Seed Starting Tips


The beginning of March is a good time to start seeds inside if you plan to plant them around May 1st. While there are many ways to do this, here’s the method which seems to work well for me.

1. I start with a heavy duty plant tray on the bottom. You can use these trays every year and they will never leak. You don’t absolutely need this, but it makes everything easier to work with and a lot safer. These are hard to find and I usually buy these from Park Seed.

2. I then use a standard black plastic tray which fits inside the heavy duty tray. These trays are flimsy and will leak and break over time.

3. I prefer to use inserts which are a bit larger – usually 36 will fit in a tray. This way your plants will have more root space and be heartier when you plant them. I don’t use the Jiffy pre-made pots as they are a bit expensive and you will need to buy them every year.

4. You will need a good potting mix. Don’t use soil, but you want to get something like Miracle-Gro Potting Mix and make sure it has added fertilizer.

5. If the mix is VERY dry, you will need to wet it down first. I usually put some in a large plastic container, add water and mix it all up until it feels moist. If the mix does have some moisture, I just add it to the inserts and fill it to the top.

6. I then take the inserts over to the sink, thoroughly soak the mixture and let it drip for a while.

7. I then add the seed to the top of the soil – two or three seeds per section.

8. Most seeds like to be covered up a bit and I like to use Vermiculite for this step. Vermiculite holds water and keeps the seed moist. Look at the directions on the seed packet as to how much to cover the seed. Some seeds don’t need or like covering so read the packet or do your research.

9. Since the vermiculite is dry, I spray it down with water.

10. I also add some more water to the bottom of the dry to make sure the soil mix stays moist. The water will be wicked up by the soil. After the first day or so you can get rid of the excess water.

11. I now put the plastic dome over everything and make sure it fits tightly.

12. Most seeds like a warmer soil to germinate so I use a shop light with regular bulbs and set it down over everything. There are some seeds which like a cooler soil to germinate so again read the instructions. The shop light will warm the soil and provide light which helps many seeds in their germination.

13. In a week or two or three your seeds will germinate and you can take off the plastic top.

14. You may notice the chains on the shop light and these are what I use to hang the lights from my basement ceiling. If you use a rope, you can make it adjustable. You want the lights as close to the plants as possible. I have also used a standard metal type book shelves to create a garden area. You can put one or two lights under each shelf and create quite a large growing area. Obviously you don’t want water dripping on the electrical fixtures, so use the heavy-duty trays and water from the bottom – put the water in the trays and let the plant roots pick up the water.

15. At this point you can also connect the lights to a timer. I would just turn off the lights about four hours per night. The plants are not getting much light from the shop light and need all the light they can get.

16. When the seeds germinate and are doing well, snip off all but one – the strongest.If you don’t want to do this, you can break take out the extras and replant them. I’ve found it best to put them in a covered dome for a few days to allow them to regain their strength.

Note – most of the supplies can be found at your local nursery.




Comments Off

Filed under Seeds

Soil Health

I’ve been watching and reading about soil health and will put the information I find on this page.

Here are some of the things I’m going to try.

  • No fertilizer in the garden beds – instead add compost to the top. Let the earthworms bring down the compost to the lower levels of the soil.
  • No fertilizer on lawns – try and find someone who will spread fine compost onto the soil.
  • Rotate plants – move plants around to different areas
  • Cover crops? I might try this –

Cover Crops for Home Gardens

Below – this is a long video, but has a lot of great information.

Gabe Brown





Comments Off

Filed under soil

Asclepias curassavica – Tropical Milkweed


This particular milkweed has been the focal point of some recent controversy, so I thought I would put together as much research as I could find on this Monarch favorite.

Definition – Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) is a protozoan parasite that infects Monarch and Queen butterflies.

Karen Oberhauser indicates that in Southern and Costal States + California – that OE can be a problem as the plants don’t die and OE can build up. Some sites advise to cut it down to the ground at the end of the season if you are in one of the warmer climates.

Thanks to Andy S. with this article from It again talks about the Southern State problem with OE and what can be done.

Here’s a recent TedTalk which seems to indicate that Curassaivica is good for Monarchs and is in fact medicinal against OE.

I emailed Chip Taylor, a well known expert in this field, about this video and this is his response.

“I haven’t had time to view the TED but here is my take from what I know about the issues.
There is a twist to the story – or interpretation. Monarchs surviving on A.c. having acquired an infestation of spores – are able to mate and pass on the spores to offspring since spores would be transferred to the new eggs or surrounding leaves. Monarchs receiving similar doses of O.e. spores but which have fed on other milkweeds would likely die – ending transmission to the next generation.
If you follow this, O.e. is a self-limiting disease (but you will never hear the researchers talking about it in these terms). Mortality/viability is dose related. Too much and you are dead, a little bit and you live to carry to spores to the next gen. A.c. allows more to survive and hence favors spore transmission.
That’s an issue in the south where A.c. overwinters (almost exclusively in gardens so the scale of the problem is quite limited) where O.e. can build up on leaves. It is less likely to be an issue in the north. Cutting back A.c. in the south at least twice a yr is recommended. It wouldn’t hurt to do that in the north if expecting to produce more than one gen on A.c.”

Here is a AskNature Article with the same information as the video.

Cardenolides per Species - interesting that Curassaivica has a very high percentage.

  • Asclepias curassavica – 1055
  • Asclepias syriaca – 50
  • Asclepias incarnata – 14
  • Asclepias tuberosa – 3
  • Asclepias verticillata – 1

My summation –  it always makes sense to be aware of the OE problem and if in the South or California to take measures to limit use of Asclepias curassavica or at least cut it back a couple times a year. While only 8% of migrating Monarchs have OE, 85 % of the non-migrating Florida population have it. 


Comments Off

Filed under Disease, Milkweed, Monarch, Monarchs

Free Milkweed Seeds – 2015

I had a bumper crop of Tropical Milkweed last year and collected a lot of seeds. If you’d like some free seeds just send me a SASE (self-address-stamped-envelope).

Tom Terrific
Free Milkweed Seeds
9016 Robyn Rd.
St. Louis MO. 63126

Note – you can start the seeds any time now, but I’d wait until May 1st to plant. They prefer warm temperatures.


Filed under Free, Milkweed

Computer Science and Plants – Jan. 31st – Maker Faire


There is a new event coming to St. Louis which features two of my favorites – computers and plants. It is Saturday, January 31st from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It’s free, but looks like they want you to register here:

Here are a few links related to the event and group.




Leave a comment

Filed under Misc

Butterfly Nectar

Ideally butterflies will find plenty of nectar in the flowers they find outside, but there are occasions when the flowers are gone and you want to feed some butterflies which have come out late in the fall or very early in the spring. Here are some possible solutions.

Note – the reason this subject came up was because a friend had a butterfly house, that I used to think were a waste of money. The house was outside until January 1st, when she brought it inside. The next day, a Mourning Cloak came out into the house. She has been feeding it every day for the last three weeks.

Fruit – I’ve used watermelon and orange slices and honeydew melon.


Gatorade – I use the plain version. I’ve also heard of people using Juicy Juice.

Hummingbird mix – 4 to 1 mix of water to sugar.

Nigel Venters Mix – 1# fructose, 1 cup water, bring to a boil for 2 minutes and then add 1 tsp of soy sauce. Use this as a concentrate. Add to water in  a 1 part concentrate to 9 parts water.

Monarch Watch has an artificial nectar mix they sell.



Leave a comment

Filed under Butterfly, Nectar Plant

Butterflies on San Francisco Streets


If you look at the picture above, you would assume that there would be zero butterflies in this concrete and asphalt jungle, but you’d be wrong.

Some of the houses have Passion-vine planted in pots outside their house and they all seemed to be filled with Gulf Fritillary larvae.

It just goes to show you what can happen if you provide the right host plants for the right butterflies.


Leave a comment

Filed under Host Plant