Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Starting Seeds Indoors

Basics for Starting Seeds Indoors
Compiled by Seattle Seed Company, LLC using information from GardenGuides.com, Wikipedia.org and the personal experience.

What You'll Need:

Plenty of Light:Seedlings need lots of light and prefer a southern exposure. If you don't have a bright, sunny window, consider purchasing some cool-white florescent bulbs. Closest to daylight temperature is best, and often the bulbs will be named as such.

Containers: Use whichever pots work for you and fit inside your budget. They must be clean and have good drainage.  Soak peat pots (or coir, or cowpots) very well before adding your planting soil/medium. Dry pots will suck the moisture away from the soil.

Seeds (of course!):
You'll get the best results if you purchase fresh seeds, packaged for the upcoming growing season. If you have saved seeds that you purchased last year, consider their germination rate before planting.  For seeds with nearly 100% germination when fresh, it's safe to assume the following year they will have about 85% germination.  This means if you planted 2 seeds in a pot, there's still a relatively good chance at least one of them would sprout.  You can always plant a few seeds and then pinch off all but the largest (healthiest) one after they've begun to grow. Don't let more than one plant grow in each pot as they will compete for nutrients and real estate for their roots.
Start Shopping for Seeds

Growing Medium:
The best thing about planting mixes (or seed-starting mix) from the store is that they are sterile and weed-free.  Non-sterile mixes can give you molds and diseases right from the start, and your little seeds hardly have a chance. You can make your own by searching "seed starting mix recipe".  Here is an article that contains a seed starting recipe: Soil-less seed mix

The Basics:
Sowing Seeds
Fill fill your pots (or flats) to within 1/4 inch of the top with your potting mixture and level the surface. It's a good idea to water the soil and allow it to drain thoroughly before sowing the seeds. Make a hole for each seed with something like a pencil. Keep in mind that most seeds need to be planted four times as deep as the seed is wide. If your seeds are very fine, just cover them with a very fine layer of soil.

Moisture & Humidity 
The germinating medium should be kept evenly moist but not soaking wet. Too much moisture will cause the seeds to rot and molds to form. Use a fine sprayer to water newly planted seeds and tiny seedlings or, if possible, water from the bottom.  Watering from the bottom allows the seeds to pull in only as much water as they require. If you can, slip your pots and flats into plastic bags or place a dome over them to keep the humidity and moisture even and reduce the need to water as often.  We use plastic domes and various garden cloches to keep our environment moist.

Let There be Light
Most seeds require light to germinate, while others prefer darkness. Look at your seed packet or online to find out what your seed's requirements are. Once germinated, all seedlings need plenty of light to develop into strong, healthy plants. Supplement the natural light with florescent bulbs if possible.  In Northern climates with shorter days you should use overhead lights for several hours, or put them in a window that receives light all day from dawn until dusk.  Also, keep hanging lights close to the seedlings or they will stretch out in an attempt to get closer.  Seedlings that are too leggy will not be very strong.

Caring for your Seedlings
After germination it is very important to take care of your seedlings.  Keep their home moist, but not dripping. Small pots and flats dry out quickly, so check on them often. If your seedlings are growing in a windowsill, turn them occasionally to encourage straight stems, as they will lean towards the sunlight.

The first two leaves you will see on the plant are not "true leaves," but food storage cells called cotyledons. Once the first true leaves have developed, it's time to start fertilizing. Choose a good liquid organic fertilizer and use a weak solution about one time per week.

Hardening Off Your Seedlings
One week before transplanting your seedlings outdoors, start the process of "hardening off." This process acclimates the soft and tender plants, which have been protected from wind, cool temperatures, and strong sun, to their new natural environment. Move the plants to a protected outdoor area during the day, and bring them indoors for the night if night temperatures are cold. Each day, move them out into the sun for a few hours, increasing the time spent in the sun each day. Keep them well watered during this period, and don't place them directly on the ground if slugs are a problem. Monitor them closely for insect damage, and move them to another place if any is found.  Young seedlings are a delicacy for insects.

Transplanting to the Outdoors
Don't be in a rush to set your plants in the garden. If they won't withstand frost, be sure all danger of frost has passed before setting them out. Plan your garden in advance by considering companion planting and plant sizes. Make sure taller plants won't shade low growing neighbors too much.

Water the ground outside, and your seedlings, thoroughly before transplanting. This helps prevent transplant shock. It's preferable to transplant on a cloudy day so strong sun won't wilt your seedlings. Dig a hole about twice the size of the root ball and set the transplant into the hole so the root ball will be covered by 1/4 inch of soil.  If you started your seeds in a peat pot or cow pot, you can place the entire pot in the ground (thoroughly wet) and they will quickly break apart. Press the soil firmly around the roots. A small depression around the plant stem will help trap moisture. Water immediately after transplanting and every day for the first week. Be sure to water deeply so you plants won't develop shallow roots.

1 comment:

  1. Nice article ... getting to be that time of year again ...