Seed starting basics
Written By: Amy Grisak
It’s only about a month until spring, and is great time to start seeds indoors. With a little planning, you can start most of your veggies yourself allowing you to save a little money, as well as growing those special varieties that are hard to find in greenhouses. Here are a few considerations before you start planting:
The most important thing new plants need is plenty of light. If you can set up a fluorescent light above a table (or better yet, build a rack with lights above the shelves) you will ensure your seedlings have the light they require.
But many of us don’t have enough room or the equipment to do this so we need to rely on natural sunshine. The trick is situating the seedlings in full sun, or moving the trays to give the seeds the most light you can. I move mine from the eastern, southern and western windows throughout the day. It’s not too bad when I first start seeding, but when I’m relocating 20 or so pots it can become tricky!
Purchase a good potting soil at a greenhouse or garden store. It doesn’t need fertilizer in it, nor the water absorbing crystals. Some companies have special mixes for starting seeds. Ask your local retailer which one they recommend.
You don’t want to use garden soil since it can harbor diseases – damping off is a fungus that attacks young seedlings – and is often quite heavy.
I hang on to all of our yogurt containers, as well as the half and half or cream pint and quart cartons. These work great if I cut a side off lengthwise. Whatever you use, be sure they’re clean and poke holes in the bottom for adequate drainage. You don’t need anything very deep at this point; just an inch and a half to two inches is plenty.
For larger crops, I seed in the black, plastic flats. This gives me plenty of space to do a lot. The seedlings will be transplanted later in the spring into larger containers.
The hardest part of starting seeds indoors is planting them at the proper time. The easiest way to decide when it’s right is to plan when you’re going to plant depending on your last frost date, and counting backwards according to the seed package.
For example, tomatoes often need to be started a good 8 weeks before planting them outside. If you’re last frost date is May 15, it means you should start them inside around the middle of March.
Read those seed packets because starting plants too early can be a huge hassle. If you have squash plants with 4-ft vines by the time it’s warm enough to set outside you’re going to have quite a struggle!