The Unconventional Tomato

Seed Starting Mix — When Leftovers Go Really Really Wrong!


Well I’m officially behind on getting ready for my gardening season here in the Piedmont of South Carolina. After 2 years co-gardening at a friend’s house down the road, we’ve gone our separate ways and I am now starting from scratch in my own smaller yard. I’ve built three 4×16 beds with 2′ walkway all around. I’m a tomato fiend and if I could, I’d grow all 6,000 varieties of tomato just to compare them all, but I’ll have to settle with a dozen or so per year.

My go-to seed starting mix is Premier Pro-Mix BX. Fortunately I’ve found a place (A.B. Poe’s Farmer’s Exchange) that sells it and at a reasonable price to boot. After starting seeds last year, I had some leftover mix which had been moistened, so I returned it to the 5 gallon bucket I’d been storing the Pro-Mix in and put the lid on very loosely. The bucket had been left undisturbed since that time. I opened the lid in late March and I didn’t notice any unpleasant smell, so I began my usual seed starting process with this soil.

After two days, I was surprised to note that nothing had sprouted. Worse, the moistened soil was now putting out the unattractive odor of a damp basement. After two more days, a few very scraggly looking seedlings appeared. After a week, the smell was almost unbearable and the seedlings were in a sad state. Sadly I’ve dumped out everything and am starting over today. I’ll be bleaching out the flat tray (and that 5 gallon bucket) for future use.

Lesson learned: Don’t try to be frugal with seed starting mix.

My documented seed starting process is already exhaustive, but I’ll be adding some more cautionary notes:

  • When in doubt about seed starting mix, add a bleach solution or moisten with boiling water to kill any undesirable microbes.
  • Don’t try to save moistened seed starting mix for the next year.