Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to start seeds

There are many ways to start seeds.  I think I've tried most of them.  This is what works best for me.  

Containers:  You can use pretty much anything, from Dixie cups to egg shells.  The key is drainage.  If your seeds are soaking wet all the time, they are most likely going to rot or mold instead of germinate. I'm partial to these plug trays.  You can pick them up just about anywhere, and if you are careful with them, you can reuse them. This plug tray contains 72 cells.

Soil:  Actually, this should be planting medium, but we just call it soil, even though there's no soil in the mix.  Ok...to clarify that jumble of late night babble:  Buy potting mix.  Not potting soil.  Potting soil is just plain dirt, and, though you can start seeds in it, your germination rates will be much lower.  You can buy the specialty seed starting mix, but if you are starting a lot of seeds, it can get expensive.  I find the standard potting mix works just as well.  Miracle Grow is good, or one of the generic versions; just make sure it contains a wetting agent, or you'll be watering all. the. time.

There are recipes for your own potting mix, and I do mix my own, but not for seed starting.  I get better results with the commercial mix.

Sprinkle the planting medium into your container.  I always overfill mine.

Gently rake off the excess soil.  Don't smush it down  compact the soil.  
Notice the glove.  Gloves are a good idea when you have your hands in the potting medium.  My skin is pretty sensitive and the soil will sometimes give me a rash.  (Eöl says I am made of eggshells and bubble wrap, with my sensitive skin and delicate bones.  "I'm tough!" I tell him, pumping my fist for emphasis.  "Ow, I think I pulled something."....maybe he is right.)

See? Nice and level, but still loose, not compressed or compacted (or even smushed).

I think this pic looks funny.  If you can't tell, I'm watering the soil.  Go ahead and soak it before you plant.  See how the water is sort of beading up on top of the soil?  If there were seeds in there, they could wash right out, or get all mixed up.

Let your soil drain a bit before you start planting; nothing worse than seeds that keep floating to the top.

I use a popsicle stick for planting.  I use them to mark my plants, so it's just what I have handy.  You can use whatever works for you:  sticks, pens, a skinny sibling...

The popsicle sticks?  I buy them by the hundreds in the craft section of my local department store.  They call them "craft sticks" since they never held popsicle, fudgesicle, or anything delicious, for that matter.

Gently press the soil side to side to get a hole in the soil.  Or just pop some out, if you prefer. I put the stick in and wiggle it and voila! a hole!  I generally go about half an inch deep.

It's hard to tell from the pic, but there's a line of holes, just in the first row.  It's best to go one row at a time so you don't miss any cells.

Today I'm planting tomato seeds.  Tiny, huh?

I only need one seed per cell. This is true of most veggies.  Herbs, on the other hand, require a sprinkling of seeds.  But for now, let's concentrate on how to get one tomato seed into this hole.  For those of us with clumsy arthritic fingers, it's rather difficult to pinch up just one teensy seed.  If you don't have a handy helper with tiny fingers (let's face it: those helpers are more likely to put the seed up their nose than in the soil) then I suggest scooping the seed up with the popsicle stick.

Drop the seed into the hole, and you are done! There's no need to cover the seed. As you water, the soil will fall back into the hole.  I've seen some instructions that say to pat the soil in over the seed.  Not a great idea, from what I've learned.  At work, we don't even dig a hole for seeding.  We put the seeds in and cover them with course vermiculite, which is very lightweight and lets the seedling pop out easily.

If you are planting more than one variety of seed per flat, you definitely want to label each variety as you plant them.   Here's where all those tasty fudgesicles pay off.  Oh, wait...I mean, here is where you'll use those nice, fresh craft sticks. Yes, that's what I meant. ;)

I put the variety on one side and the date started on the other.

Then I jot it all down in my handy, dandy notebook:  date, variety, and how many.  Later on, I can see how many actually germinated and jot those down, as well.

Watering:  I use an empty, clean dish detergent bottle for watering.  This way I have more control over the amount of water, as well as where it goes.  I still end up with some in the floor, but when you have 26 flats, it's just too much trouble to drag them to the sink, one by one.

Water daily.  With good drainage, you should be able to give the seeds a good soaking once a day but not drown them.  If you need to water more than once a day, go ahead.  Just don't let your seeds and seedlings dry out.

Put your flat in a sunny spot.  Turn it at least once a day; twice if you have time.   Brush your hand gently across the seedlings whenever you pass them, or turn a fan on low and let it blow across them for a few minutes each day. This will give your seedlings stronger stems.

As I said, I know there are many ways to start seeds.  Some are very complicated, involving a seed in your ear and an exuberant round of the Hokey Pokey.  If that's the sort of thing that works for you, I say go for it.  And send me a video, would ya?


jenplusfive said...

Do you use any type of artificial lighting to start seeds?

Country Wife said...

Jenplusfive: Nope, no artificial lighting. We have great southern exposure, so the plants all get placed near the window and turned/rotated/shuffled daily.

Kevin said...

"Notice the glove. Gloves are a good idea when you have your hands in the potting medium. My skin is pretty sensitive and the soil will sometimes give me a rash. "

And here I was thinking you just didn't want to show off your fresh manacure. :)