Last Saturday I gave a public class on Seed Starting at Earth Care community garden. It went well and was well attended but made me realize a few things…..One was that a little re-cap may be useful, as people tend to have the same questions and quandaries about starting seeds indoors.
Seed Selection– Save your own, Trade, Share, Swap…If you are to buy seed go for heirlooms, locally appropriate and organic. If you would like to start your own seed saving collection, open pollinated varieties are what you need. Avoid hybrids (for seed saving) and GMOs at all cost! Sources I recommend:
to name a few
Containers and Soil– There are of course so many choices, so I encourage you to use what you have and find what you like. My favorite are wooden flats so here is a link to making your own out of old pallets or new wood. I also prefer to make my own soil, so here is link to that, but of course find your method of ease a pleasure. Just remember for seedlings fluffy and light soil is best- high in peat moss or Coconut fiber. Once the seedlings the bigger they will need more nutrient rich mix or a rich garden bed and I will write more on that later.
Temperature– Seedlings need different soil temperatures to germinate. For example some lettuces can germinate in soil that is 50 degrees and Tomatoes often need 70 degree soil. Here is a great Vegetable Planting Chart form High Mowing Seeds blog that has great info on soil temp, germination times, spacing and more. If you are starting your seedlings inside, the soil is probably stable at the temperatures of your house, but if not they are in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame, it is probably much colder. I simple Soil thermometer, purchase at any nursery, should help you see what your soil temps really are.
Check it morning and evening to see how it changes. Also check your seed packet to see if it tells you ideal soil temperatures for germination, so you know if you are waiting long enough before starting over. Remember if you seedlings haven’t come up yet, they are just waiting for the right chemistry, so don’t give up. Just keep working the elements of warmth, light and water till you see those sprouts. If you need to you can buy seedling heating mats here.
Light- This seems to be the most tricky for home growers. Many windows simply don’t get enough DIRECT sunlight. Choose a south-facing window that gets direct sun ALL day, that is at least 8-10 hours a day. The more the better. If your seeds sprouts but then get really long and leggy and look like the are desperately seeking the sun, you probably need to supplement with electric lights. So many people know so much more about that so google that.
Water- Seeds really only need the right temperatures and moisture to germinate, that is sprouting before photosynthesis. Once you sow seeds (in a moist sowing mix) you MUST keep them moist at ALL times. Yep, Always!!!! that means watering many times a day if you need to, especially in a heated house in a south-facing window in the high desert!!!. A helpful tool may be a spray bottle. Set it on a fine mist and mist the soil. If you have children helping this is a great job for them and really can’t be over done. Once you see puddling on the surface of your soil, stop watering. A watering can with a fine sprinkle really is necessary, as big flows of water can wash the seed right out of the soil. Because the seed is only in the first inch of soil, this is what need to be moist. Once a plant grows the water needs to go deeper and the plants can be watered less frequently, but int he the beginning, moist always.
Water quality has an effect too. I use my precious rain water for seedlings and really have noticed a difference from the years I have used our hard well water. Tap water is ok, but it is best to fill your watering can or a big bucket hours, or days before you water so that the chlorine in the water can evaporate and the water can come up to room temperature. Cold water can shock plants and of course chlorine can harm them.
Seed Needs– Each seed of course has it’s own temperament. Some like to be planted deep, some with no soil at all. Some need fire, freeze or even scaring to crack their seed coats. They say a generally to plant seeds twice as deep as they are wide. Seed packets are great source of information, but if you don’t have packets, the High Mowing Vegetable Planting Guide works great to find out all the little special needs of each of your precious seeds.
So there you have it– If you seeds are warm, wet, sunned and in a good growing medium they should come up just fine. Plants are more like us than we might think. If you are cold, they probably are, too hot, the might be too.
Now planning your sowing timing and taking care of the babies well so that they thrive and are ready to go outside when the times comes, oh and of course there is seed starting outdoors as well…..but I think I will write more on that later, for now this should get you started if you haven’t jumped in already. Happy Seed Sowing!