Saturday, December 27, 2008

Seed Starting

We are getting anxious to start some seeds here in our household. There is something about taking a little seed and nurturing it into a plant that can produce food that makes you feel so powerful and in control of your environment at a time when we can be left feeling like we are not in control of much at all. The first place we start is thumbing through the mountain of seed catalogs that we start receiving at this time of year. It is really easy to order more than you need. We have a pretty large seed collection already that we sort through and discard any old ones that are past their prime. Corn seeds don't germinate so well when they get too old and we have to check any bean seeds for insects that seem to get in and eat away at the seed. Some seeds such as tomatoes can keep for a very long time though the germination rate will diminish a bit.

As I mentioned in the previous post I have set up some grow lights and started a little tray of lettuce seeds. I will use heat mats when I start the tomatoes and peppers. The heat mats speed up the process a bit and peppers just really have to have the heat to get started. The lettuce came in 2 days without any heat at all. We are using Jump Start trays to start our seeds in. We first tried them last year and found them so easy and mess free. We use to get out sheets of plastic and fill trays with seed starting mix, what a mess that made. Jiffy also makes a similar little pellet that swells when it gets wet. The soil is in a little mesh bag that lets water drain through and roots can grow through. The trays have channels in them that help keep things evenly watered from the bottom without making a mess on my counter.

A very important step in starting seeds is to label them. I cannot stress this enough and don't ask how I know this. I am always sure I will remember what I planted, but, well you know how that goes. I am still working on a way to label tomatoes in the garden. I start with a tag in the ground, but the plants get so large that the tag is soon lost. I have tried tying a painted tag I made with paint sticks cut in half with a hole drilled in them and tied to the top of my cages or trellis, but sometimes they get lost also. Anyway, the most important part is to label your seedlings so you will place the plants in the best location for them later in the garden. You can purchase tags or make your own with Popsicle sticks or old mini blinds cut into about 3-4 inch sections. I have found that the best writing tool is a pencil, it doesn't fade and can be erased and reused later. I like to put the common name, botanical name, and variety on the tag as well as the date planted. My only complaint with both the Jiffy pots and the Jump Start pots is that there is no place to really put a tag...maybe they will fix that in the future.

I have found a few different brands of little seedling planters that help to release just a few seeds at a time into a designated spot. The one in this picture is by Ferry Morse. These are helpful, but not necessary. I like to put at least 2 seeds into each hole to increase the odds of getting at least one good plant. You can thin out the weaklings later.

After your seeds are planted and watered keep the lid on until the plants emerge and grow up to touching the lid then remove it. The lid will help keep the moisture in which is really important for the emerging seedlings since they don't have a root system yet. Keep young seedlings as close to the grow light as possible without touching it. This is important for keeping the stems strong, because they won't be stretching to reach the light. I like to try to keep them about 2 inches away. I have creatively stacked things to lift this seed tray because I have other taller plants under this same light. Most grow lights can be raised and lowered and if I were growing more seeds right now I would keep them all together and just lower the lights.

I will be expanding on this subject more when the seeds come in!

Keep on growing!


DannyStaple said...

I have been starting tomato seeds too. Never thought to label them, but now I have a few varieties started at different times, a planting date would be handy.

I built my own starter - a propagator which serves the same purpose as the jiffy starter, although the design is undergoing a little revision for my next batch of seeds. Howto: Make a simple seed propagator.

Wild Flora said...

Thanks for this information, Ferne. I've been thinking about trying to start my own vegetables this year, at least in a small way to see how things go. Other than lettuce (which I've had good luck starting outside even in our cold climate), which plants would you recommend to a beginner?

Joseph said...

Very detailed information. I have planted several herbs seed too and labelled them. I used tray and white light too to germinate.

Well, lettuce are easy to grow from seeds in Asia climate. I only have a small yard and the rest planted in pots. Yours look great and stacked well.

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