Seed starting in spring is a rite of passage for me. Fingering all the seed packets, shaking them, and admiring the beautiful covers is all part of the process. If I don’t have at least a hundred seed packets stacked up, I get restless and start browsing more seed catalogs.
It is a lot of work to start them, and it requires some equipment to do it right, but when late winter/early spring rolls around, it is kind of like Christmas with the new shoots poking though. My slow period for my landscape business is the winter, so I have the time to devote to seed starting. Here are the reasons you should be seed starting:
1. More Choices-At a nursery they might sell 20-25 varieties of tomatoes. From seed you can grow at least a thousand more. The varieties that you can grow are mind boggling, and only a fraction of these are grown and sold at a local nursery. Some flower varieties like Nigella, Love-in-a-mist, or annual Poppies must be started from seed outside to be successful. See my post on Cool Flowers-Early Spring Bloomers.
2. Save Money
A packet of Zinnias will set you back by $2.50. If you bought all those packs of annuals at the nursery that one packet can start, you pay that many times over. Plus, if you grow heirlooms, you can save the seeds and regrow every year.
3. It’s Easy
Most vegetables should be started directly into the garden. Planting transplants of cucs, beans, peas, beets, carrots, lettuce……. the list goes on, is expensive and time consuming, and not practical. Starting seed directly into a vegetable garden avoids transplant shock and gives veggies a head start.
4. Save the Bees
Many transplants and soils have been treated with insecticides that negatively impact bee visits. Some nurseries are careful and transparent, but some are not, and many times aren’t labeled with the insecticide treatment. Go to my post on Pesticide Free Nurseries. You are controlling your quality of new transplants by starting them yourself.
5. It’s Fun !
Reconnect with nature during the dark days of winter and watch your seedlings grow! I love watching the snow pile up outside while my healthy seedlings are growing before my eyes inside.
My most important piece of equipment is a PVC light stand for my grow light. Go to PVC Light Stand for easy to follow, inexpensive directions for a light stand. I put this together myself, so anyone can construct one. Yes, you can use your window sills for light, but a light hung a few inches above seedlings is vastly superior and will make your seedlings fat and happy, not thin and spindly. There are too many cloudy winter days for seedlings to get their required allotment of light. I just use a simple LED shop light, available at any hardware store. LED is the key word here, as it gives off a much stronger light than fluorescent.
Most seedling benefit from bottom heat and will shoot up much quicker. You could use a radiator or other warm surface, but I like the heat mat as it fits exactly under a flat and you can control the temperature. Inexpensive also, heat mats are available on Amazon.
Flats are simply low narrow trays that you can fill with soilless medium. Once filled, you nest into another waterproof tray to catch any excess water and you can also use the clear lid to create a moist environment to enhance seed starting. Some trays are divided into cells, so you are growing a seedling in its own contained root run.
How many times have you started seedlings, and found to your horror that they fall over and die? This is the consequence of “damping off”, a far to common occurrence which is a fungal disease that occurs under damp, moist conditions. Right! Your seedlings are damp and moist because you are misting them to encourage them to sprout! So, I use a small fan attached to my light stand to circulate the air to discourage “damping off”. And it works. Simple solution, but effective.
I like to water with a mister, as it disturbs the seedlings the least. But it requires a lot of time to mist all my seedlings by hand, so I have graduated to a large (6 liter) watering can with a fine mesh “rose”. A “rose” just diffuses the water so it falls gently onto the seedlings and is much more efficient than a mister.
Additional Lighting Units
The LED grow lights are wonderful, but sometimes every seedling won’t fit under the grow light. So, I supplement with LED spray lights.
You need a source of sterile soilless medium to start your seeds. I use coconut coir, which is a coconut fiber extracted from the husk of coconut. The beauty of coir, which is sold in a compressed form, is that I am not lugging home heavy bags of potting soil. Instead, I buy small compressed blocks of coir, 3″ x 6″, hydrate it in water, and I end up with 8 quarts of potting medium. Much less expensive and more convenient, you can find this online or at Home Depot, or other hardware stores. There is no nutrition in this soil medium, so as soon as your seedlings are up and running, you need to fertilize.