i built a raised bed and had a load of loam/compost mix (2:1) delivered. filled the bed, planted lettuce and carrots, and now the soil is crusty. the seedlings are struggling to break through, and breaking if they make it. what to do?
I'd suggest working in some composted steer manure, sand, and gypsum to improve the soil texture. Also, keeping the soil surface moist could help.
Of course, this advice is given with near total ignorance of your current soil conditions and watering regime, so you should probably take it with a grain of salt.
re: Sal Vanilla
Peat moss can crust too. Once peat is dried solid, it can repel water. (Most bagged soils for starting seeds have a soil penetrant added so this doesn't happen)
If you are having water penetration problems where you've planted seeds( with hard water, sometimes the repeated light sprinkles needed to bring up seeds can cause a build-up of mineral salts, in turn causing a sort of water-repellant action) you can mix a few drops of hand dishwashing detergent into a sprinkling can of water and lightly water the affected area. Technically, it's called using a soil penetrant, or fancy word, 'surfactant.'
Best thing is to start with a good soil composed of a large percentage of fine mixed organic materials (ground bark, peat, worm castings, etc) mixed with washed plaster sand for aeration, previous to placing seeds.
Seedlings exert a tremendous amount of upward pressure (hydrolics) so shouldn't be breaking their stems from the effort. If the seedling appears to be missing top parts, it would likely be predation. Birds are the usual culprits.
I use aviary wire or bird netting over my beds because the quail and sparrows can be a huge problem, picking at and plucking out seedlings. Little robbers!
Good luck and remember, patience is a gardener's best virtue. If your planting fails, replant! the summer stretches far ahead of us!
Generally speaking, using peat as a potting medium should be left to commercial greenhouse operations because they have the sosphiticated equipment needed to deal with its drawbacks.
There may be specialty ornamentals which benefit from using extra peat in the potting soil, but I'd use it only on advice from a specialty grower.