hardening off. They might be so used to cold
snaps, genetically, that they aren't much affected by going right into
the garden. And, after planting several squares this way at different
times this spring...they aren't affected much that I noticed. (To be
fair, Mel does mention in the same section that going directly into the
garden may harm seedlings if exposed immediately to bright sunshine. I
had my plastic on my hoophouse most of the time I was trying this....so
may have luckily dodged a bullet I didn't know about.

3- By going
into the garden so quickly, I freed up tons of space in my starting
station for my tomatoes and peppers. All the lettuces, spinaches, peas,
carrots, etc, were gone after a couple days of popping up their heads.
Only the peppers and tomatoes need uppotting, which I do immediately
after pulling them from their vermiculite. I put them into 2 or 4 inch
pots of potting soil, or MM, and leave them alone....never uppotting
again. The more you play with the plants, the more likely you are to
stress them.

4- Vermiculite is inorganic. It doesn't decompose.
It provides no nutritional value to the seeds, which don't need it
anyway if I'm pulling them after day two. I was getting sick of
wondering, "When do I feed my seedlings?" Peat moss has no nutritional
value, either, but if I am keeping my plants inside for a few weeks,
they will likely need to be fed at some point. I'm no Master Gardener.
I'm an SFG'er. I simplify things into 2% of the work....lol. Vermiculite
is reusable!! I can allow it to dry out once the seedlings are in the
MM or uppots and just dump it back in the bag for next year. Or, just
wet it and use it again. A 3 cu.ft. bag may last me the rest of my
life....making things VERY cost effective. (I am watching for mold and
mildew in preparation for damping off, but haven't noticed anything
yet.)

In case you are wondering how this has worked out, I will
show you my experiment. I started some squares on the same day I first
tried this vermiculite starting. The proof is in the pictures....bear in
mind I'm WAY ahead of local weather AND we've had a nasty start to
spring on top of it all.

Today is April 4th, 2011...
First, my peas. These went directly in the MM on March 17th. I first saw them over the weekend...

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 5589653906_2bccd3043c


Now, my vermiculite started peas on March 17th. These went into the garden on March 24th....

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 5589060827_9f66f02c39


Second, my spinach. These went directly in the MM on February 23rd. Finally sprouted on March 11. And, on April 4th...

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 5589658032_f7769a646c


Now, my vermiculite spinach started on 2/23 and transplanted on March 4th. And, I've already harvested once, too....

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 5589655794_0caf296332

 
How to Start Seeds in Vermiculite...(slightly different that Mel's description)

-
I would use something at least an inch deep. My favorite right now is a
2 Liter soda bottle with the bottom cut off at about 4 inches. Some
plants have surprising taproots. (Spinach shocked the stink out of
me....peas I expected.) Cut a couple holes in the bottom of whatever you
are using for drainage.
- I fill the container about half to 2/3 the
way with dry vermiculite. I fill the container with water and let it
sit a minute or so. I put my hand over the edge and dump out all the
excess water while trying not to spill the vermiculite out with it.
- I sprinkle my seeds onto the vermiculite and cover with a thin layer of dry vermiculite.
- I go upstairs and watch tv.
- If things go longer than 3 days, I rewet (don't puddle the water this time)....carefully.....and come back again later.
- Once the seeds start sprouting, I give them a day to open their "seed ears."
-
When ready to take to the garden, or uppot, I grab a pencil (I've even
used a twig from the backyard). I dig gently underneath the sprout and
loosen him up. Simultaneously, I pull the seed ears and lift with the
pencil.
- I make the hole in the ground/uppot and just place the
seedling in the MM/soil. Make sure the hole is as deep as the taproot.
Yes, you can likely plant the sprout a tad deeper than he sprouted. But,
I wouldn't get carried away.
- Gently close the hole and give a drink of water.
- Let the vermiculite dry out thoroughly and reuse later.

Done!! Look at all the time you've just saved yourself. I don't know that I will ever start seeds another way.

Remember,
though, the reason you would do this is to get a jump on your frost
dates...and because soil temps are chilly and you would like to sprout
your seeds a bit faster to get them in the MM.

If you are within a
couple weeks of your frost date, I wouldn't even bother with this
method. Just go directly in your garden.....that's the easiest way there
is. Stick it...forget it! But, try it sometime. It works.

- BBG


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Post  auntiemommy 4/7/2011, 7:22 pm

Wow! I didn't know you could even start peas besides directly in the ground. I thought they were too delicate to transplant like that.

Thank you for the awesome tutorial. I will be trying this when my seeds arrive. We are a month plus out from our frost date, so this will be helpful.
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Post  CarolynPhillips 4/7/2011, 7:48 pm

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 679265

Excellent post.
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Post  fiddleman 4/7/2011, 7:50 pm

Very nice post... it's always nice to get a comparison picture or two to prove a point... I may have to try this myself!
Mark
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Post  Dunkinjean 4/7/2011, 8:15 pm

Middlemamma,

Great and interesting post!

It certainly makes sense to me.

Thank you.

Dunkinjean
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Post  boffer 4/7/2011, 8:23 pm

Interesting, thanks. Medium, coarse, or extra coarse vermiculite?
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Post  middlemamma 4/7/2011, 8:38 pm

Thank BackYardBirdGardner...he did the whole post...I just added it and linked it up.

Smile

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 109486 BBG!!!
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner 4/7/2011, 10:24 pm

@boffer wrote:Interesting, thanks. Medium, coarse, or extra coarse vermiculite?

I can't find anything on the bag. It's not coarse. My guess would be medium/fine because the biggest chunks are the size of a pea and there are obviously some very fine particles. Most are about the size of BB's.
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner 4/7/2011, 10:28 pm

@auntiemommy wrote:Wow! I didn't know you could even start peas besides directly in the ground. I thought they were too delicate to transplant like that.

Thank you for the awesome tutorial. I will be trying this when my seeds arrive. We are a month plus out from our frost date, so this will be helpful.

Not "supposed" to transplant peas, carrots, or spinach. I've done all three with good success. If you get underneath the root with that pencil and gently lift out as you pull the "ears," I imagine you can start anything with this method. I may try radishes....just for kicks.
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner 4/7/2011, 10:30 pm

@middlemamma wrote:

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 109486 BBG!!!


Thank Mel. He talked about it. I just expanded on it a bit. I'm glad people are getting something out of it.
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Post  myhouseofBOYS 4/7/2011, 11:17 pm

Can you take a picture of your verm. germinated seeds when you move them so I know exactly what you are talking about, please?

So you just poke a hole and drop them in or drop them in and then push dirt in the hole with a pencil? I got my free only pay for a SASE toms today and I want success with raising them into actual bonafide plants Smile They start out so fragile looking!

ETA: clearly I cannot read re" replanting but I'd still like a picture of what rge sprt lookd like just for clarity and to awe over its itty bittiness Razz


Last edited by myhouseofBOYS on 4/7/2011, 11:28 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : i can't read well)
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner 4/7/2011, 11:30 pm

@myhouseofBOYS wrote:Can you take a picture of your verm. germinated seeds when you move them so I know exactly what you are talking about, please?

So you just poke a hole and drop them in or drop them in and then push dirt in the hole with a pencil? I got my free only pay for a SASE toms today and I want success with raising them into actual bonafide plants Smile They start out so fragile looking!

ETA: clearly I cannot read re" replanting but I'd still like a picture of what rge sprt lookd like just for clarity and to awe over its itty bittiness Razz

Sure, I will actually be uppotting my tomatoes from vermiculite to cups tomorrow. I'll grab the camera and walk you through step-by-step. Check back here tomorrow before lunch.
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner 4/8/2011, 2:20 pm

Here we go....uppotting tomatoes...

You see here the seedling with his ears touching my finger. He is sitting in the 2 Liter bottle bottom I used to fill with vermiculite. You also see the scissors I will use to loosen up underneath the seedling so I don't damage the root. And, behind that, you see the white styrofoam cups. They have MiracleGro in them all ready and waiting for someone to move into their house.

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 5600597763_85f558dd5d


Once I have the little guy loosened from the bottom, I pinch his "ears" and simultaneously lift with my fingers and sort of pry with the scissors from underneath taking care to gently lift the little guy out of the vermiculite.

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 5601187882_f1fe9a9915


Now, I set him in his "hole" in the cup and gently cover him up.

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 5600600505_d9eaece785


After about 5 minutes total, I have all eight of them in their new homes...

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 5600599127_b4820c0a42


Then, I give them a little drink and put them back under the grow lights. Well, actually, today its about 80F outside, so I'm leaving them out for an hour or so in the sunshine.

I hope that helps clarify things for you. Let me know if not.
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Post  myhouseofBOYS 4/8/2011, 2:28 pm

I think that is similar to what I did with mine that were germinating in jiffy potting mix which is peat and verm. (48-52% of each) because the jiffy cardboardy like pots they were growing in they were already sticking their root out of the bottom holes, in some cases before their rabbit ears even fully broke the surface.
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner 4/8/2011, 2:32 pm

@myhouseofBOYS wrote:I think that is similar to what I did with mine that were germinating in jiffy potting mix which is peat and verm. (48-52% of each) because the jiffy cardboardy like pots they were growing in they were already sticking their root out of the bottom holes, in some cases before their rabbit ears even fully broke the surface.

Yup. It's not rocket science. The main reason I shy away from peat, now, is because:

1- I can't save it and re-use it.
2- I wasn't able to get the sprout of of the mix as easily. I never knew where the roots were in there, and didn't want to damage anything. With the straight vermiculite, that root can go straight down, sideways, fork or split, or do whatever it wants to do....and I get all of it every time.

Bottom line: Find a system that works for you. I like this one. I'm sure it's not for all people.
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Post  myhouseofBOYS 4/8/2011, 2:38 pm

@BackyardBirdGardner wrote:
Yup. It's not rocket science. The main reason I shy away from peat, now, is because:

1- I can't save it and re-use it.
2- I wasn't able to get the sprout of of the mix as easily. I never knew where the roots were in there, and didn't want to damage anything. With the straight vermiculite, that root can go straight down, sideways, fork or split, or do whatever it wants to do....and I get all of it every time.

Bottom line: Find a system that works for you. I like this one. I'm sure it's not for all people.

Oh "my" way is probably a touch inferior to yours as like I said the roots were escaping the containers bottom and being exposed to air and I didn't know if that was bad and they started to stick to the container in some cases so I probably ended up ripping those. But it gives me confidence that I can do it with a bit of verm Smile
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner 4/8/2011, 2:39 pm

@myhouseofBOYS wrote:But it gives me confidence that I can do it with a bit of verm Smile

That's the whole point. Glad it helped.
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Post  Smartchick 4/8/2011, 3:42 pm

This was a great explanation! I started my seedlings in vermiculite too but never thought about putting them directly in the garden. Hmmm....methinks I see a new project starting...

Here is another funny. I checked out the "Square Inch Gardening" book from the library because we want to do some fruit production in the backyard and I was looking for some guidance on what we could do and still have grass left for my daughter to play in. There is a chapter on eating sprouted grains. I love pea shoots but don't want to sacrifice any of the ones in my garden to eat (especially since we don't have many to spare with SFG!). However, you can grow most sprouts in...guess what...vermiculte! The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 53366 I think I have some of that around here! Guess what I'm going to be doing this weekend....
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Post  jumiclads 4/9/2011, 7:31 pm

The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 593714 Absolutely brilliant BBG and thanks to middlemamma for uploading it. The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 593714

I just wish I had seen this a few weeks ago before I stated my seeds off and maybe I would not have lost so many. Thanks for sharing this and I will sure get some vermiculite tomorrow and give this a try.
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Post  WolfHeart 4/10/2011, 9:20 am

BBG Such and excellent source for everyone wanting to attempt sprouting their own seeds, like my self. Very Happy

I assume the answer to my next question is yes but.... :?:

Can I do this same thing for fall plantings? For instance, I would like to fall harvest peas. will this method work, and since it apparently speeds up the process of getting them into the ground how does it effect the planting before the frost date in the fall. would I plante closer to the frost date or farther from the frost date.

Hope that makes sense.... The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 601593 I need some coffee before i post from now on The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 34617
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Post  FarmerValerie 4/10/2011, 9:30 am

Wolfheart, you were right, yes you can do that.

I understand the coffee before posting, I suffer from that too, along with foot in mouth....
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Post  BackyardBirdGardner 4/10/2011, 11:55 am

@WolfHeart wrote:BBG Such and excellent source for everyone wanting to attempt sprouting their own seeds, like my self. Very Happy

I assume the answer to my next question is yes but.... :?:

Can I do this same thing for fall plantings? For instance, I would like to fall harvest peas. will this method work, and since it apparently speeds up the process of getting them into the ground how does it effect the planting before the frost date in the fall. would I plante closer to the frost date or farther from the frost date.

Hope that makes sense.... The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 601593 I need some coffee before i post from now on The Best Use for Vermiculite Isn't In Your Garden 34617

I can tell you that I plan to do something in the fall. I don't plan on starting seeds another way for a long while. However, in fall, I don't think we want our plants to sprint to maturity as much as we want them to linger forever. And, your soil is so warm that time of year, the plants will take right off directly from the ground.

The only one I foresee an issue with is spinach. In the book, page 253, spinach really peeters out when soils are approaching 68F. The germination % drops from 82% to 52% really quickly. And, by the time you get into the upper 70's, you are down to near 25% germination. That means you put 4 seeds in a hole and may get 1 to come up. So, with spinach, I may start them inside to get a better percentage to come up in late August/September. We'll have to see.

I suppose, this method would be better used in the fall to SLOW things down instead of speeding them up. I doubt broccoli really wants to be in 85F soil, either.

I guess you would also do this if space is a concern. It may buy you an extra week to get your final summer harvesting done so baby plants go right in the square instead of a seed (that has to wait a few more days to sprout).

I haven't given it a TON of thought, obviously, but I will be finding a way to incorporate it because I just love the method.
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Post  WolfHeart 4/10/2011, 12:41 pm

Thanks BBG, I am so excited about my first season but am already looking forward to next because of this method....It really appeals to my wife beacuse it is so simple and not a lot of time commitment. Nor, more importantly, cost a fourtune in starter pots and the other accompanying accutermonts. just vermiculite, water and some spare yogurt cups. bounce bounce
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Post  donnainzone5 4/10/2011, 2:03 pm

I attempted to start some seeds in U-Line's extra-coarse #4 vermiculite and had no luck. I think the medium grade is better for this purpose.
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Post  Glendale-gardener 4/11/2011, 4:22 pm

So I started a bunch of peas in verm on Friday night and they were already popping up by Sunday afternoon! Thanks BBG! So I guess I just give them a few days to sprout ears and I can put them outside?
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