March 6th, 2009

Seed Starting Tips from Around the Country

bio_leslied
Seed Starting in a Cookie Box
When space is at a premium

There is about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of new seed starting mix in this cookie box – that’s all I need.  This particular mix is a mixture of fine peat moss and fine perlite and I would have added vermiculite, but I couldn’t find my bag of it.  No matter, the seedlings won’t care.
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I used my pancake spatula to make shallow indentations for 9 rows of seeds – I put 14 seeds in each row. The rows and seed in them are about 1/2″ to 3/4″ apart and the seeds are planted very shallow – about 1/16″ or less – it is a very shallow trench.  There are 126 Hawaiian Tropic tomato seeds in the box ready to be lightly covered with the mix. The boxes are about 8″ square.I carefully move the mixture over the seeds with the edge of the
spatula and pat the soilless mix down so there is contact with the
seeds.
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Watering can be tricky and I use a spray bottle,or a joggers running cup with a spout so the  water doesn’t move the seeds.

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Then I close the lid to keep the seeds from drying out – a problem in the desert. Then I do one of two things; I either place the cookie box on the back of my shop lights (grow bulbs in them), or I use my Salton Hot Trays for bottom warmth and faster germination for seeds that like warmth, like summer veggies and flowers.  These seeds will begin to sprout in about 40 hours, some varieties may take a little longer.  When I use the hot trays I put the cookie box on a couple of canning jar rings so the seeds don’t get too hot.
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My trays have a very low heat setting and I adjust the temp to about 105 to 115F – so when I put my hand on the tray my hand is warm – very scientific.  Then I put the box on the rings on the tray – the seeds go  nuts – they really like this warmth.

When they begin to germinate I raise the lid for air movement to avoid fungus growth, and I move the box so it is 2″ under my florescent grow lights.  They will grow and be ready to put in a bigger pot of soilless seedling mix in a couple of weeks.  Then I give them a foliar feed of liquid kelp and a quarter-strength mixture of liquid organic veggie food at the roots – they are little and don’t want more than a weak feeding.

Here are some basil plants I started to transplant into pots last week, they are 23 days old.
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They are easy to lift out of the box with a butter knife when they are little.  I lift them just as the ‘true leaves’ appear.  If I wait longer then I have some roots to untangle – they come apart easily and the little seedlings recover almost immediately. The tomatoes are 21 days old from seed planting and there are 70 plants in the cookie box.

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I’ve been starting my seeds this way for years and it is a real space saver for me.  If every seed was viable there would be 12 basil plants in each row.

bio_john_lewisSeedlings

You don’t have to have a greenhouse to start your own seedlings. You can grow your own seedlings with a very small investment in some flats, pots, potting mix and seeds. You will need a light source either a sunny windowsill or artificial light. You can make your own pots from newspaper or recycle the ones you have purchased from garden centers. Even the soil medium you can make yourself with some sifted compost. If you save seeds you won’t even need to purchase those.
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Here in New England you can start some of your spring seedlings in late February. I started my seedlings for spring planting on Sunday 2-22-2009. I planted seven varieties of broccoli, ten types of cabbage, six varieties of collards and kale, two types of Brussels sprouts, four varieties of cauliflower, and white and purple kohlrabi. It will be interesting to see what germinates – the seed ranged in age from 2008 back to 2004. What doesn’t germinate will be replaced by OG seed when it arrives.
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One flat went on a heating mat and the other in a small mini greenhouse heated by a five watt light bulb.  A quarter flat went on the window sill. Where did I start my seedlings? On my dining room table! My basement is too dark and damp and it is still too cold outside even for a cold frame. I’ve done this the last two years and had pretty good success. Obviously I won’t be having any dinner parties in the near
future!

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Update: As of 3-1-2009 I have had pretty good success – all the broccoli and cauliflower germinated, seven types of cabbage, all the kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts, and all but one kale. The few things that didn’t come up were from 2004; obviously five year old seed is pushing it. I set up a few small portable lights for now. When I have more time and the seedlings are a bit bigger I’ll hang two or three fluorescent shop lights.

The OG test seeds arrived Monday!!!

Comments

    Leslie, winter seed sowers use those kinds of containers all the time, but we add at least two inches of soil and punch holes in the top and bottom and set the flats outside!

    Hi Monica,
    It’s nice to hear from you.
    I set my containers outside to germinate once as a comparison to see which sprouted when. I didn’t get even results with the ones outside – some were slow to sprout and some seemed to take forever. I decided to keep starting them inside because I could control the temp and then I would know when I would have transplants for the garden. When I sprout them inside it helps me choose my seed starting date.
    It’s just my luck that my hubby is a very, very, very tidy guy and won’t let me put my plants and flats where I’m naturally inclined to put them – nuts. He is not a plant person – and I don’t know how this could have happened to me.

    Going to put under lights! Those poor little guys should have been an inch or so from light from the start. Look how spindly they are already. Hang shop lights on hooks and chains so you can lift the lights as the plants grow. Happy 2009 garden-Chuck

    Chuck:
    You’ll be happy to know the seedlings have been moved to a kitchen table under shoplights for several weeks now and look much stronger. I’ll be tranplanting them into pots in a week or so. I’m afraid due to time constraints my seedlings often have to follow the old saying of “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Hope to get some updated pictures up soon.

    What kind of lights do you use? Any particular type? How many watts?

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