Starting Plants From Seed
Starting plants from seed has lots of advantages. Like baking at home, you will know exactly how your seedlings have been cared for from day one, and will know they are not diseased. You can also plant them at the opportune time, so they are ready for the garden when you are ready to plant, but not too leggy from being in a small pot for too long.
Starting your own seedlings gives you a chance to grow many varieties of plants not regularly found at most greenhouses. You can browse seed catalogs, and mail order a vast array of seeds to plant. If you want organic vegetables, you can easily obtain organic seed to plant.
What You'll Need
There are a few items you will need if you want to start your own seedlings. The main item is a proper seed starting mix. If you use soil direct from your garden, you may not have good success. Soil can actually be too strong for new seed, and can cause disease.
You will also need something to hold the dirt. If you have commercial plant pots, that’s great. If you don’t, they are usually cheap to purchase. If you want to use recycled products, containers such as single serve yogurt, or pudding cups work well. Just be sure to punch a few holes in the bottom of the container so excess water can drain out.
You will also need a tray to hold the smaller containers. Again, commercial trays are available for a low price, or you can use containers you have at home. Be aware that the commercial trays last quite a few years if they are handled carefully and stored properly between seasons, but they will get small cracks and holes eventually. It might be a good idea to put some water in them and check for leaks before you put your plant pots in them.
The Planting Process
Fill your chosen plant pots with dirt, then water it until it is damp. The seedling mix will take a bit of time to absorb the water, so expect a lot of water to just drain right through. You can either keep watering, or even let the pots sit in a shallow pan of water and absorb it through their drain holes.
Once the pots are nicely moist, place your chosen seeds on top of the soil. You can plant one seed per pot, or more than one. In a commercial sized pot, you can get away with planting two seeds per pot, then carefully separating them when you plant them in the garden, but it is usually better to just plant one seed per pot, because separating them can cause damage to the roots.
I suggest placing the seeds on top of all the pots before burying them, so you don’t lose track of which pots have seeds and which don’t. Once the seeds are in place, cover them with the appropriate amount of dirt. A good rule of thumb is to plant the seed as deep as it is wide. This means a pumpkin seed should be planted deeper than a tomato seed.
Once the seeds are planted, you should label them. I suggest writing on popsicle sticks with a permanent marker. There are also commercially available plastic plant labels that can last from season to season.
When you have the seeds planted and labelled, cover the plant tray with a plastic cover, or with saran wrap. This will keep heat , and humidity in with your seeds and help them germinate. It will also reduce how often you have to water the seeds.
Where to Grow the Seeds
Place the plant trays in a very sunny window, or preferably under proper plant lights. To grow healthy seedlings, you need intense light. Sunny windows will do the trick, but the plants tend to get leggy and be harder to transition to the garden.
If it is very cold in your house, you may also need to place supplemental heat near the seeds. There are heating mats designed to go under your plant trays to help with this.
Some Other Notes
Some plants do not transplant well. These include the vine crops, such as pumpkins, squash and cucumbers. If these plants are to be started indoors, they will need to be planted in a container that can be planted directly in the garden. A ‘peat pot’ is a good option for this.
Seeds vary in the time it takes to germinate, so don’t despair if the plants don’t come up right away. The seed package should tell you the average days to germination, but if the house is cold, they might take a little longer than the package says.
Be sure to ‘harden off’ your seedlings by slowly transitioning them to wind and direct sun before you plant them in your garden.