There’s a lot of information out there about starting seeds indoors. While there are definitely better ways to grow seeds, a certain amount of fudging is acceptable. Here in our house, we’ve had our share of seedlings that came home in Dixie cups from elementary school and fared just fine.
Still, if you want to boost your success and the health of your plants, take a look at these tips I cherry-picked from gardening resources. By growing seeds, you’ll have a greater selection of varieties from which to choose.
1) Use clean, well-draining containers, such as recycled cell packs from last season. Soak them in a 10% bleach solution for 10 minutes.
2) Don’t use garden soil: it’s not sterile, it’s too dense for tender seedlings, and won’t drain well.
This seed-starting mix with peat as its main ingredient is relatively cheap (around $5), OMRI-listed, and easy to find at Home Depot.
Personally I don’t like the little peat discs that puff up when soaked in water because it’s too difficult to control their moisture content and they usually end up quite wet.
You want to moisten your soil until it’s damp and holds together, not drench it until it’s dripping.
3) About those seeds…
- You do not have to select organic seeds to grow organically. Choose them if you don’t mind spending a little extra money to support organic production of seeds. Usually you will find a wider selection of non-organic varieties.
- Follow the directions on the seed package with regard to how deep to plant the seeds. Some seeds need light to germinate and should simply be gently pressed onto the top of the soil; others need to be planted deeper. I learned the hard way that cilantro likes to be tucked in deep for darkness.
- Plant 2-3 seeds per cell (or whatever kind of container you’re using). After they sprout, choose the best seedling in each cell and clip the rest. (Don’t pull out the extras to avoid disrupting roots.)
- If you’re carrying seeds over from last year’s stash, expect a lower germination rate. I’ve heard that carrot and onion seeds in particular don’t keep well beyond one year and should be tossed.
- For some crops, direct-sowing in the garden is better, either because they don’t transplant well or they grow quickly (and often early) enough that you don’t need to start them indoors. These include: beans, beets, carrots, cucumbers, peas, radishes, salad greens, squash, sweet corn, and turnips.
4) Seeds like a little bit of warmth to germinate. Some people use seed-starting warming mats. I don’t, but I do try to find them a nice warm spot in my drafty house.
5) Keep them moist, too. If you stick them in a bag like this, they should be all set for a few days. Just don’t put a bag like this in the sun or you’ll fry the little buggers.
6) But once they’ve sprouted, they like cooler temps in the 60s. Get them under the lights and take them out of plastic right away.
If your seedlings start to get tall and spindly, they might be too warm or not have enough light.
Sixteen hours is best, which is why I did invest in a grow light.
Prop them up so they’re right under the light, about 3 or 4 inches away. Keep adjusting them so that as they grow, the leaves do not touch the light.
Here’s another trick to try: cover sheets of cardboard with aluminum foil and position them to reflect light from a window, etc. back onto your plants.
7) And finally, if all of this sounds like too much of a bother, skip it all and watch for the great plant sales we have in our area. More details to follow.