Why start plants from seed rather than buy six packs? The main reason I do it is to have more variety in the garden. Most nurseries only carry a few common veggies in six packs. But if you look at the seed racks, and especially seed catalogs, you’ll find purple carrots, orange cauliflower, bush varieties of peas, and dozens of lettuces. For flowers, starting from seed is often the only way to get the taller varieties of plants such as stock and snapdragons which are spectacular in the garden and fabulous as cut flowers. You’ll save money too! And it’s just so exciting to watch those little plants come to life!
Seed Starting Tips
Starting seeds indoors:
- Use clean containers such as peat pots, egg cartons with holes poked in the bottom of each cell, old plastic six packs (rinse in 1:10 bleach and water solution to sterilize).
- Fill container to about 1/4″ of top with moistened seed starting mix or other fine potting mix. Use new mix as old may be contaminated with fungi that could cause ‘damping off’, which causes seedlings to wilt and die.
- Place a couple of seeds in each cell of container and cover with potting mix to depth indicated on seed package.
- Place containers in a couple inch deep waterproof tray. Bottom water seeds by putting water in tray and letting it be absorbed from bottom. This keeps the seeds from being disturbed by over head watering. Never let seeds dry out. This is the most common reason for failure of seeds to germinate. Do not keep soggy though, just damp. Covering container with kitchen grade plastic wrap will preserve moisture and you won’t have to water again until after they germinate. Remove plastic as soon as they germinate and before you put in bright window or under lights.
- Place tray in draft free, warm spot (top of a refrigerator) or on an electric seed mat placed under the tray (the mat provides a very low heat source).
- When seeds have germinated and have a true set of leaves, thin to one plant per cell. I like to use nail scissors to snip off unwanted plants as this doesn’t disturb the roots of the remaining plant.
- Keep in bright light until large enough to plant out in garden. A fluorescent shop light left on for 12 hours a day can be hung right above the seedlings to assure adequate light if a sunny window isn’t available. Turn tray daily if in a window so that plants don’t lean in the direction of the light.
- Fertilize using half strength liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion when the seedlings have two sets of true leaves.
- Before planting outside, ‘harden off’ seedlings by setting tray outside in a sheltered area like a patio for a couple of days so that the plants can adjust to outdoor conditions.
- Prepare your garden beds by tilling soil well and adding soil amendments like compost and fertilizers, mix in well. Plant seedlings spaced as indicated on seed package.
- You’ll probably start more plants than you can use so share with your local school garden, garden club, or neighbors!
- Till soil well, incorporating soil amendment and organic fertilizer. Rake soil smooth.
- Sow seed in furrows at depth and spacing indicated on seed package. Instead of furrows, you can also use the Square Foot planting method, to see Wickipedia’s description of this click here. This method is great for small space gardening.
- KEEP MOIST at all times until germination. This may mean watering more than once a day in warm weather. Use a gentle spray when watering to avoid dislodging seeds.
- After seeds have a set of true leaves, thin to spacing as indicated on seed package.
- Follow ‘starting seeds outside’ instructions above, but use fresh potting mix in your containers.
- Remember veggies and most flowers need at least 6 hours of full sun a day, so put your containers in an appropriate spot.
- For a ‘salad bowl’, you can ‘broadcast’ sow lettuce, spinach and seeds of other greens. Broadcast sowing is just sprinkling them all over without worrying about spacing. Thin as they grow and use thinnings as ‘baby’ salad greens. As plants grow you can also just use the outer leaves rather than harvest whole heads to keep plants growing and extend your harvest.
- When growing carrots, beets or other deep rooted veggies, be sure to use a deep enough pot (at least 10″-12″) to allow roots to fully develop.