There’s nothing more rewarding than starting your own seeds. The benefits of seed starting include getting a jump on the season, having access to hundreds of specialty varieties that you won’t find at your local nurseries, and a significant cost savings.
There are just a few supplies you’ll need:
seed flats or pots
bottom drainage trays
a quality seed-starting mix
clear dome lids or insulating floating seed cover such as Reemay
For germinating seeds, use clean starter flats or cell trays. If using recycled cell trays or flats, be sure to use a 10% bleach-to-water solution to kill any persisting diseases or pathogens. You can also make your own recycled newspaper pots, or use biodegradable CowPots made from manure, but whatever you use — make sure your containers drain well.
You can often find kits that include all three components — a seed flat, drainage tray, and plastic dome — to maintain the humidity that seeds need to germinate properly.
Fill seed flats or pots to just below the rim with a light, porous, seed-starting mix.
TIP: You can make your own mix by combining one part each peat moss, vermiculite, and perlite.
Moisten the mix and let it drain. Place two seeds in the middle of container. Check seed packets for the recommended planting depth, and cover the seeds with the proper amount of mix.
As a rule of thumb, cover seeds to a depth equal to twice their diameter. Label each container with the plant’s name and the date. Moisten the soil lightly and cover with dome or a floating seed cover to maintain humidity.
For seeds to germinate rapidly, they need to be kept warm. If you are starting heat-loving plants (tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, squashes, or melons), set the containers on a water heater, the refrigerator, or use a heating mat to keep the soil between 75°F/24°C and 90°F/32°C.
Most cool-season vegetables will germinate at room temperature of 65°F/18°C. When the seeds germinate, move the pots into an area with bright light and temperatures between 60°F/16°C and 75°F/24°C.
For consistent light and temperature, you can place seed flats and pots under florescent lights suspended a few inches above the seedlings and put them on a timer, making sure to give plants 14-16 hours of light a day.
As the plants get taller, be sure to keep raising the lights so that they are 2-3 inches above the tallest plant.
When the seedlings develop their second set of true leaves, it’s time to transplant them to the outdoors or into a larger container (if starting from flats). Fill the new containers with potting mix, moisten the mix, and let drain.
Carefully remove the new seedlings from the germinating container. Try to get all the roots and disturb them as little as possible. Newspaper pots can go straight into soil.
Make a planting hole in the container and nestle the seedling into its new home a little deeper than it was originally.
Gently press the mix around the transplanted seedlings and water them gently to settle the soil.
Your seedlings will need a steady supply of water, but the soil shouldn’t be constantly wet.
Feed the seedlings weekly with a fish emulsion solution or compost tea diluted to half-strength.
A week before you plan to transplant your seedlings to the garden, begin taking them outdoors to a protected place, such as inside a cold frame or near a wall, for increasing lengths of time on mild days.
This will help them adjust to the conditions outside—a process known as hardening off. Start with just a couple of hours each day, work up to a full day, and then leave them out overnight.
When you finally transplant your seedlings to the garden, be careful not to disturb their roots. Gently pop them out of their containers, keeping as much soil attached to their roots as possible.
If you’ve used a biodegradable pot, it can be planted directly into the ground. Your plants will suffer no transplant shock, and should establish themselves immediately.
Happy planting! Visit our new online Seed Shop and feel free to share your experiences and techniques with us here in the comments.