Why should you start your veggie plants from seed? So you can get a jump start on planting, ergo harvesting, plus it’s just plain fun to watch them sprout and nurture them along. Anyone who has ever started their own seeds knows that there are some basic rules to follow to ensure success. These are our top 5 seed starting tips.
1. Use the freshest seed. It doesn’t matter if you buy your seeds or use saved seeds as long as they aren’t over a couple of years old. While you can buy seeds in bulk and they are generally less expensive, don’t buy more than you can use in 2-3 years. The seeds contain a plant embryo that needs to stay alive until germination. As the seed ages, it loses the ability to germinate.
2. Provide adequate drainage for containers. You can purchase any number of individual cell flats to start your seeds in or you can go the inexpensive, re-purposing route and use individual yogurt containers or the like with a hole punched through for drainage. You can also make your own seed pots out of newspaper or buy biodegradable pots made from peat, cow manure or shredded wood. Whatever you choose, make sure they have drainage holes and are either individual or divided so the seedlings’ roots won’t grow into each other.
3. Soilless starting mixtures work well. While you could start your seeds in regular potting soil, I have found greater success with soilless mediums. They are made of vermiculite and peat, not soil, and are sterile, lightweight, and water retaining. Fill your chosen container with the soilless mix and water. The mix will settle, so add more potting mix and water again until the container is almost full prior to planting.
4. Location is important. Once you have planted your seeds, where should you put them? Contrary to popular thought, don’t put them on the window sill. These are often the coldest place in the house at night and the hottest place during the day. Seeds need consistently warm soil to germinate and thrive. Put them where the air temperature is above 60 degrees F. (15 C.) and provide bottom heat, such as with an electric heating mat (or on top of refrigerator). As to light, fluorescents are better than natural light. Hang lights from chains, keeping them no more than 4 inches above the tops of the seedlings. Put the lights on a timer to provide the seedlings with 12-16 hours of light.
5. Don’t forget about water. Keep the potting mix moist but not drenched while they are germinating. If they are too wet, the seed will just rot. Use a spray bottle to water the surface gently or if your seed cells are set into a tray, water the tray and allow it to be drawn up into the mix. Also, seedlings use energy from nutrients stored in the seed, once they have several sets of leaves, they may benefit from a weak all-purpose, water soluble fertilizer. Mix this at ¼ strength and fertilize only once a week.