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Each spring I get so excited to get back into the garden. Sorting my seeds is kind of the first real step towards spring. Once they are sorted, I am anxious to get my hands in the dirt again and begin starting seeds.
This week, it is finally time to start my first seeds of the season. In the post about Seed Sorting, I talked about how to determine your last frost date and sort the seeds. Check that post for more details. My earliest ones are in the twelve weeks before the last frost group. These are my artichokes, hot peppers, and a few perennial herbs.
One of the biggest things to think about when starting seeds indoors is your lighting. I have a nice sunny window and last year I put a table in the sun and that was all I used for most of my seedlings. Until I ran out of room on the table and started taking over the laundry room. This is when I realized that the laundry room has lights under the counter! This year I am starting my seeds there, on a box so they are up close to the light. Once the plants start growing, I will move them down as needed so they are not touching the light but are still close.
Seedlings need 14-16 hours of light a day so this easier than me chasing the sun in my windows. Also, I am not using a grow light or anything special just the regular under the cabinet fluorescent lights that were there.
Just like in the garden, dirt matters! You want to use a good quality seed starting mix or a light fluffy potting soil. I have tried to use dirt from the yard or other potting soils and never get great results. Seed starting mixes are light and fluffy. It is easy for young roots to move through. Because it is so light and fluffy though, it is important to mix some water into it before you put it into your containers and plant your seeds. If you fill the container and then try watering, you will likely have a bunch float away.
If you are using a potting soil, get a good organic indoor one. I used a garden bed soil before, and it had chunks of bark and was just too dense and heavy to work well for seedlings in the little cells.
I like to try new and different containers. Last year I really liked the green ones in the top of this picture. I got them on Amazon last year and they were very easy to use.
This year I am trying a couple of new ones. The first year, the ones I used were too flimsy and the cells were too small. If you are going this route, look for trays that have a larger cell. You can also use left over pots from plants, clean them out first, egg cartons or just about any other little container. Make sure that whatever you use has drainage, so your seedlings don’t drown but there are tons of options. You can also make them out of toilet paper rolls.
I really like the seed starting trays with a bottom tray to catch the water and the clear lid that creates a tiny little greenhouse effect.
You want to make sure that you are set up to easily water your seedlings. This is where those container choices come in handy. One year I used a bunch of little pots and put them into a short box, like you get drinks in at Costco. I lined the box with tin foil to keep water from leaking through to ruin the box. This was really handy because then I could water gently right in the box and the little bit that would leak out was contained.
You will want to keep the soil moist but not overly wet to get the seeds to sprout. Most seedlings do not like to dry out. If you find you are getting mold on your dirt, you are probably watering too much. You don’t want the dirt to be soggy. You can add a small fan to the area to circulate air also.
Don’t forget to label your seeds. I have made the mistake of getting stingy with my labels and figured I would be able to keep track of what I was doing. That’s all fine and dandy if you are just planting one variety of peppers and some zucchini. You can tell those apart easily. It’s a different story if you are planting hot peppers and sweet peppers and lose track of which are which. It can be quite a surprise in your salad when that sweet banana pepper is really a habanero!
Plant your seeds
Once you have your container with the damp soil all nicely labeled, you are ready to plant your seeds. For the most part you will just follow the planting instructions on the seed packet. If it says plant ¼ inch deep that is what you will do. There are some things, like lavender and mint for example, that need more light to sprout so you will place these on top of the soil. Some seeds need special handling to sprout but most vegetable seeds will tell you right on the package what you need to do.
Now you wait…
If you are like me this is the hard part. I keep checking to see if anything has sprouted up yet. Just be patient and whatever you do, don’t go disturbing them. Most seed packets will also tell you how many days to germinate. You won’t see them pop through the soil until then so be patient.
Once your seeds sprout, keep up with the light, if your plants start leaning one way or the other you may need to turn them or add more light. Don’t let your seedling dry out. As they get bigger you may have to water more often and if you start them in very small cells you may need to transplant them into larger containers, so they don’t get root bound.
Don’t forget to harden them off before planting them outside
Getting your seeds started is not the last step. You will not be able to just throw them directly into the garden or they will go into shock and likely die. Last year I got impatient with some of my tomatoes and didn’t harden them off well enough, so I lost several. Don’t lose your hard work by not taking the time to harden them off. More on that in the next post.
I am off to start more seeds. What will you be growing this week?