It all started in mid February. A friend of mine and I had the bright idea that this year we would start seedlings, not only for our own gardens but also to sell to the public. The dollar signs were swimming in my head as I thought of all the beautiful seedlings growing strong and tall, ours would be bigger than most of course because we were starting so early, so of course people would want to buy them, and likely pay premium for a larger plant.
This is where my folly started. I have shared my seedling mix before, I use 4 parts potting soil to 1 part vermiculite and 1 part pearlite. This has always worked for me before, I'm guessing that I have just gotten lucky. This is not a bad ratio, but my mistake came in that I was trying to figure out how to save as much money as possible to increase profits for sales...enter in the dollar store. Don't ask me what part of buying my potting soil at the Dollar store was a good idea because in hindsight, I do see the folly of my ways. However, I have had luck doing this in the past so I just followed suit of my old ways. This year was the year I learned a valuable lesson. I bought "bad" soil. I don't really know what was wrong with it, maybe not enough nutrients, maybe someone careless along the packaging route spilled something foreign into it, your guess is as good as mine but the results were nearly catastrophic to my business and personal garden plan.
I had all my seedlings planted, they all looked great and were germinating. I sent the flats to my friend's greenhouse for some cozy growing time away from mama and then that is where things changed. It was not my friend's greenhouse, nope, it was not over or under watering, nope. It was just that the flats that I had planted from one particular bag of soil were failing. They started out well, but at the crucial point when your tomato seedling goes from 2 "leaves" to "true leaves" mine just gave up. Not only did they give up but they started to dry out and yellow up. My friend called me with the somber news. I knew it wasn't the conditions because the subsequent flats that I was growing from the second bag of Dollar store dirt in the greenouse were doing fine...but I am sure it was something to do with that one bag of dirt. The tragedy is that one bag of dirt affected over 100 of my seedlings, tomatoes to peppers, they all looked like the dying remnants of a genocidal attack.
What is a farmgirl to do? I ran to the nearest gardening center and spent a PREMIUM price for a bag of the richest, blackest, most expensive bag of starter mix I could find. I replanted everything. (enter in sad face here). As I look at my friend's seedlings that were planted the same week as mine, they are up to 4-6 leaves, mine are stunted and may never recover. The new seeds have yet to germinate so I am left with only the ones from a subsequent bag of soil which are cabbages and some more peppers, time to start the tomatoes all over again... if you are a gardener you know that this is heartbreaking. Though not akin to loosing a child, you almost feel parental about your seedlings after so much love and tender care is poured into them. (enter in playing of TAPS)
I will be doing things differently from now on. I had always taken shortcuts (and I am so very budget conscious) but this area is one I will not be skimping on any longer. My friend got a tip from a largescale garden center and I will be using her seed starting mix next year (40lbs for $35 but that should last me 2-3 years in all seriousness) and if it means that I can avoid these tragedies, I think it worthwhile.