The best advice I’ve ever been given was to grow the type of vegetable that is unique or hard to find. Cheap, easy run-of-the-mill veggies can be purchased at the grocer’s, but for the love of food, start your plants from seeds. It’s easy, as long as you have a bit of space and a few lights.
What you need:
1. Table or shelf space for seed trays.
2. Lights, either grow lights or a combination of cool blue florescent and incandescent bulbs (this is a cheap way to do it).
3. Chains, ropes, or cords to raise or lower lights during plant growth.
4. Trays with small soil cells for holding seeds and soil.
5. Sterile seed starting soil (called media).
8. Timer for lights – optional.
Set up an area that will hold the trays once they’ve been planted – think six weeks, minimum, for them to be there. Lights should be set up to hang directly over the trays at 3 to 4 inches above the plants (make sure you can raise or lower lights). Timers for lights are handy if you’re like me and don’t want to be a slave to turning your plants on every day.
Many kinds of seed starting trays are out there: plastic trays with small cells, peat pots, and peat moss in mesh netting are a few. Choose what you like, but always use only sterile containers and sterile planting media, critical for keeping disease away from plants. If reusing containers, sterilize plastic or ceramic pots in a 10% bleach solution first.
**Caution – if you bleach your trays, rinse them thoroughly. I French-fried my seedlings last year when I accidentally got bleach on them.
The ideal media (soil) for starting seeds is a lightweight, soil-less mixture of peat, vermiculite or perlite and compost. Plant labels are a must to tell your plants apart!
How to do it:
1. In a large bowl, mix the potting media with water until damp but not soaked. If using starter “jiffy pots”, soak in water until peat has completely expanded and the mesh is fully open.
2. Fill tray cells or pots with damp media. Don’t pack the cells – allow it to stay light and fluffy.
3. Using a pencil, skewer, or other small stick, make a hole to depth listed on seed packet by pushing aside media. Place seeds in hole and smooth over media.
4. Sprinkle cells with water if media is lightly damp. If media is wet, don’t add extra water.
Germination of seeds:
1. Seeds need even humidity to germinate well. Tent the tray or pots with plastic to increase humidity.
2. Keep the room at 65ºF and 72ºF.
3. You don’t need lights for germination of most seeds. Once plants poke their nose up, lights are critical from then on.
4. Once plants have just started to emerge, slowly remove the humidity tent. To avoid plant shock from tent removal, crack open the tent by shifting it, gradually increasing exposure of plants to average air over following day.
1. Keep lights close to seedlings – 3 to 4 inches – for sturdy plants with strong stems. Seedlings that are long, spindly and weak are stretching for light – an indication that lights are too far from plants.
2. Water seedlings from the bottom of the tray.
a. Over watering seedlings causes root rots or damping off fungus. To avoid having these problems, keep seedlings evenly watered and allow the media to dry out to the touch.
b. A water-borne fungus causes damping off. The fungus, a rhyzoctonia, attacks seedlings at the soil surface and results in a pinched stem and death of the seedling.
3. Once the first true leaves have opened, fertilize with half-strength fertilizer once per week.
4. Provide a small fan to circulate air gently across tray surface, to develop strong stems.
5. Pot up seedlings into the next size larger pot during their growth indoors.