It has certainly been a rough winter for most of the country, but spring has finally arrived. Despite the fact that the forecast for next week is calling for temperatures in the 20s and 30s in many areas, don’t let that deter you. Now is the time to start many of your seeds and can be done right in your home. This is a lot more fun than simply buying plants and throwing them in the garden.
Let’s start with the basics. Here is what you need:
1. Seed Starting Mix. This not potting soil. While it may cost a bit more than regular soil, the mix is lighter than soil allowing really small seeds and delicate roots to prosper.
2. Cell Containers or Pots. Small 2 inch pots filled with the starting mix is all you need. These can be made of plastic, peat or even molded out of old newspaper.
3. Seedling Heat Mat. Trays of seedlings placed on a heating mat will germinate very quickly. The trays should be covered with plastic in order to create a warm and moist environment, like a mini greenhouse. Once the seedlings emerge, remove the cover and place the tray under grow lights.
4. Grow Lights. Tiny newly emerged seedlings need artificial light to begin the photosynthesis process. Fluorescent shop lights will do the trick. You are trying to mimic natural sunlight, so keep the lights on for the same amount of time that sun is shining. A simple low cost timer will turn the lights on in the morning and off in the evening.
5. Hand Sprayer. Check your seedlings every day and give them a spray to make sure the surface is not drying out.
If you want to invest a little more money, you can purchase growing systems, which contain everything you need in a seed starting kit. Most come with either a 36 or 72 cell tray, a self watering mat, growing pellets which expand when watered to fill each cell, and a plastic cover to retain moisture. Growing systems are available at most garden centers or online at www.burpees.com or www.johnnyseeds.com
The back of your seed packets will tell you when to start your seeds and how long it will take before moving them outside. One step you must go through is called hardening off. Since emergence in your starting mix, the little seedlings have lived in a totally protected environment. If you were to transplant them outside without being acclimated or what we call hardened off, they won’t survive. Sun, wind, pounding rain, etc. will kill the little seedlings.
Hardening off is very easy…it just takes time. On the first day, place your seedlings in a wind protected area, away from direct sunlight for a couple of hours. Repeat the process the next day for an extra half hour and keep this gradual increase going for about a week. Now they are ready for some exposure to sun and wind. Like you did on the first day of hardening off, place the plants in a sunny location for only an hour or two and increase this exposure a little bit every day. In about a week, they will be fully acclimated to the elements and are ready for transplant directly to the garden.
Hopefully, you will have done some serious planning by now and have already decided when and where to plant your healthy seedlings. Again, the back of your seed packets has a lot of information, especially sun requirements. The tomato seeds you have brought to life need very sunny locations. Chives and parsley, not so much. For example, there is no point in planting lettuce in a valuable full sun location when it will get by in a spot that only gets six hours of sun. Save the full sun beds for melons, beans, peppers, squash, etc.
Good luck and have fun!
For more planting information check out this downloadable Vegetable Planting Guide
Are you a beginning gardener? Check out – 3 Beginner Steps For The Homesteader Wanna-Be