Starting Plants From Seed
One of the most cost effective ways to have plenty of inexpensive plants for your garden, is to grow them from seed. We talked earlier this month about starting seeds in milk jugs, but today we are going to talk about starting seeds indoors to get a jump on annuals and vegetables that can be planted out after the last frost date in your area.
You can start seeds in literally anything that will hold the seed starting mix. There are tools that make soil blocks that allow you to move your plants from the trays directly into the ground. You can start seeds in egg cartons, plastic food containers, peat pots, and jiffy pellets that come as a disk and swell up into miniature pots when watered.
The best medium for starting seeds is a professional seed starting mix. This mixture is made specifically to provide seedlings the nutrition they need to get off to a good start for the first 2-3 months. It is not recommended to start seeds in garden soil because you don’t know what pathogens or other material may be in your soil and garden soil is too heavy for the tender roots of seedlings.
Are Your Older Seeds Viable?
If you have seeds saved from previous years and aren’t sure if they are still good, you can sprinkle some on a damp paper towel, fold it up and place it in a sandwich bag. Place the baggie in a warm place such as the top of the refrigerator and wait a week or two. When you think the seeds may have sprouted, take them gently out of the bag and look to see if there are little tails on the seeds. They can be planted at this point and you know they will grow.
To Heat or Not to Heat
I’ve been told by other experienced growers that using a heat mat under your trays will help the seeds germinate. I have not used a heat mat, but I do pay attention to the germination temperatures required by different seeds and try to control light and room temperature. Some seeds need temperatures of 60-65 degrees to germinate. Others need 70-75 degrees. The seed packet should tell you what is required.
I’ve had the most success with 36 or 48 inch long LED shop lights with 3000 to 5500 Lumens. These have the bulb already installed. You can also use regular shop light fixtures and fit them with one cool and one warm fluorescent bulb. The important thing is to make sure all your seedling trays are receiving the light. You need to be able to move the lights up as the seedlings grow using a cable or chain system. I have hung my lights on chains thrown over a piece of PVC pipe or a broomstick that hung from brackets on the ceiling of my unfinished basement. You can also find instructions at YouTube for building a seed starting rack. Start the lights 2 inches from the seeds and move them up as they grow.
You will have a sense of great accomplishment when you watch your seedling grow into beautiful plants.