It’s hard to believe seed starting time is here but giving your seedlings a head start will lead to a successful growing season. Starting seeds indoors can be quite overwhelming at first but with a little experience and research it can be extremely gratifying. Here are a few general tips for the novice seed starter.
It all starts with the soil – soil is where the action is. If you don’t have nutrient rich soil the seed will be stunted from the start. You want to give the seedling the greatest opportunity for life and that will translate into more vitamin rich vegetables, more vibrant flowers, and healthier looking plants. For the best chance of success, start them in a fresh, sterile seed-starting mix that is light and fluffy. You want to pre-water the soil mixture. The soil should be moist to the touch but not dripping wet. If the growing medium is too wet or not sterile, disease can strike. If it is too heavy or sticky, fine roots won’t be able to push through it. Make sure to add compost/manure to bump up the nutrient content. A 70:30 mix of soil and compost/manure works great.
Choose the seeds you want – all seeds generally need the same constituents for life; light, water, warmth, and soil, but they all need them in different amounts. Knowing the various germinating conditions will dramatically increase your success. I suggest using the internet or library to look into the specific seeds you want to grow. Knowing your local frost dates (Last frost date is on or around May 4th 2017 for Lunenburg County.) and seed starting times will greatly increase your planting success. Depending on the type of plant you are staring it will need a certain amount of time to mature before it is transplanted outside. Many seed starting charts are available on the internet.
Use clean potting containers – anything that holds soil will work. You want to make sure it is clean to minimize the spread of disease. It is important to use an appropriate size container. Too small and you will have to transplant regularly and if it’s too big you run the risk of over watering and developing root-rot. Making sure the container has good drainage will also prevent root-rot. The draining pot containers should be placed in a solid tray. This will facilitate bottom watering when the seeds have germinated. Having a clear plastic cover to fit over top will help keep the seeds warm. Make sure to label properly!
Water carefully and consistency – watering is very important for seedlings at the germination stage because they have not produced roots yet. The water on the surface of the soil is the only water they have access to. Therefore, letting the seedlings dry out before they have a substantial root system will kill them. Once they are more mature they can handle drought periods. Once they sprout, uncover the containers and water them from the bottom, by pouring water into the tray which holds the draining potting containers. Never water the seed-starting mix from the top; that courts disease (especially a fungus disease called “damping off”) and may dislodge or damage the sprouts. Make sure air circulates freely so humidity isn’t trapped around plants.
Light – most seeds do not require lighting for germination. You can easily find charts on the internet with this information. Once the seedling produces leaves it will need the light to undergo photosynthesis to produce food. A light stand is a great way to start seeds. Even though most seeds don’t need light to germinate, the plants will eventually need the light. The light stand also produces heat which is a requirement for some germination. Having the seed containers next to a bright window will also work. You want to make sure to turn the tray periodically to keep the plant growth even. If you have a plastic lid over top you want to remove it when the seedlings are half an inch tall to prevent them from getting spindly.
Warmth – 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 (only for some seeds), but you will need gentle warmth. Provide it by setting the containers on top of a refrigerator or dryer; by propping them a few inches above (not on) a radiator; or by using special heating mats sold for that purpose.
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. A cold garage won’t do; neither will a boiling furnace room.
Fertilize – you want to apply fertilizer at the very beginning when you sow your seeds. After that, it’s only necessary to feed the plant when transplanting.
Keep a good record – having a good record of your seed starting adventures can be incredibly valuable. A year is a long time and no matter how good your memory is you will forget the particulars. Knowing if your tomato seeds germinated faster on top of the dryer is beneficial information, helping you to become more efficient. It doesn’t have to be anything professional. All you have to do is write down some notes in a journal while you’re sowing. Example: how deep you sowed the seed, temperature, how much light they need, how many you sowed, etc.
And remember to have with it!