Having planted my own veggie garden for years, the process of starting up my spring seeds is second nature at this point. I have a a shelf in my front hall where I store all of my supplies during the winter, and come February, I pull out the trays, the pots, the soil…I even have special light bulbs. It’s nice having a stocked supply, and not having to run out to the garden supply store in the winter. There’s something a little dismal about the garden center in the dark of winter. It just seems a bit off.
All that being said, I know it can be intimidating to get started with seeds. There are so many products out there claiming to magically improve the growth of seedlings. I’ve fallen victim to many, so I thought I’d share some basics that should get any seed to seedling.
• The container. I highly recommend cowpots for a few reasons. They are inexpensive, so you can feel free to buy extra. More importantly though, they are completely biodegradable and there’s no need for transplanting. You just plant the entire pot right into your garden bed. This is time saving, but also reduces the shock due to transplanting. As an added bonus, as the pot breaks down in your garden, adding nutrients to the soil. Cowpots all the way.
• The soil. Unlike potting soil, or garden soil, seeds starting solution is fine in texture and holds onto moisture better. The best seed starting mediums are actually considered ‘soil-less’. I’ve had great luck with this Organic Seed Starting Mix, but you can find similar mixtures at your local greenhouse. I would avoid Miracle Grow products at all costs. Even the ‘organic potting soil’. It’s full of sticks and there’s nothing fine about it.
• The light. Once sprouted, seedlings like sun. Particularly veggies. That being said, find a south facing window that’s not too drafty and you should be all set. If you don’t have any southern exposure, you might want to consider one of these artificial full spectrum florescent blubs. They should be placed no more than 3 inches from the plants. Regular light bulbs produce more heat than light, not benefiting the plant. The proper amount of light will keep your plants hearty and not leggy (tall and thin with no leaves). These lights can be used in low light situations, or even basements.
• The moisture. There’s two phases of moisture requirements for seedlings. The first, before the seeds sprout, requires a plastic cover to keep the soil very moist. If you’re using cowpots, just cover each planter with plastic wrap and an elastic to secure. As soon as the seeds sprout, remove the plastic, otherwise mildew and rot can form. Once sprouted, you’ll want to make sure the soil is constantly moist. This will likely mean daily watering. I find it’s best to fill your watering can the night before and let the water come to room temp. Seedlings are sensitive, and ice cold tap water can shock them.
With these four tips, I think you’ll be good to go. Pick out some seeds you’re excited about and check this planting guide for the right timetable. Have fun, Spring is just around the corner!