If you want to get a head start on the gardening season consider starting some of your flower and vegetable plants from seed. Growing plants from seeds makes it possible to jump the season ahead by 6 to 8 weeks. Starting your garden plants indoors can be very rewarding and also a great deal of fun.
Starting seeds indoors can be done in a very simple and economical fashion or you can get quite sophisticated with elaborate shelf and light systems. It’s really all up to you as both methods can yield very positive results.
GROWING SEEDS INDOORS
Choosing containers to start seedlings need not be difficult or expensive. As long as your container is at least around 2-3 inches deep and has drainage holes you are good to go. Think of using toilet paper rolls, take out food containers, peat pots, newspaper pots, milk cartons, small plastic pots, soil blocks or specially made cell packs and seed trays.
It really is not a good idea to use your garden soil. Unfortunately garden soil contains disease organisms that can severely harm your new seedlings. It is possible to sterilize your garden soil but it can be a rather messy project. For ease and best results use a commercially prepared soilless seed starting mix. If you wish you can make your own by mixing together peat, vermiculite and sterilized soil.
Before planting your seeds be sure to moisten your planting mix and gently press it into your containers to remove all air pockets. Gently drop your seeds onto the surface of the soil mix and cover them with a very fine layer of dry soil mix. Gently moisten using a spray bottle as to not disturb your seeds.
Some seeds require light to germinate so be sure to read your seed packet thoroughly. Read Seed Packets Tell a Story and take advantage of the information seed packets supply. In that case do cover the seeds with any further soil. To insure they have good contact with the soil surface just gently press the seeds into the soil before misting with water.
To make further watering easier, place your containers onto larger flat trays so they can drain any excess water when watered.
Don’t forget to label your plants. You might think you will remember what is what but most likely you won’t. Use a small stick, popsicle sticks work really well. Note the name of the plant and the date you seeded it then simply place the label into the corner of the container.
SUPPLYING WARMTH FOR GERMINATION
Warmth is required by most seeds to germinate. You can supply this warmth by setting your trays on a table above a furnace vent, or even on the top of your highest shelves closest to the ceiling. You can also buy heating mats specially designed for this purpose.
If you are using purchased cell flats they often come with a special plastic cover, or you can use plastic wrap to cover your containers. If you use plastic wrap be sure to lift it off the soil with small sticks, pencils or toothpicks. This will help to keep in the moisture much like a mini greenhouse would do. It’s important that your covering is not “air tight” as too much moisture will be trapped and mold may develop. If you spot excess moisture or mold remove your cover.
SUPPLYING A LIGHT SOURCE
You will need to provide a good light source to your containers once the seeds have germinated and begun to sprout. If you are keeping things simple use a wide window sill or place a table right in front of a sunny window. If your days are dull and grey, you should add a fluorescent light.
If you are going the more expensive route, you can buy fluorescent fixtures and shelving for this purpose, or try the middle route and make your own. Adequate light is not an option. Without adequate light your seedlings will simply grow spindly and weak.
If you want more information on what types of grow lights to use, read my article The Scoop on Grow Lights.
Also, a word of caution: NEVER LET YOUR SEEDS OR SEEDLINGS DRY OUT. I highly recommend monitoring your containers on a daily basis through this first phase.
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