Thursday, April 4, 2013

Seed Starting by Sally Berriman

Photo by Carol King
Starting your summer vegetables from seed instead of buying plants at the nursery can save you money and be a very satisfying gardening experience.  It is not difficult to start plants from seed if you follow these tips.

Research your seed choices.  In the Denver area we have an average growing season of about 120 days.  Choose veggies that you can harvest at 75 – 90 days.  The number of days to harvest is on the back of the seed packet.  You can have a longer growing season if you use season extenders at the beginning and /or the end of the season.
Photo courtesy Athens County Ohio

Set up your containers.  Almost anything can be used as a container as long as it has sufficient space for your plant’s roots and it has adequate drainage at the bottom.  Fill your pots with starting mix; do not use garden soil.  It likely contains fungus spores and other pathogens which can adversely affect your seedlings.  Moisten your soil, fill your pots and plant your seeds to the recommended soil depth that is on the seed packet.  It is very important to follow the directions as some seeds need light to germinate while others need darkness.  Cover with plastic wrap or a clear cover.  This will help keep a good moisture level. 

Put your containers in a warm spot to germinate.  This can be on a radiator, the top of the refrigerator or on an old heating pad or blanket. Once you see the second set of leaves, you can remove the cover.
Now your plants need light, and lots of it.  Ideally seedlings need 14-16 hours of light per day.  A windowsill is not going to provide that amount of light.  A basic setup can be as easy as four fluorescent tubes, two warm and two cool, suspended no more than 3 inches from the top of your seedlings.  Putting your lights on a timer will make your life simpler.

Keep your plants moist but not waterlogged and do not let them dry out.  Raise your lights as your plants grow but keep the light within 3 inches so that they do not get leggy.
Photo courtesy Sustainable Marketing

The last step before transplanting your veggies is to harden them off.  This means exposing them to outside conditions for an increasing amount of time each day over the course of a week to 10 days.  Skipping this step will likely send your plants into shock and delay their growth.

These are only the basic steps to starting seeds indoors. For more detailed instruction check out these fact sheets:

Start Seeds in Sterilized Soil
Starting Seeds Indoors
Growing Plants from Seeds
Starting Vegetable Seeds Indoors