How to check and improve the purchased soil for seedlings?
Purchased soil - not every gardener uses it to grow seedlings, why? Most often, the reasons lie at an additional cost. Although the soil is not very expensive, but still you have to find funds for its acquisition, when you can make the soil yourself from those elements that are at hand. For example, when there wasn’t any necessary element for him or we didn’t have time to prepare it in time. As you know, the soil for seedlings needs to be "reached" and it is advisable to prepare it not in the spring, days or hours before sowing the seeds, but in advance, in the autumn period.
Composition of purchased soil
So, let's say we decided to buy soil, what is the first thing you need to pay attention to? Of course, on its composition. Serious manufacturers are trying to indicate on the packaging a detailed composition, having painted it to the smallest detail. Less responsible ones may miss a couple of important elements, and it happens that on the package besides the inscription “Soil for seedlings”, the price tag and a beautiful picture there is nothing at all - it is better not to take such soil, even if it is cheaper than the others.
What is usually available as part of a standard purchased soil for seedlings? Most often, the base in it is peat: high or lowland. Next are: ordinary land, often without information about where it was collected, manure (both overripe and not overripe), compost (to varying degrees of overripening), river sand (often unwashed, which is not very good) and sawdust.
Depending on his desire, the producer can put perlite instead of river sand or together with it perlite and various levels of peat (or rather its acid) leveling components, such as wood ash, slaked lime or dolomite flour. All this is flavored with various mineral fertilizers, humic substances are added (that is, in fact, nutritious humus) and now fashionable coconut fiber.
The benefits and harms of peat in the composition of the finished soil
As we wrote above, in the composition of the nutrient mixture for growing seedlings, almost the main part, as a rule, is occupied by peat. It is clear that not only peat consists of a mixture, but if peat is present in it, and even dominates, then the deoxidizing components in the composition of the mixture are simply required. Manufacturers add additional components — various kinds of disintegrants and fertilizers — as they wish (but it often happens like this: the more elements in the mixture, the more expensive it is).
So, peat - it can be upstream, transitional or lowland in the composition of the mixture. Personally, I have never come across a mixture in which there would be transitional peat, usually either high or lowland.
Horse peat It looks attractive, a pleasant reddish hue, with a fibrous structure and, it would seem, for plants it is ideal, if not for a big "BUT". This peat is very acidic, which can (but rather, even necessarily) negatively affect the germination of seeds, and the further growth and development of seedlings in such a mixture.
In addition, peat is decomposed into components available to plants extremely slowly, and it is considered to be “empty” for plants, that is, it either contains no minerals at all, or there are very few of them.
Lowland peat it differs from the top in the first place in color: it is not reddish like a horse, but rather dark brown, you can even say black, and if it is mixed well with chernozem, then you might think that it is a homogeneous mass. Low peat is better than high peat, its acidity is not so bright, although you can’t call it neutral, but the presence of low peat in the mixture for growing seedlings, and even with deoxidizing agents, is a good sign in order to acquire such soil.
Pros of purchased soil
The first plus is packaging, you can buy a package weighing only a kilogram if you want to grow a little seedlings, or fifty kilograms if you have big plans for producing seedlings. In addition, the soil is usually characterized by lightness and increased moisture capacity, therefore, it will have to be watered less often and you can save a little on irrigation water, thirdly, the soil almost always contains fertilizers in its composition, and there will be no need for additional application.
Cons of purchased soil
Due to the presence of peat, acidity can vary from pH 4.5 to pH 5.5, which is far from normal with a pH of 6.5, and does not very well affect the growth and development of seedlings. Further, fertilizers: it’s good that they are, but it’s bad that far from always on the package it is indicated exactly how much nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the mixture in terms of weight. If you do not know these indicators, you can get soil in which the number of elements per unit mass of soil is in excess or deficiency, which will subsequently affect seedlings.
Do not take a lot at once
If you decide to buy soil and you need a large amount of it, then do not buy all the necessary lot at once. Take a small package and study well at home, and if there is a laboratory nearby, then you can give the soil for analysis to be sure of its quality.
At home, inspect the packaging, soil release date, shelf life. Soil, like food, also has an expiration date. For example, if we talk about horse peat, then lying too long, it can begin to decay into individual elements (this decay process is usually accompanied by the release of thermal energy). Expired soil must be discarded immediately.
Next, open the package and pour all the contents somewhere on a flat surface, at least on the table, after laying the film. After pouring out the soil, you should see its structure, ideally it should be fibrous, but heterogeneous, have loosening components such as sand and granules of fertilizers.
What soil should not be taken?
If you poured the contents from the bag and felt an unpleasant odor, then you should already beware: this should not be. Further, if the soil was sticky or viscous to the touch, then this is also not the best option for seedlings. The soil should not be too dense, with large lumps of “something” incomprehensible, which are difficult to knead or crush with your hands.
If particles of vegetation — blades of grass, leaves, twigs — are clearly visible in the soil, then you should also refuse to buy such a “miracle”. The excess of loosening components - perlite, sand - ideally, there should be no more than just one part, and sometimes 0.5 part, but if there are clearly more of them in the soil (sometimes up to half the mass), then this is just a banal deception, and such a soil is not worth buying.
Next, leave the soil in a scattered form for a couple of days, leveling it with an even layer on the same table, observe it. If after a couple of days the soil has not changed, then this is good, but if well-marked "salt spots" or foci of mold come out, then the soil should be considered poor-quality and unsuitable. By the way, do not forget to inspect the inner surface of the package, mold also often forms there: would it really be nice to grow then seedlings in such soil? We are sure not.
A final assessment would be a fist squeeze and an attempt to make something like a ball. Something average should be obtained, that is, the ball should not crumble into dust (this is a sign of excessive dryness of the soil), but it should not fade, as if it was made of plasticine - this is a sign of excessive moisture in the composition. The ball can form, but with a light touch - again crumble into separate components - this is the norm.
But even after such a seemingly thorough check, you and I, when buying soil for seedlings, can still find ourselves in the position of deceived people, of course, if we did not hand over the soil to the laboratory and did not tell us everything about it.
Peat in the purchased soil can be both low-lying and high-lying, that is mixed, and the amount of fertilizer exceeds the norm. Moreover, often exceeding the norm is observed precisely with nitrogen fertilizers, from which seedlings grow, like on yeast, form a powerful stem, roots, leaves, but later on, getting into the relatively poor soil of the garden, gives very weak yields.
How to improve the purchased soil?
In order to maximize safety, it is necessary to buy the soil, before sowing seeds in it, to finalize, improve, and only then sow. Considering the fact that, without exception, all plants grown through seedlings grow best in loose and moderately fertile soil, it is necessary to add river sand to the purchased soil (preferably washed at least once in running water) before sowing seeds, add some of the garden soil, from the site where she had been resting for several years before and nothing grew on it, as well as perlite (can be combined with river sand, can be instead) and a couple of similar components (some add expanded clay crushed into dust).
The next step should be disinfection of the soil. There are plenty of options here, but most often the soil is simply placed in parts in a large metal colander and spilled with boiling water, or laid out on a baking sheet and calcined in a conventional oven at a temperature of 80-85 degrees, or spilled with a 3% solution of potassium permanganate.
Any of these methods can easily destroy all the harmful microflora that may be present in the soil, and even the ovipositor of pests, various fungi and mold. At the same time, during this treatment, the majority (if not all) of beneficial microorganisms die, but this problem can be solved if after heat treatment about a day later shed the soil with any biological product, strictly following the instructions on the package.
Further, when the soil was prepared in this way, it is necessary to check its acidity level. There are so many ways to check this level in a “handicraft” way, but all these methods are approximate and sometimes give a very strong error, so it’s better to use good old litmus papers. Such papers are sold in any garden store and cost a penny, and the acidity table can be found on the Internet, or bought for a tiny amount.
Using litmus papers is very simple. Usually they are orange strips 5-7 cm long and a half centimeter wide. In order to find out the acidity of the soil, you need to take 25-30 grams of it and dissolve it well in a glass of soft water (melt or rain), then drop a litmus test into the solution, wait until its color changes (no more than a minute), extract and compare the color with the scale . Usually bright colors - red, yellow, orange - are a sign of increased acidity of the substrate, but green and darker ones are neutral or low.
As we have already indicated, increased acidity for plants in general and seedlings in particular can be fatal, therefore, deoxidizing components must be added to the soil and acidity checked until the litmus test turns green (neutral acidity).
It is easiest to deoxidize the soil by adding dolomite flour, for example, for a cucumber and all kinds of cabbage per kilogram of improved soil you need to pour in only 20-25 g of dolomite flour, and for eggplant and bell pepper, 15 grams of dolomite flour is enough for a kilogram of mixture.
That’s all the secrets of choosing and bringing “purchased” soil to the “condition”.