Most gardeners start seeds indoors when they want to get a jump start on the growing season with plants that can’t handle frost, but a fair number also do it because they wish to begin a plant’s life in a controlled environment, and make the most of every seed they sow. How many seeds you’re able to start depends on how much space you have at your disposal. There is more than one way to start seeds, and you’ll probably come up with your own personal adaptation, but we hope this guide should help somewhat.
As with all gardening, the most important component is the soil. Although there are a whole lot of potting soils available in the typical garden center, gardeners who want to grow organically should pick only those mixes that have either been certified by the Organic Materials Research Institute (OMRI), or the potting soils listed by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) Organic Program – Organic Input Material List at https://agr.wa.gov/FoodAnimal/Organic/docs/WSDA_Organic_Input_Material_List.pdf.
The next thing to consider is what sort of container you’ll start your seeds in. Those gardeners who want to do things as organically and sustainable as possible will probably want to choose containers that are either reusable or biodegradable. There are a whole lot of reusable and biodegradable containers available to the home gardener.
Most local garden centers have several types of plastic seedling cells that can be combined with matching drainage trays, and clear domed lids – like a mini greenhouse. An example of such a convenient “greenhouse seed starting kit” is this type by Jiffy.
The seedling cells that are thin and flexible don’t tend to last very long, so don’t forget to choose those that are thicker and stronger. There are also more expensive types that are more self-contained, units that have a water tray, a capillary mat, sturdy seedling cells, and a clear dome. An example of such a seed starting kit is this type by Burpee. The nice thing about these is that you pour water in the tray underneath, which is sucked up by the capillary mat, which then delivers moisture evenly to the developing seedlings.
Biodegradable seed starting containers are made either of peat or dried cow manure; the label will indicate which one. However, peat is no longer a renewable resource, so gardeners who seek to garden as sustainable as possible may want to choose choose cow pots. Cow pots are pots plus growing material that comprise cow manure as its chief ingredient. While cow pots aren’t as common in local garden centers, they are readily available online. Biodegradable pots are best for those plants that will not need transplanting until it’s time to place them outdoors, at which time you can put both plant and pot directly into the ground, thus eliminating transplant shock altogether.
Whatever seed starting system you choose, you will likely need a heat mat to put underneath, especially so if your weather is cold. The best ones are those that come with a thermostat, so that your seeds don’t accidentally get cooked. Again, even though such heat mats might not be a common sight in your local garden center, they are easily available online.
Although some seeds, like tomatoes, need to be germinated in the dark, most need light to germinate (and tomatoes need lots of light once they’re up). Full spectrum light is required here, because that is what gives the closest approximation to the sun. There are many lighting systems available, but whatever you choose needs to be adjustable, because some seedlings, like tomatoes, need their light source to be a certain distance from the plants, and that distance will change as the plants grow.
Plant your seeds according to the instructions on the packet. Water them with a mister, or a spray bottle filled with water, so that you don’t wash the seeds away. If you have a dome over your seeds, which is a good way to keep them warm and moist, it is vitally important to remove the dome once the seeds have sprouted. Otherwise, you run the risk of “cooking” your seedlings.
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