Friday, August 19, 2011

Seed Starting

Seed starting is something gardeners do to save money, reuse heirloom seeds they've saved from the previous year, get a jump-start on the growing season, or is just a good excuse to grow more things in strange places like your laundry room and bay window.  I've decided to give it a try with some herbs I hope to plant in a few weeks.  It's supposed to be simple and easy, and since my kids can do the work themselves, it seems like a worthwhile experiment.  With fall around the corner, it is time to get those seeds started, so here's a quick how-to.

You'll need good quality potting soil, preferably a seed-starting mix.  It is very loose and will provide ideal aeration, drainage, and water retention for those little roots and leaves.  You won't need much.  Go small.  Most big retailers and nurseries carry it.

You will also need some small, individual containers.  These come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials, so I decided to try a mixture to see just which method I like best.
     Fiber Pots:  These are biodegradable and can be set right into the ground when you're ready to     transplant outside.  This means that there is one less step in the transplant process, and it helps to prevent transplant shock.
     Flats:  This method allows you to use small, reusable (thus sustainable) plastic containers that can hold as few as 6 or as many as 72 plants in one tray.
     Coir Pellets:  These are dehydrated round disks that contain pot and potting soil in one unit.  When you're ready to plant your seeds, you just rehydrate and go.  To transplant, cut away the netting that holds the pot together.  It sounded messy.  I did not try these.
     Yogurt Containers and Plastic Cups:  This is an economical approach and works perfectly if you remember to poke a few holes into the bottom of the cup to allow for drainage.

Go ahead and fill those containers with soil and seeds.  The seed envelope will give you planting and watering specifics, and will let you know when you can expect to see little green buds poking their heads through the dirt.

Be sure to label each pot by writing directly on the pot or using a marker to help you identify them later.  We opted for popsicle sticks.

Water and Sun
Just like seeds sown outside, your indoor seedlings will need to be kept moist and will need to see some sun.  Seed planting kits usually come with a dome that covers the flat and is used to retain humidity for the first few days.  I've read, too, that you can cover the pots with some plastic wrap and accomplish the same thing.  I may be sorry, but we did not use either technique.  I do have some sprouts already, so I think we're in the clear.  The goal is to keep the pots warm to aid in germination.  The dryer in my laundry room helps to keep the air a little warmer, and with two small boys, it runs often.

When watering, do so gently.  A little sprinkle or even a good misting is best since those seeds are not buried deeply and can be easily drowned or washed out when watered heavily.  Be sure to keep them watered frequently, however, because those small pots can dry out quickly.

After planting and before hardening off, your seedlings are not ready for intense sun.  Some indirect or filtered sunlight (like a window sill or grow light) will suffice.

Hardening Off
This is an important step in the transplant process.  You little plants have thus far lived a very sheltered life and exposing them to the elements without a little time spent adjusting is a quick way to kill off those tender green youngins'.  You'll want to start gently.  Let your plants spend a few hours a day in the shade.  After you've done this for a few days, give them a little - a very little - direct sun.  Then, give them a combination of the two, gradually increasing the amount of time the plant spends outside.  By about day 10, your plants should be well exposed to the elements and ready for transplant.

Your plants are now ready to place in your garden or bed just as you would any other plant you bought at your local gardening store.  Make sure they go into good soil with plenty of water.

You can start seedlings indoors with flowers, vegetables and herbs.  Some seeds are labeled "direct sow" which means they do better if planted directly in the out-of-doors. This just means that they don't transplant well.  Others, however, will benefit from the head-start they get establishing a root system and a few leaves before facing the sun, wind, and rain.

Good luck!


  1. Sounds amazingly like raising children, to me at least... And speaking of children, I LOVE the focus and determination in those precious faces! But my favorite is Cal watering the younguns. Priceless!

  2. what exactly is Fall like there {weather wise?}. I am envious that you will be planting outdoors still....that is one thing that is frustrating about NY. The growing season is short.

  3. Fall is wonderful here. It is long and mild. I planted a full garden and am hoping that some of my greens will survive the winter. Last year we had a freakishly cold one, but assuming temps are average, I stand a good chance of getting kale and spinach and maybe a few others through the winter season. We'll see! I dread these coming months and the cold, but can't complain too loudly - you New Yorkers have it so much worse!


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