Seed Starting 101
Starting your own flower, herb, and vegetable seeds at home is not only a great way to save money and get the varieties you like, but it's also a wonderful chance to get your hands in the soil and enjoy some early green life when the ground is still covered in snow. Growing plants from seeds is a lot easier than you might think and very satisfying. Here's how to do it! (And for ideas on what to grow click here!)
CHOOSE YOUR SEEDS AND MAKE A CALENDAR
Each seed packet will tell you when and where the seeds need to be planted. Tomatoes, for example, need to be started indoors much earlier than, say, cucumbers, which are planted directly into warm soil later in the season. I like to write when to plant seeds on my calendar so I don't forget. Obviously these are rough estimates and broccoli doesn't care if it's planted March 27th or April 2nd, but using a calendar means I don't forget anything important.
PREPARE YOUR CONTAINERS, POTS, OR TRAYS
When I first started gardening, I was lucky enough to inherit a whole bunch of gardening supplies from a neighbor, so I have several plastic seed-starting trays. They are in pretty rough shape by now, but thanks to duct tape, I think they'll last a few years yet. If you don't have trays already, don't despair. There are lots of low and zero waste options for seed starting. After a quick wash with water and vinegar, your pots are ready to go.
PREPARE YOUR SEED STARTING MIX
I find it works best to moisten your Seed Starting Mix before planting. In a separate pot or tray, mix the soil with water until it is slightly damp (it will make a loose ball when squeezed). Fill trays and small pots about 3/4 full and press down the soil. For bigger containers and pots, leave about an inch at the top.
PLANT YOUR SEEDS
Lay the seeds on top of the soil and cover them with soil. The depth of the soil will be written on your seed packet. I always plant several seeds per pot. You can always thin seedlings later if they all germinate. When planting seeds outdoors, follow the instructions on the seed packet for planting date, spacing, and depth. For more on seeds, check out What I Plant and When I Plant it.
COVER & WARM
Place something clear and plastic or glass over your pots, trays, or containers to keep the soil moist and warm. Then place the whole operation in a sunny window or on a heat vent (this is one situation where the greenhouse effect is a good thing!). If you have heat mats and grow lights, you can set them up on a metal shelf in a window so you can use natural light when it's available.
WATCH & WAIT & PET YOUR PLANTS
Check your soil daily to make sure it is still moist (not damp). You can spray the soil with a spray bottle, but don't over water. Once seedlings appear, remove the clear covering and and place them in a sunny window and/or under grow lights. I highly recommend petting your seedlings (running your hands along their leaves), which mimics the wind, to strengthen their stems.
THIN & REPLANT
Once your seedlings are an inch or so high, thin them to one per pot. Leave the strongest, greenest looking sprout. If the seedlings are getting too big for their pots and it's not time to plant outside yet, you can always transplant them into bigger pots. At this point, keep only the number of seedlings you intend to plant, plus a few extras.
HARDEN OFF & TRANSPLANT OUTSIDE
About a week before it is time to plant your seedlings outside, you should start getting them accustomed to the outdoors by placing them outside for periods each day, out of direct sunlight. Once they are used to the sunlight and wind, you can plant them outside.