Sunday, February 03, 2008

Don't Make Starting Seeds So Complicated

I keep reading questions on gardenweb from people who have never grown from seed before and it makes me wonder why they think it's such a complicated process.

Really, there is nothing, nothing complicated about seed starting. If there was, Mother Nature would be in big trouble. Mmm-hmmm.

Seeds want to grow. It's their job. They want to grow up strong and healthy and make more seed to make more plants that look just like they do.

I mean really, do people think that hundreds of years ago they ammended soil with peat and compost? Had cute little ready-to-go starter cubes? Seed starter soil? Vermiculite?

Nope! Man, oh man, the stress. No reason to go bald pulling your hair out over seed starting anxiety. It should be a pleasurable and fun experience.

This is how easy it is. Really!

Step 1: Get a good potting 'mix' (not soil-it's too heavy for those tiny seedling roots), starter cubes, peat pellets, those mini greenhouses, old - but clean - margarine containers with holes punched in the bottom, coffee cans, last years 6 packs you bought annuals in, whatever suits your fancy.

Step 2: Fill containers with mix - also whatever suits your fancy. Of course, if you have the little greenhouses or peat pellets, you're already set with this step.

Step 3: Moisten mix so it's saturated, but doesn't drip tons of water if you give it a squeeze. You want to give the seed moisture, not drown them. Tip: If you're using peat - use the hottest water from your faucet to do this, then let cool and pour out the excess.

Step 4: Sow your seed according to the package directions. (Not sure when to start them indoors in your zone? Try here: Grow Guide) This step pretty much depends on whether or not you're a control freak, worry-wart, whatever. You can sow one seed per hole, 3 per hole, one seed per inch, spaced perfectly or just scattered on the mix. Will it absolutely break your heart to snip off those little sprouts later? If so, give them space right off the bat.

Step 5: Cover with plastic, saran, whatever works to keep the moisture in, or you can just keep them moist with misting the top of the soil a little bit a few times a day if it seems to be getting dry. Air flow isn't going to be a problem at this stage.

Step 6: Keep them somewhere warm. Light doesn't matter at this point - it's a seed, it doesn't care one way or the other. (Unless it's a seed that needs light to germinate-read your seed package). You can stick them near a radiator, in a south facing window (careful with this - you could actually cook your seeds if it gets too much sun!), on top of the clothes dryer or fridge. If you don't care about spending the extra money, you can get a heating mat made for seed starting, or use a heating pad you might have laying around the house. Personally, I've found that just sticking them in the warmest spot in the house works just fine. Now, wait for those puppies to start showing themselves. Patience is a good thing to have here as some seed seem to take forever to germinate.

Step 7: As soon as you see the sprouts poking from the mix, remove the plastic cover!

Step 8: OK, this is where I think most people have problems - when the seeds do germinate, they have to have light! There just isn't any substitute to get them to grow. You need air to live = seedlings need light. Your normal indoor lighting from your ceiling fixtures just isn't going to cut it. You either need sill space by a window (South facing) or rig up a light stand of some kind. As I posted before, I used the plans from T's to make a great, cheap, disassembleable (is that a word? Well, you know what I mean) light stand - with some modifications. And yes, the regular shop lights from Lowe's and HD will work just fine for seedlings.

Step 9: Temperature isn't really a big deal at this point (unless you're growing tropicals, of course!). Normal house temps are usually fine as anything above 60 works well. Keep the seedlings watered, but not dripping. Again, you don't want to drown the poor things. Just don't let them dry out too much. If they start wilting, that's a good sign you're not watering enough, turning yellow and you may be overwatering. If you can keep your containers in some sort of tray, bottom watering is much better than top watering, but make sure the containers don't sit in standing water.

Step 10: A fan blowing gently across the seedlings a few hours a day will help with damping off and make the stems stronger for transplanting. And if you've sown them too close together, either transplant individually to larger containers or snip off the weakest sprouts with regular or cuticle scissors. Don't pull them out as this may damage the roots on the nicer sprouts you want to save. Now, watch 'em grow!

That's it! Not so much rocket science, huh? Fun, easy, and exciting! Just remember to 'harden-off' your plants before plant out and you'll be eating fabulous veg and smelling wonderful blooms before you know it. And the best part - you get to say, "Yeah, I grew that!"

For even easier starting (YES! There is an even easier way!) try winter sowing.

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