Seed Starting

Ken Johnson

It’s that time of year again, time to get seeds started indoors. If you’ve never started your own seeds there are several advantages to doing this. You tend to get better germination rates when compared to starting seeds outdoors because you are providing them with idea conditions. They have no competition from other plants and there shouldn’t (hopefully) be any diseases or insects attacking them. Starting seeds to make your own transplants is much cheaper than going out and buying them later in the year. You also have a lot more variety to choose from when you start your own seeds when compared to buying transplants from the store (hundreds compared to a handful when it comes to popular plants like tomatoes).

Starting seeds isn’t very difficult to do. There are just a few things you need in order to get started: your desired seed, a container to start them in, some growing media, water and light. When selecting a growing media use a seed starting mix, not garden soil. Garden soil is going to have weed seeds, and possibly diseases in it as well as being very dense and heavy (won’t drain as well as seed starting or potting soil). Seed staring mix is sterile and is usually made from milled peat moss, perlite, coconut coir and vermiculite. This combination gives you a light fine textured media that is perfect for starting seeds.

When it comes to your container, there are a variety of different options from plastic sheets of small containers (cell flats), plastic pots, peat pots, egg shells, toilet paper tubes, to egg cartons. Whatever you choose make sure it can hold you media while allowing excess moisture to drain away and make sure they have drainage holes!

You have several different options when it comes to lighting too. Fluorescent grow lights are often used however, you can use regular fluorescent bulbs, a desk lamp or even a windowsill. If you decide to start your seeds on a windowsill make sure it has good southern exposure and it isn’t drafty.

When you’ve selected the seeds you want to grow, take a look at the back of the package. It should tell you when the seeds should be sown, or planted (generally x numbers of weeks before last frost). It may also tell you how deep the seeds need to be planted.

Once you’ve gathered all of you supplies it’s time to plant some seeds!

  1. Fill your desired container with your seed starting media. It’s often easier to wet your media before filling the containers. Tap the container on a hard surface to make sure media is settled and you don’t have large air pockets in the container.
  2. Use something (your finger, pencil, etc.) to make an indentation in the media to the recommended depth. Place 2-3 seeds inside this indentation and cover with your media. Press the media down to make sure there is good contact with the seeds.
  3. Gently mist the media with water.
  4. You can then cover the container with plastic to help retain moister and warmth. Remove the plastic to spray container if the media dries out. If you don’t cover with plastic you will need to water more frequently. Once the seeds begin to germinate, remove the plastic cover.
  5. If you are starting seeds in a cool area it may be a good idea to get a heat mat (specifically made for starting seed) so that the seeds will properly germinate and to prevent disease problems.

As your seedlings grow, keep your lights 3 inches above the tallest plant if using fluorescent lights (it will probably need to be higher if you are using incandescent lights so you don’t cook you seedlings) and provide them with 12-16 hours of light a day. Get that Christmas light timer back out so you don’t have to worry about remembering to turn them on and off. Water media as needed, making sure it remains moist. Once your seedlings produce their first true leaves, you can water with a weak fertilizer. Once it’s time to take your plants outdoors (your seed packet should tell you when they can go outdoors) make sure to harden them off (place them outside in a protected area for an increasing period of time) before you put them in their permanent home.

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