Spring Seed Starting Element Eco-Design Style!


Spring is on it’s way and it is almost time to start your spring seedlings. Gordon and I have been experimenting over the last 4 years and we feel like we finally have a seed starting mix that preforms so well that we just had to share it with you. But first I will share with you a few of our failures and why we felt they didn’t work.

Peat moss and peat pots are a very traditional medium for seed starting. We have chosen not to use peat as the main ingredient in our seed starting mix because it is a less than renewable resource, it is less nutrient rich than other mediums and because I find it dries out too quickly.

Everyone who knows us know how much we love homemade compost, Gord even has a t-shirt that says “Compost: Can you dig it!”. But we have learned over the years that homemade compost is not the best medium for seed staring.  The inputs, microbes and moisture holding in homemade compost are too unpredictable for young seedlings and can often lead to poor germination and diseases such as dampening off. Dampening off is when the seedling rots just at the soil level, this can be very disheartening when you have waited patiently up to 21 days for your seeds to germinate, only for them to fall over and die.


Ok, so what’s our super-duper, secret, seed starting mix??

We use a blend of a few store bought mediums to create our seedling mix, the reason that we use store bought ingredients is because we know the products are of a consistent quality and have been heat treated to ensure the mediums do not contain funguses, insects, weed seeds etc. Trust us, when you spend as much money on seeds each year as we do, you want to protect your investment and ensure your seeds get off to the best start possible.

Our recipe is simple, I will outline it below then go into a bit more detail about why we have chosen each ingredient.

Element’s Seed Starting Mix:

45% Indoor Potting Soil, do your best to get Organic or All Natural
45% Seed Starting Mix, again Organic/All Natural is best
10% Worm Castings, a little goes a long way with this expensive ingredient
A pinch of Gaia Green All Purpose Fertilizer

What kind of measurements are those!? Each of us will have different volume requirements, if you are just doing a tray at a time use the ratios:

4.5 cups Potting Soil
4.5 cups Seedling Mix
1 cup Worm Castings
1 tsp Gaia Green

If you are doing a wheel barrow full measure in 5 gallon buckets. Oh, and be sure to add a bit of moisture as you mix your ingredients.

4.5 gal Potting Soil
4.5 gal Seedling Mix
1 gal (an ice cream pail) Worm Castings
1.5 cups Gaia Green


So why did we chose these materials over ones?

Indoor Potting Soil is light and fluffy and has excellent moisture holding capacity, it often contains vermiculite which encourages airflow within the soil. Indoor Potting mix is also less expensive than other mediums which makes it a great filler ingredient.

Seedling mix is a very duffy medium and often contains a blend of Peat and other ingredients. Seedling mix is very light which makes it easy for young roots to to grow deeply in search of moisture and nutrients.

Worm Castings are the living/biological component of our starter mix. We find that when we take the time to add worm castings, even in such a small dose, the plants respond unbelievably well.  We have had such great results by adding worm castings that we have chosen to delay our seed starting by a month this year; last year the tomatoes grew so fast that I had to pot them up three times before it was warm enough to start setting them outside!

Gaia Green All Purpose Organic “Fertilizer”, this is not really a fertilizer as much as it is a soil amendment. Gaia Green is made in Grand Forks, BC and contains a balanced mix of alfalfa, potassium, glacial rock dust and other natural ingredients that not only contain your classic N-P-K but also contain important trace minerals such as calcium, which is often missing in our soils.

So there you have it! Our secret to starting happy, healthy, robust seedlings. Happy planting!

Jana and Gord

Element Eco-Design



Companion planting is not just for veggies anymore!

Element Eco-Design Globe Alumnus

Companion Planting Veggies

Most seasoned veggie gardeners understand the benefits of companion planting, which is the act of planting different veggies together according to a wide range of plant needs. For example growing beans or peas with lettuce works well because the beans fix nitrogen to their roots which lettuce needs for leaf production.  The beans can be encouraged to grow tall to help shade the lettuce which does not like hot sun; the result is lusher, greener lettuce and less work for the gardener. Another example is planting nasturtium with squash, both plants have a rambling tendency and seem to grow well together.  Squash plants need insects for pollination, no insects – no fruit. Nasturtiums are bright red, yellow and orange flowers that attract insects such as bees which are happy to pollinate squash blossoms as they buzz from flower to flower.  Now, let’s take this concept and apply it to our perennial gardens, berries and fruit trees.


A common problem for home fruit growers is rodents chewing on the base of fruit trees, this can cause some pretty serious damage to trees. The companion planting solution would be to plant a tight ring of chives or garlic around the base of the fruit tree, the rodents tend to pass on the strong smell of the chives in search of easier targets.  Perennial chives flower early in the season and attract bees which many fruit trees need for pollination. This is just one option for coupling unexpected edibles together. In fact, there are so many options for companion planting perennials edibles that the practice has been coined Edible Forest Gardening or Food Forestry!


In September of 2012 Element Eco-Design had the opportunity to design and with the help of countless volunteers, install a .45acre Food Forest at the Okanagan College Vernon Campus! The system is coming along beautifully and although the plants are still quite young, we are just so excited to see it grow and develop.


So you don’t have a half acre to spare, no problem! Earlier this month we designed and installed an urban or micro sized version of a Food Forest at the Xeridipity Garden in Vernon.  The space is approximately 4 feet wide by 50 feet long and contains tons of great examples of perennial plant companions. Including a number of edible and non-edible species such as Hardy Kiwi, Honey berry, Garlic, Parsley, Strawberries and Asparagus. The Xerindipity Garden is located next to the Okanagan Science Center and is now open daily for the summer, head on down and have a look. Maybe it will inspire you to compaion plant your perennials and create an Edible Landscape of your own 🙂


South Broadview School Garden


A Cool School Garden!

This project has been a year in the making and Gord and I could not be happier with the results! A couple of weekends ago we braved the rain to facilitate the installation of a school garden at the South Broadview Elementary School in Salmon Arm. The School Garden Committee contracted us to design the garden after being awarded a grant in support of the project.  Gord and I were more than happy to consult with the committee and together we came up with a beautiful and function design for the students and staff of South Broadview.

Next came the fund raising! The South Broadview School Garden Committee worked tirelessly to create fun and innovative fundraising plans to earn enough to make the garden a reality. Some of the great ideas they came up with included two sponsorship programs.  The first they entitled Rock-Stars, this allowed parents to sponsor a boulder in the name of a group, family or loved one.  The boulders were used throughout the design as individual seating as well as in the Reading Circle for a class to gather as a group. The program was a great success and all of the boulders were sponsored in no time at all! A plaque will be mounted on the garden shed with the names of all the sponsors and who they sponsored their boulder for.

The second sponsorship program was also a great success, the Garden Committee constructed a tree out of branches and decorated it with silk leaves, on each of the leaves a plant from the design and a price was written. Parents could chose to sponsor one or more plants for the garden, prices for the plants varied from $2-$16 which made it very easy for parents to chose a dollar amount that worked for their budgets. The parents could then pick the silk leaf of their choosing from the tree and bring it to the school office for payment.  This was a really fun and interactive way for parents to show their support for the garden project! Great ideas Garden Committee!

The business community was very gracious and donated a number of items to the garden project including plants and building materials.  A number of items were supplied at a considerable discount as well, including soil, mulch, crusher chip and a beautiful 8’x8′ garden shed for the kids to safely store tools and equipment! The generous contributions were countless and priceless!

Another way parents, staff and community members were able to show their support for the South Broadview School Garden was by getting their hands dirty! The garden was completed in one day with the help of many volunteers in an event called a Permablitz. Everyone was able to contribute their skills at the ‘blitz, a number of garden boxes were built the morning of the event and moved into place in the afternoon, the groundwork and boulder placement was done by a volunteer who had experience operating a small bobcat, the many gardeners on hand helped with planting and everyone helped form pathways, dig soil and move mulch! We had the best group of volunteers you could ask for, they braved the mud and rain and were happy doing it! Thank you so much everyone! Click here for photos from the event.


Thank you again to everyone who made this project such a success and to the South Broadview Garden Committee who worked so hard in all of their fundraising and community endeavours, you all did a fabulous job! We look forward to visiting the garden in the spring to see what the kids have planted.