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I admit it. I do not do well during the short, dark, cold days of winter. I so look forward to the spring every year. That’s why seed starting day is a day I relish in. To me it is the first sign that spring is just around the corner. The dark days of winter will soon be gone. Here is the way we start our seeds.
1. Gather your necessary items
Those would include:
Seeds, soil, a shallow tray or bucket to moisten your soil. a tray to place your plants in, a propagation mat, jiffy pots, plant stakes and a permanent marker, vented humidity dome, and a lamp if you are starting indoors.
Seeds – should be for this year, although I store my seeds in the refrigerator in a baggie, and I have used seeds as old as 10 years and gotten germination (sprouting). Of course the germination rate may not be as high as with fresh seeds, but I don’t like to throw anything away. I just plant extra seeds when planting. You should also make sure that you are planting the proper seeds for the time of year.
Soil- I use a good grade of potting soil. The one I have been using for the past couple of years is a natural and organic seed starting mix. You will need a bucket to work the soil with some water before planting. Just make it moist, don’t saturate the soil. If you don’t do this the water will just sit on the top of the soil and not penetrate it at all once you have planted and try to water.
Tray – You should have some sort of shallow tray to place your seeds in for watering.
Propagation mat – I suppose if one thing on this list would be desirable rather than completely necessary, this would be it. I always use a propagation mat under my seeds. It will warm the soil and assist the germination rate (how many seeds sprout) and also give you healthier seedlings. I put my seed tray on this once it is planted and leave it running until I start to harden off my plants.
Jiffy Pots – These are available at just about any garden center. These are made from compressed peat. They are biodegradable, so you plant the entire pot. I remove the bottom of the pot when planting. I usually just throw it in the hole since it is biodegradable. The great part about these is that you are not disturbing your roots when planting.
Plant Stakes and a Permanent Marker – There is nothing more frustrating than planting a seed, watching it grow, picking your vegetables and saying “What variety of tomato is this? I would really like to plant it again.” Be sure to mark your plants and be sure to use a permanent marker.
Vented Humidity Dome – This also assists in the germination of the seeds. It will help to keep the humidity higher. This can be removed once all of the seeds have germinated.
Lamp or Lighting – We use fluorescent lighting with wide spectrum lamps. They don’t produce any heat, so they can be close to your seedlings without damaging them. As a rule of thumb these should be placed 2 – 6″ above your plants. You can start out as low as an inch. Monitor your plants to make sure they are not getting burned. If you find they are too warm, move your lamps up slightly. This is where a stand with an adjustable height is really nice. Also, as your plants grow, you are going to want to be able to raise your lights to meet the height of the plants.
2. Make sure that all of your items are clean and ready to use. If you are reusing soil, it should be sterilized before use. For the homeowner, most will start with new soil. You will probably be reusing some of the items such as your tray and your bucket. Just make sure that everything is good and clean. This will help to cut down on disease. You may even want to use a really dilute bleach solution to rinse the items before use.
3. Moisten your soil – You should take the amount of soil you think you will need and place it in a clean bucket or container of some type. Mix in water in small amounts until you come up with a crumbly consistency. Place your moistened soil in your jiffy pots up to the rim of the pot.
4. Plant your seeds – I like to place 2 to 3 seeds in each pot. Some recommend only placing one seed per pot. I think that the cost of the seeds is so low that I would rather not take a chance on that being the one seed that will not germinate.
5. Mark your seeds – Do this as you are going, pot by pot. We have not bought any markers for years. We have an old mini blind that we use. We just take the slats apart, clean them good and cut them into marker sizes. There is nothing wrong with recycling here.
6. Place your heat mat in your tray and place your jiffy pots on the heat mat. I use a simple basic heat mat without a thermostat. There are heat mats available with a thermostat if you want to be able to set your heat to a specific temperature. Plug in your mat.
7. Place the humidity dome over the tray. Keep an eye on this. You don’t want to get too damp of conditions. A dome with an adjustable vent is preferred. This will be removed once the seedlings have germinated.
8. Turn on your lights – Now is the time to turn on your lights. I have mine on a timer. I set them to come on at 5 AM and go off at 8PM. Be sure to monitor the height of the lamps as your seedlings grow.
Finally, for the best seedlings you should follow these rules.
1. Plant at the proper time. Plant about 6 – 8 weeks before your last frost date. If you are not sure of this you make be able to get a vegetable guide from your local extension office. If you are not sure where your local extension office is just search for extension office, my town.
2. Don’t over or under water your plants. If you are not sure of this, watch your plants. If they start to shrivel, they probably need more water. The soil just be damp to the touch only. I like to water from the bottom. I find that it is gentler on these young plants. I just fill up the bottom of my tray and watch to see that the water is taken up at a reasonable rate. If I see that the water is sitting in the bottom of the tray I will dump it out.
3. Watch your lights. Make sure that you are moving them up with your plants.
4. Harden your seedlings off. Your plants have been inside and not exposed to wind or the harsh sunlight. You will want to take the tray outside for about 7 – 10 days before you plant them. Place them in a well protected, semi shady location at first for a brief period of time. I start with about an hour. Then, gradually move them to a less protected spot for a longer period of time. This will help strengthen them and get them used to being in a wind. Make sure to keep them watered well at this point. Once you are done with the hardening off, you are ready to plant.