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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 (pun intended).
Seed Starting Guide
- 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- You can use anything from newspaper to egg cartons to everything in between. I do not use flats, if you choose to, you can. You can reuse them over and over if you do. They also have those biodegradable cups pre-made that you can purchase. I just use something biodegradable, cost-effective, 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 purchased greenhouses (and reuse them) as well as a few plastic trays I use for our homeschool artwork. You could use disposable baking pans, the plastic trays made for this, baking pans, or just use your imagination!
- Clear Lid- Whether you buy a greenhouse or not, you need to cover your seeds until they start sprouting. It helps keep the humidity at the right level. For the art trays, I stick plastic wrap over them to keep the humidity in.
- 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 and move it up as they grow.
- Optional:Heat Mat- We went for years without a heat mat for our tomatoes and peppers and they did fine. But, I’ve found that with one my germination rates are higher and the seeds sprout faster and wind up stronger than without. So, we choose to use a heat mat for just our tomatoes and peppers.
- 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– Whether you’re using your own DIY containers or purchased peat pots, you need to fill them with the seed starting medium. Fill whatever container you’re using about 3/4ths full and you’re good.
- Wet everything down- I find it easier to wet down the containers before I plant the seeds. Make everything nice and moist. You do not want it drenched as that will promote mold and lack of growth. But you want it wet.
- Plant seeds- Place 2 or 3 seeds in each cell. Check package for depth requirements. Some seeds (especially herbs) are planted at surface level. Most don’t need to be planted more than 1/4″ depth. But check to be sure.
- Label- However is easiest for you to keep your starts labeled, do that. Because trust me, you’ll forget. We have a lot of soil pods this year and I took toothpicks and post its and wrote the seed variety on each row. You can use popsicle sticks, or whatever works best for you. You’ll want to make sure you can close the top of your greenhouse if you’re using one of those, though so keep that in mind.
- Cover them up- Use the lid that came with your greenhouse or some plastic wrap or other clear lid material in order to keep the moisture and humidity levels appropriate to promote germination.
- Keep them warm- While most seeds do not need light at this point, you can stick the light on them to keep the temperature right, or put them on a heat mat. Some seeds (lots of herbs) actually germinate better with light on them. Your seed packet should contain that information if light is required right off the bat. Otherwise, just make sure you maintain warmth of 60-80°F depending on the variety. Our greens and such just sit out at room temp, we maintain our tomatoes and peppers with a seed mat that keeps the container around 75ºF.
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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 for everything. If you have some southern exposure inside, great, that will help. However, even placing mine in our plentiful southern windows isn’t enough to maintain them. Light from above is best so they aren’t stretching to get to the light which can result in weak, leggy seedlings.
I use grow lights on all of mine, but a fluorescent fixture fitted with both a warm and cool bulb will do. 12-16 hours a day. You can just turn it on in the AM, turn it off before 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 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. It will help them be more 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.