Spring has sprung! If you have not started your seeds yet don’t be discouraged, it is not too late. Start anywhere from 2 to 12 weeks indoors, depending on the type of crop you are planting. It is a good idea to start from seedlings for three reasons: 1.) It will save you money. Buying whole plants at a nursery is a lot more expensive, while a packet of about 100 seeds will cost anywhere between $1.50 to $2.50. 2.) Starting seedlings at home increases the range of crop varieties to choose from. 3.) Since you started them from seed, you know will know that is not harboring any pests and grown organically. Starting indoors is important because many flowers and vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, squash and beans, originated in places such as Central America and Mexico where they had many more hours of sunlight in their growing season that they can get in most of the United States. In general, starting seeds indoors gives plants a head start that brings earlier harvests and greater yield.
This will be my first time starting seeds at my house so I am very excited to see results! I purchased my seeds from Seed Savers Exchange because they are good quaility and it supports the Seed Saving Movement as well as small farmers. My total was about $40 and I got a range of veggies from broccoli, kale, peppers, tomatoes, corn, cilantro, parsley, basil, dill, beans, spinach, zucchini, lettuce, and eggplant. Luckily, the packets make planting very easy because all the information you need to know is on the back. For instance, it will tell you whether they need to be started indoors, how long it takes to germinate, how far apart they should be spaced outdoors, how much light they need, and whether they need support. Do not seeds outdoors until after the last frost which can be determined for your area with a quick google search.
You can start seeds in almost any kind of container that will hold 1 to 2 inches of starting medium and proper drainage. Once seedlings form more roots and develop their true leaves, though, they grow best in containers that provide more space for root growth and have holes for drainage.
Individual containers are preferable to open flats, because sometimes the roots of each plant get tangled and the less you disturb the rots when transplanting, the better. Some containers, such as peat pots, paper pots, and soil blocks, go right into the garden with the plant during transplanting. Although home improvement stores sell seed starting kits but they are pricey and not necesssary. I prefer to make my own at home. Some examples of homemade containers are empty yogurt cups with a hole poked for drainage, egg cartons (plastic or cardboard), or newspaper pots.
To make pots from newspaper, begin by cutting bands of newspaper about twice as wide as the desired height of a pot (about 4 inches wide for a 2-inch-high pot). Wrap a band around the lower half of a jar a few times, and secure it with masking tape. Then form the bottom of the pot by creasing and folding the paper in around the bottom of the jar. You can also put a piece of tape across the pot bottom to hold it more securely in place. Slip the newspaper pot off the jar. Set your pots in high-sided trays with their sides touching. I decided to use both plastic and cardboard egg cartons until germination and then I transplanted them to newspaper cups so that they had more room to grow. The plastic containers can be reused for many years; however, you may want to sanitize flats at the end of the season by dipping them in a solution of 1 cup of bleach plus 9 cups of water.
The seed medium should be free of weed seeds and toxic substances, hold moisture well, and provide plenty of air spaces. You can make your own seed-starting mix by combining one part vermiculite or perlite with one part peat moss, sphagnum moss, or well-screened compost. Or, buy bagged seed-starting mix. I bought an organic mixture that contained chicken droppings as well. Moisten the planting mix before you fill your containers, especially if it contains peat moss or milled sphagnum moss. Use warm water, and allow the mix time to absorb it.
Place a seed in each container and cover with soil. Find a comfortable place for them. Seeds sprout best at temperatures of 65 to 75°F (18 to 24°C). Look on the back of the seed packet for details, such as bottom heat requirements. When seedlings appear, move containers into bright light. Seedlings need lots of light or they will be stalky, spindly and feeble. A very sunny, south-facing window or artificial lights will do (these can be purchased from a home improvement store). I used a combination of both so traveled around my house quite often. You must keep the lights just 3 to 4 inches above the plants as they grow. That’s why incandescent light bulbs won’t work; if they are close enough to give a plant a useful amount of light, their heat will destroy it. Fluorescent bulbs give more light but stay cool.
Seed-starting happens in two stages: germination and growing. Germination is the sprouting stage, when the embryo of the plant emerges from the seed. You won’t need light at this stage, but you will need gentle warmth. You can set the containers on top of a refrigerator or dryer. Once you see green sprouts about half an inch tall, you will move your plants under the lights in a cooler environment–about comfortable room temperature, between 60 and 70 degrees.
Water regularly from the bottom, meaning fill the tray. Make sure air circulates freely so humidity isn’t trapped around plants.
Before transplanting outside, introduce your plants to the outdoors gradually, a process called “hardening off.” For a few hours one fine spring day, then a few hours more the next, give your plants a taste of the outdoors, but bring them in at night. After a week or so, they will have acclimated to the outdoors and will be ready to transplant.