Spring is finally here, and if you are like most people now is when you realize its time to start your seeds. No its not too late even if your well organized friends had their seeds all sown and growing starting back in February there is still plenty of time for you to catch up. Starting seeds in early May is pretty common, and if you want to start them by direct sowing then this is the perfect time to buy your seeds. Depending on where you live early spring may still be on the horizon so don’t worry about being late. Seeds are just happy to grow, if you start them later than your friends they don’t care. As long as you look after them and they get to grow its all good with the seeds.
I always felt somewhat envious of those who were so organized that they has their seeds all sown by mid February. Before we bought our first farm I was always late getting the seeds in. In the end though I still got good plants, pretty flowers and good vegetables, maybe some flowered a little later than my organized friends but in the end it all seemed about the same. Now we have a farm I have to get seeds started early but that does not mean that all seeds get started at the right time. There are many reasons to start seeds later.
1. Life. It tends to go on around you keep you busy until suddenly, wow its spring, and we really need to get these seeds in now! This I suspect is the main reason most people don’t get their seeds in early, there is just too much else calling for attention.
2. Suddenly you realize you need more seeds that you sowed. It often happens. You think you only need 6 tomatoes then find you need 12 more seeds to sow.
3. Something was forgotten. Despite all the good planning, the lists, the checking somehow a species were totally overlooked and did not get seeded. Now there is a frantic rush to get the seeds sown. This happens more often than you would think even with professionals.
4. Some seeds come up really fast. Planting things like marigolds in February would be a problem. The things germinate very quickly and grow fast. Therefore such plants don’t need a lot of lead time for indoor planting. While other plants take a long time to germinate or are very slow to grow and need more time, these fast growers can be left and seeded much later.
5. The first seeds planted did not come up. This can happen for many reasons. It may be they were planted too deep, not watered properly, got a fungal disease or that the seed was not in good condition when it was purchased. See How Are Your Seeds Cared For Before You Get Them? I still have this problem at times since to get new plants and varieties to offer to you I need to buy from overseas sources then grow them to be organic before I can offer them to you. Not all the seeds that we get have been treated very well and they don’t always germinate. (which is a real pain if you have waited 6 months to get the darn things). This is why I always recommend that if you have quite a few seeds don’t plant them all at once. Then if something does go wrong you have a second chance to get it right.
6. Seeds came up then died for some reason, perhaps they were over watered, under watered did not get enough light, the cat sat on them (it happens more often than you think). Now you have to start those seeds all over again. Try to figure out why they died and not repeat the process. Put netting or something around the seed trays to stop the cat jumping on them. If you had seeds and got up one morning to find all that was left were little stalks, check under and around the tray for a slug. They come up in the night and mow down little seedlings.
6. Other reasons, could be anything the world if full of stuff to do and seeds are just one of them.
No matter what the reason there is always time to start more seeds. For some plants direct seeding is the best way to go anyway. Large seeds like beans, peas, okra, giant sunflowers are best direct sown as are things like Calendula and cilantro. Other plants need to be coddled a long time before they are put in the ground since they grow so slowly. No matter what time you start your seeds as long as you look after them then it’s the right time to start them. While its true that starting tomato seeds in August wont get you a crop starting them now will give you tomatoes later in the year than those who started early. If you eat a lot of some crops then starting seeds at different times makes sense anyway as it will space out your crop giving you more food or flowers for a longer period of time.
So don’t be deterred by those who started early and tell you its too late now. Its not. Seeding now is a perfect time. We are still seeding and so should you. Garden in your own time. Be creative and do your own thing.
Could your potting soil or pots be detrimental to your health?
Quite a few potting soils today use Coconut Coir Fiber instead of sphagnum peat moss as the base for their mixes. It’s that fibery stuff that comes between the outer shell of the coconut and the inner bit that you eat. This material is trumpeted as better since it is a renewable resource from coconut trees and it is easily sterilizable. Once hydrated it can hold almost nine times its weight in water and then allow the rest of the water to drain away without getting waterlogged. It can be milled fine to be used in seed starting mixes or left with slightly longer fibers for use in potting mixes for larger plants.
Most gardeners are probably more familiar with Coconut Coir Fiber being used as hanging basket planters and small biodegradable pots. These have been gaining in popularity recently for two reasons: first they don’t break down quite as fast as peat pots making them easier for many people to handle, and again they are trumpeted as a renewable resource.
But sadly they are not renewable. Not any more.
Maybe you have heard of it, maybe not. It’s called Coconut Lethal Yellowing Disease (LYD)and it’s killing the world’s coconut population. It has already decimated the trees in many countries. The hardest hit so far are those in North America, especially Mexico and the Caribbean. It has also hit Africa, parts of India and the Pacific Islands. Many of these small countries rely on the coconut industry, it is one of the staples of their economy. In some places over 90% of the native palms have been exterminated by this disease. [1,2]
The problem is there is no cure. There are just two choices.
1. Cut down and burn any infected trees to stop the spread of the disease.
2. Treat the trees with antibiotics. Mostly oxytetracycline (OTC) is used. The antibiotic is injected into the trunk of the tree. This has to be done every 4 months for the life of the tree. It won’t cure it but it will keep the disease at bay so that the tree will live. [3,4,5]
This second method is being used extensively in resort areas. Most areas that rely on tourists want to keep their palm trees. After all that’s what the tropics are about. How can you have an exotic tropical resort without the palm trees? No one wants to be around a bunch of ugly dead tree stumps.
Areas like Florida also use OTC on their ornamental trees. Over the last 40 years Florida has lost a huge number of palms especially coconuts to LYD so using antibiotics to keep the ambiance in places like the Florida keys is essential. They also put out leaflets warning everyone NOT to eat the fruits (coconuts) of the treated trees . A fairly high level of antibiotics is needed to keep the trees ‘healthy’ a lot of that is going to get concentrated into the fruit. You really don’t want to eat that.
WHO IS USING ANTIBIOTICS?
The crisis of the coconut is massive, but the demand for coconut products is still rising. With the advent of coconut water in the last few years heralded as the ‘latest super food’ demand is increasing not decreasing. While research into the problem continues trees are being fed antibiotics. In countries where the coconut is the main agricultural staple providing most of their export products financial ruin may occur if all the trees die and their crops are decimated. Whether these plantations use antibiotics to stave the disease off their trees is unknown, it’s unlikely they are going to advertise the fact to anyone. Perhaps the fruits are not being incorporated into our food chain but what about the fiber? This is not a food so it would not come under the same rules. There is nothing to stop anyone grinding up the fiber from treated trees and selling it as potting soil or using it for plant starter pots.
Is this safe?
Digging into the research on antibiotics and OTC specifically gets a little concerning. The stuff is used quite a bit in veterinary medicine so there is research about it’s stability which is fairly high. There is even research about it’s stability which is fairly high. There is not a lot of research about how stable it is in soil and how long it will last but piecing together lots of different studies it appears that:
1. It’s fairly stable in soil and can last around 10-15 days on it’s own in cool soil..
2. It’s not affected by heat, it’s even more stable. Can take being boiled for 30 minutes before it starts to break down at any point. 
3. Much more stable in the dark.
4. Breaks down in more alkaline conditions but in ph neutral or slightly acidic conditions it can last over 60 days or more. 
5. Breaks down in sunlight much faster. 
What does this mean for your starter pots.
Since OTC breaks down in sunlight its probably fine for hanging basket liners where they are exposed to the sun a lot. If using coconut fiber starter pots make sure that the pots have a lot of sun exposure from the moment that they are used. Do not crowd them together or put them in an area where they don’t get a lot of light.
What about the potting mix?
Its hard to determine exactly how long the antibiotics are going to stay around in the soil. It could be a few days or it could be up to 60 days. The research that does exist on antibiotics and OTC in the soil all states that there is a reduction in soil biology and activity. Basically it kills off all the good stuff in the soil that you really need to make your plant healthy. The only way that they were able to improve the soil biology again was to add manure which basically reintroduced a lot of the microflora that they had just killed off.
If these substances are as stable as some research suggests then these substances are going to be transferred to your garden when you transplant the seedling. This means it could spread the problem to a larger area of your soil. The intention is to build and create a good soil microflora to keep your plants healthy and strong. Killing all this off with antibiotics achieves the complete opposite of what we want. [11 – 14]
Is OTC taken up by the plants?
There is little to no research being conducted on the uptake of antibiotics by plants. What little there is has reported that there was a change in the carbon source utilization and content.  Others reported that soil respiration was vastly decreased, meaning basically everything in the soil is dead. Others reported that there was a decrease in the growth of the tested plants, most likely due to the death of any soil microbes. 
There is no doubt that if the antibiotics survive in the soil that the plants will come into contact with them. How they are treated by the plant and if they are taken up is unknown. [17, 18]
So Is it safe for me and my family?
The simple answer is no one knows. For safety refrain from growing anything that you intend to eat in soil that may have antibiotics included. Flowers and other plants that are not intended for consumption are most likely fine but bear in mind that you may be destroying your soil biology when planting this material in your garden.
 Association Efficiency of Three Ionic Forms of Oxytetracycline to Cationic and Anionic Oil-In-Water Nanoemulsions Analyzed by Diafiltration
Authors Sandra L. Orellana,Cesar Torres-Gallegos,Rodrigo Araya-Hermosilla,Felipe Oyarzun-Ampuero,Ignacio Moreno-Villoslada
Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Volume 104, Issue 3, pages 1141–1152, March 2015