It’s finally time, yay! For the first time in literally months I was able to get my hands in the dirt! The beginning of gardening season is so exciting. Even though we have a forecast for more snow this coming week, I’ve already started my gardening ventures. If you are ready to jump on the organic gardening bandwagon, this post is for you. I have you covered with essentials to start your seeds, how to make your own organic starting mix, and how to get the best starts ever! Lets get started!
Seed Starting 101
- Seeds– We only use quality, organic, heirloom varieties for our garden. They are far superior to their hybrid counterparts in several ways. There are several places to purchase quality heirloom seeds, you can try your local seed and farm supply store, or find somewhere online. I love Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
- Containers- Believe it or not, we use egg cartons. They are naturally biodegradable, so when the seeds are transplanted, I don’t have to disturb them. They are the correct size for what is needed, and I have plenty of them lying around. You could also build your own using newspaper, use paper cups, or purchase already made containers. I do not use flats, if you choose to, you can. I just want more biodegradable, cost-effective options, and avoid plastic when and where I can.
- Seed Starting Medium- Believe it or not, seed starting medium isn’t soil. It’s a mixture of compost, peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. You can make your own (check out below) or purchase your own organic variety. I had trouble finding organic starting mix locally, so I made my own. There are several options online, though.
- Drip Trays- You need something waterproof, with sides to not make a wet, potentially muddy, mess everywhere. It should be sturdy enough to carry around with the weight of all of your seedlings. We use an old boot mat we had lying around. You could use disposable baking pans, the plastic trays made for this, baking pans, or just use your imagination!
- Light- Unless you have amazing sunlight available to you, it’s probably wise to invest in a light source. Seedlings need lots of light to grow healthy. You can get a cheap fluorescent fixture, or get one specifically tailored to “growing.” I found a 24 inch grow light at my local farm store for 12 bucks with the lights already in it. It doesn’t need to be fancy, it just can’t use regular incandescent bulbs, as these produce far too high of a temperature. Cool, fluorescent bulbs in a cheap shop light fixture will work. Just place it about 2 inches from your growing seedlings about 12 hours a day.
- Prepare your seed starting medium- If you have your own organic medium, great! If you don’t, mixing it is easy and you can make as little or as much as you need (added bonus!).
- Homemade Seed Starting Medium- Mix 4 parts compost, 2 parts sphagnum peat moss, 1 part vermiculite, and 1 part perlite. You should be able to find all of these items at your local garden store. Mix as little or as much as you need, just maintain these amounts and you’re golden!
- Prepare your containers– Since I use egg cartons, I’m going with how to prepare them. It’s simple. Cut off the lid, poke a hole in the bottom of each cell, fill each cell about 3/4 full of seed starting medium wet the seed starting medium a bit and viola, you’re ready to plant.
- Plant seeds- Place 2 or 3 seeds in each cell. Check package for depth requirements.
- Water- You do not want to overwater, it will not promote growth. It will, however, promote mold, mess, and no growth. Just a light mist to lightly wet the soil is more than adequate, or better yet, water from below. Just place water in your drainage tray and it will suck up through the holes you poked in your carton.
- Label- I label mine with popsicle sticks stuck into the carton. Just write the name of your seed on it. I then transfer these to my garden under the plant.
- Keep them warm- That’s it, you don’t need any light at this point. Just make sure you maintain warmth of 60-80°F.
Maintaining Your Starts
- Thin Seedlings- Thin each cell down to 1 plant per cell. You never know if they’re all going to sprout or not, so plating two or three in each cell just about guarantees you will get at least one seedling in each cell.
- Maintain light- Now is when the light is absolutely necessary. If you have some southern exposure inside, great, that will help. However, I start mine in a room with only northern windows. So, I use cool fluorescent light about 2 inches from my seedlings, 12 hours a day. Turn it on in the AM, turn it off before I go to bed. If you’re having a few nice, warm, sunny days at 60 or above, you can absolutely set your seedlings outside for a few hours, it’s great for them to get the real thing!
- Keep them moist- Do not overwater! Every couple of days is more than enough. It is best to either mist them with a spray bottle, or put water in your drainage tray. Do not drench soil, and allow to partially dry out before watering again.
- Put a fan on them- If you can, place a small fan on low speed blowing toward your seedlings. This will prevent “leggy’ plants, making them nice and strong. Resistant to wind when they get outdoors in the spring!
- Avoid damping off disease- You know that moldy white stuff that grows on your soil when starting plants indoors? That is damping off disease, and it’s nasty. You can avoid it by watering from the bottom, letting the soil dry out between watering, getting the plants out into the sun when possible, and keeping a fan on to improve air circulation.
That’s all there is to it. See? Not too scary. Fairly simple, and the rewards!!! Just think of all the wonderful, organically grown produce you’ll have this fall. That you grew!! It’s truly an amazing feeling. Plus, the kids can help, and learn something along the way. This is my kids favorite time of year, they love watching the plants come to life in our little egg cartons!
It’s amazing to watch life happen.
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