Get Ready…Get Set…Sow!

Radish seedlings: Michigan government photo

HerbDoc has some tips for starting your spring seeds…indoors or in the garden.

All of the seeds have been ordered and divided into those that can benefit from an early start indoors and those than can be directly sown in the garden. Since there is very limited indoor space and no greenhouse available, I have to be very selective when choosing what to start at home. Usually I’ll pick tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, parsley, and a few flowers that I have difficulty finding at local nurseries.

First I gather together all of the plastic containers and make sure they’re scrupulously clean by washing them in a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water and rinsing them well.  In the past I’ve used cut-down milk cartons, cottage cheese containers, etc. along with peat pots and seed starting flats.  Almost any container will do as long as it’s at least 2 inches deep and has drainage holes.  If a container has a lid, I use that as a saucer. This year I’m looking forward to using my new soil blocker with recycled trays, but I also have a favorite pint sized greenhouse that a fellow Master Gardener recommended last year.

Each container should be filled with seed starting media that encourages germination and growth.  Steer clear of commercial potting mixes as most today contain fertilizer that seeds don’t need or which are heavy and hold too much moisture.  In the past I have made my own mixture of equal parts screened compost and vermiculite, which worked very well. Fill the containers with the mix, tamp down, and water well before sowing seeds.  This prevents the seeds from clumping together or washing away.

Next, sow your seeds thinly, carefully following the package directions. (Don’t feel the need to use the whole package!  If you store them properly, the leftover seed will germinate next year.) Some will need sunlight for germination to occur; these need to come in contact with the soil so firm them gently in place.  Others can be dusted with a light amount of soil.  Be sure to label the container with the variety and date sown.  Cover the containers with plastic wrap to retain moisture.  Bottom heat can speed germination and this can be accomplished by heating mats or by putting trays on top of the refrigerator or near a heating vent.  Water the trays from the bottom as necessary to keep the trays evenly moist.  Watering from the top can dislodge seeds and/or cause disease.  Check daily for sprouting.  Once it occurs, remove the plastic wrap immediately!

In the next post, we’ll look at germination, transplanting, hardening off, and growing.

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