Depending on what area you live it can be time to start your seeds…it is for me. So I thought it’s a good time to do this master gardening post on Seed Starting.
I have found, through years of practice, that people garden in order to make
something grow; to interact with nature; to share, to find sanctuary, to heal,
to honor the earth, to leave a mark. Through gardening, we feel whole
as we make our personal work of art upon our land.
– Julie Moir Messervy
There are two way to starts seeds:
1) Direct sow – which is directly sowing the seed right into your garden.
2) Sowing Inside – this method allows you to get a jump on the season.
Some plants lend themselves to being pre-started some not.
Here is a link outlining which method is good for vegetables.
WHEN TO PLANT SEEDS:
Here is a guide for when to start Herbs: Garden Guide For Growing Herbs
When to Start Flowers was outlined in the previous post, click here.
Starting seeds can be intimidating and can seem complicated, but once you do it, it becomes easier. When I first started out I only did a few, and this year I’m sowing 10 flats worth of flowers/veggie and pre-staring many bulbs, Colcasia (elephant ears) Dahlias, Caladiumns.
4 THINGS TO GO FROM SEED TO SEEDING
A seed whether started inside or out need 4 things:
1) Moisture: A seed may contain as little as 2% water by weight, and because water may need to increase by 80% water before the embryo to start growing. Makes water vital to a seed being able to germinate, but at the same time a seed can drown if there is too much water. This is where a good “seed starting” mix comes in. The mix should absorb water easily, but also allow excess water to drain.
2) Oxygen: A light and fluffy seed starting mix contains enough air to supply adequate oxygen. Over watering will stifles your seeds.
3) Warmth: a steady temperature of 70 to 75° enhances the germination rate. This is where heating mats or heating coils are essential.
Light vs. Dark: Some seeds require light to germinate, some do NOT germinate with light, their require darkness. The seeds package will indicate this.
THE RIGHT LIGHT
Seeds and seedlings love light, it’s like a dessert for them, they can’t get enough. It’s easy to meet these needs using a system like this or build you own.
Shelving: which can be a window ledge facing a sunning window is only starting a few, or utility shelving
You’ll need a pair of two-tube fluorescent light fixtures (sized to fit your shelve) for the number of shelves you are using. For the best blend of light colors for your plants, use 1 warm white fluorescent bulb, and one cool white one.
The lights are hung from each shelve using metal chains on to a hook, this made it easy to raise or lower the lights. Typically lights are 2″above the top soil to keep warm. I use heat mats so I don’t use a light until after my seed germinate.
As the seeds grow, keep the lights 2″ above the seedling (don’t let lights touch the seedlings). The lighting should be on for 16 hours a day.
Before you can start your seeds you need containers, and what containers you use is really an individual one. I use some commericial ones, but now I have enough to reuse and just clean them by soaking them in a solution of nine part water to one part chlorine bleach.
There are so many containers to choose from, plastic pots, clay pots, plastic cell containers, peat pellets and peat pots.
I up-cycle containers out of items I’ve saved such as clear egg containers..
these make great seed starting packs for individual seedlings. You can use the large clear 1 pound organic salad containers for “community” pot seedlings.
If you seeding in individual container place two seed in each cell. This ensures at least one seedling emerges.
If two seedlings appear you can use scissors to cut one off at soil level. If your like me I have a hard time doing this, so I gently pull out the second sprout and transplant to a new empty cell.
SEED STARTING MIXES
Garden soil, or potting soil is NOT the wright medium to use for seed starting, it’s too dense/heavy and holds to much water and doesn’t drain well.
Most garden and box store centers carry good “seed starting” mixes. Since I start a lot of seed I buy a large pro-mix at my local garden center (this doesn’t contain any added chemical fertilizers).
You can also make your own….1 part peat, 1 part vermiculite or 1 part perlite. Since this doesn’t have any plant nutrients start fertilizing seedlings grown as soon as it developed it’s first “true” set of leaves.
Good timing is critical for starting seeds indoor. Refer to the link above to know when to start, and the back of the seed packet will tell when to start in your area.
SOWING, GROWING AND TRANSPLANTING
Preparing enough of your seed starting mix into a container of your choice.
Add hot water, a cupful at a time, working it in with your fingers, until the mix is evenly moist but not wet, it should feel like a damp sponge
Fill your pots or trays or packs to the top of the lip of the container with the moistened mix. Brush off any excess.
Distributing the seeds differ depending if you are sowing in individual container or sowing in community pots. The goal is the same for either method, to distribute the seeds evenly.
Sorry, I love the feel of my fingers/hand in the dirt, so I rarely use gloves. Be careful, one time I had my seeds close to my face and was looking at them when I took in breath and exhaled and ALL the seeds blew away!
For individual containers drop two seeds into each cells surface in the center. In a community pot, scatter seeds over the entire surface of the mix.
Small seed should be planted 1/4″ a part, medium seeds like tomatoes planted 1/2″ a part, large seeds like black-eyed Susans a 1 a part.
After the seeds have been sown in the mix, and if you seeds require covering (blocking the light) to grown (check seed packet back) cover the seeds with extra DRY mix on top of seed.
Tpically is the seed requires no light, and is covered by dry mix, a good rule of thumb is to cover the seeds by the depth equal to 3 times the their diameter. You don’t have to be exact, your seed won’t be mad at you for burying too deep!
After planing always label your containers, I can attest to having forgotten what I seeded and didn’t know until it flowered!
Sometimes I don’t use a full container for one plant, this egg container has 24 cells, so on my label I indicated that stocks was on the left 12 cells. I mark the date I planted the seeds and how long it should could take to germinate.
Watering, be very careful when watering top down, if you use a heavy stream you can “wash” away your seeds on top. I always water bottom up, I feel a cookie sheet tray with 1 inch water, let container sit inside for 1 hour, it will only absorb the amount of water it needs.
You need to cover seeds to germinate….if your using commercial seed cell with clear domes just place the dome on top.
The egg carton top part serves as a dome, other time I place my containers inside freezer bags
Germination: check your seeds daily, and as soon as the FIRST green shoots appears, remove the plastic bags/lids. BUT make sure to keep mix moist until germination if completed.
Not ALL seeds will germinate, do don’t think you did something wrong.
Pricking Out: Once the “true leaves” are fully formed, and you seeded in community pots, is when you start it is time to prick them out, which means to transfer to individual pots or cell packs is.
Fill pots/cells with moist starting mix, NOT potting soil. Using a pencil poke a hole in the center soil and wiggle a gently removed seedling down inside hole. To remove a new shoot gently lift by leaf not the stem.
Lighting: Seedling needs 16 hours of light a day daily, frequently move up lights to be 2″ above the seedings. I also rotate my plants under the lights to give even lighting to all.
Ventilation: Use a small fan around the plants to ensure gentle air is moving around them. Adequate ventilation encourages study plant growth, and protects plants from against “damping off”
Damping off is a disease caused by many soil-borne fungi. After germination, infected seedlings grow, but then suddenly topple over onto soil level and die.
Watering: Water only when the seed starting mix dries. Check with touching the top of the mix with you finger, and water with GENTLE spray from a watering can.
Fertilization: As soon as the “true leaves” (see above) it’s time to start fertilizing. Apple a water soluble, balanced 20-20-20 (nitrogen, phosphorous, phosphate) or fish emulsion, using at either HALF RATE the recommended by the product you are using. Fertilize every 7th time water or at least weekly.
NOTE: if you are using commercial mix with container fertilizer weekly fertilizer isn’t need until after one month.
Plants that have been raised in controlled conditions need to be hardened off, you plants can actually collapse is you just plop them outside in full sun for the whole day. Have you ever gotten sunburned? It be the same thing for a plant.
So gradually introduce your plants to full fun by beginning two weeks before you plan on planting in your garden… when it’s above 50°. Set plant out in filtered sun for an hour or two. Over the days increased the amount of time, an hour or two each day.
If they are sun loving plants, gradually expose them to more exposed sun.
remember to move seedlings inside on chilly days (days below 50) and resume hardening off when it warms up. By the second week plants can stay out all day.
I’ve hope you’ve learned from this post, and sorry about photo quality, some shots were done in the dungeon.
I’m headed out to my greenhouse….
Will you be starting any seeds, or have you already?
Any questions, just ask!