Wednesday, March 20, 2013
It begins. (Seed Starting)
Several months ago, I was asked to do a post on starting seeds. I said I would when the time came, and so it has! Several varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers require longer growing seasons than I can produce outdoors and need to be started indoors. The Newman tradition has always been to start them on St. Patrick's Day but anytime right about now is good. I have several more flats to do myself later this week. I often do plenty of tomatoes, green/red peppers, broccoli, zinnias, cosmos and herbs.
You find out what plants require seed-starting by looking at the back of the seed envelope. It will tell you just how far in advance you must plant. Some also say you CAN start them earlier for an earlier harvest or bloom. Meaning, if you want flowers earlier, start them inside!
Here is how I do it.
Get a bag of seed-starting soil. Put it in a tub or bucket and add hot water. Let it sit for a while so that all the soil absorbs the water. You want it to be moist but NOT soupy.
When you fill pots with dry soil, it is dusty, messy work. When your seeds are planted and you add water, your seeds get displaced. Water spills everywhere as the soil works to soak it up. Then, the soil is compacted and you need to add more. (I did it this way for many years.)
Moistened soil, on the other hand, is so much easier to work with when filling your pots. The soil is already full of water so when you compact it in your pot, that is the level soil you will end up with. And the soil doesn't require additional watering once you've plopped in your seeds, so no chance of seeds floating all over the place.
Fill your pots.
(Andrew is my go-to helper with all things garden.)
I used to use those soil 'pellets' almost exclusively but found that they became root bound and unhealthy before I could get my plants into the ground. They perked up well after they were in the garden, but I did a fair amount of worrying. I opted for this size this year, hoping for a healthier plant to put in the garden.
I put my seeds in a shallow little bowl so I can see them well and pick them up easily. Any extra go back in the packet when you are done.
Some people poke holes first and plop seeds down in the holes to cover. I place the seeds on top and then push them down with my finger. Either way, gently cover the hole with loose soil. Usually it just required 1/4 inch or so. (This too is on the package.)
It is good habit to plant two seeds in case one of your seeds is a dud. Later, when the seedlings are up and have at least two leaves- you decide which looks the best and you cut the other one off (with scissors) at the base.
I always feel slightly guilty about this plant murdering, but it is necessary so that they do not compete for nutrients.
Mark your plants well! Wooden popsicle sticks work well. But you can use other things too. I have seen plastic forks, stickers. Even writing on the pots themselves with permanent marker works! Just so you know what you have planted. I only planted one variety of broccoli but when I plant different varieties, like with my tomatoes, I make sure to write that information too.
I think this year I am going to invest in a light for my seedlings (I think it is time) but I have never had a light before, so you don't NEED one. If you don't have a light, place your seedlings near a window with lots of bright light but not DIRECT light. You don't want the sun to burn and kill your baby plants. It is important when seedlings are placed by a window that you turn them each day. This will help them grow straight instead of leaning in one direction.
Never let your seedlings' soil dry out into dust. They should always been moist. I use a spray bottle filled with warm water to spritz them when they need it.
Now you just wait.
With gardening, as with many other things, it is often best to just DO it and learn as you go. Every year I learn something new; often, through trial and error. For many years I planted in dry soil and threw a hissy fit when my carefully placed seeds floated all over the place. For several seasons I used 'pellets' because they were so cool to watch swell. ;-)
There is no shame in learning through real experience.
Are you starting seeds this year? What'cha planting?