Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Start Some Seeds - Bring on Spring!

Here’s the view out my window:

So you can understand why it’s hard to imagine Spring will ever come, which makes it equally hard to start my seedlings.  Still, I have faith that someday the snow will be gone (not this week apparently since more is forecast for tomorrow).

I’ve written about starting seedlings in the past, but thought I’d toss out an updated version.

Need a reason to start your seeds yourself instead of buying already sprung plants from Home Depot?
Reason #1 – Much better selection and you can plant weird tomatoes, rare hot peppers, and expensive flowers.
Reason #2 – Sometimes those cute little already-blooming- awkwardly-on-their-tiny-stems specimens bring not only an instant garden, but some years (think 2 years ago) - the blight. A nasty early blight wiped out entire tomato crops on the east coast several years ago and its origins were traced to seedlings from Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
Reason #3 – It will give you great personal satisfaction, save you money, and make spring come sooner (that’s my own personal philosophy).

First things first. You need some stellar seeds.

 I buy mine from Pinetree Seeds and Landreth Seeds. Both sources have no GMO seeds and sell a huge selection of heirloom and organically grown seeds. If you order online, your seeds will arrive in a few days. Don’t jump the gun and buy those mass-marketed seeds at Wal-Mart. Don’t do it.

Next you need a container system and the right growing medium. In a normal year (as opposed to the Ice-age we are experiencing this year), I mix compost, vermiculite, and perlite as a growing medium to start seeds. This year my compost bin’s access door is still snowed in,
 so I’m opting for peat moss and vermiculite with the full knowledge that I’ll have to feed these babies some organic fertilizer once they’re up and at ‘em.

I use clean, empty yogurt containers 
with a few holes drilled in the bottom
 (You could use a box knife but since my hubby has more tools than Tim the Toolman, I have a drill bit just for this purpose!).

I’ve heard of people using egg shells as containers for seed starting. This sounds very organic and earth-friendly, but las with so many other things that sound great in theory, like cross-country road trips with the kids, it could be a disaster. Half an egg shell doesn’t seem like enough space to grow a real seedling, and how do you keep them from falling over? I decided to kind-of try this method this year. I’m starting some seeds in an egg carton. It’s biodegradable and I should be able to plant them  directly in the garden. I am skeptical of whether the plants will grow large enough to transplant well, but we shall see.
 (I’ll update you in May. Notice I only planted flowers – veggie seeds are too important to use for test purposes.)

It’s important to wet the planting medium thoroughly. A day or two before I'm ready to plant the seeds, I dowse each container until water comes out the bottom. I want this dirt wet all the way through. This might be a great project to do while you’re waiting for your seeds to arrive.

Before I put the seeds in, I write the name of the plant on a popsicle stick and place it in the container. I scatter 2-3 seeds on the dirt and cover it with the appropriate amount of growing medium. Your seed packet will tell you this, but it’s basically the same depth as the seed is tall, so that’s not very deep. Tomatoes will get ¼ inch or so, onions nearly no covering.

Next, I place these containers in a plastic under-the-bed box or show box, so that I can water them from the bottom once they sprout.

After the seeds are planted, I wet them with a spray bottle. You need to water gently at this point or your seeds will be washed in to the corners or too deep in the dirt to ever find their way out. Pick up a few empty spray bottles at the hardware store. These bottles are cheap. I try to keep an extra one on hand because you get what you pay for (they break/jam/refuse to work easily).

Place your seeds in a warm place under lights. (Actually for most seeds you don’t need the lights until they’ve sprouted.) We have a growing space with lights on a timer. You don’t need those special expensive grow lights. Really. An ordinary old fluorescent bulb or a warm sunny window will also work (although if you use a window remember to turn your pots regularly and expect a slightly slower growth rate).

Wallah – you’ve done it. Your garden is started! 

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