Starting crops from seed is a satisfying and economical way to grow your own plants, flowers, and veggies. Here is all you need to get started.
There are two easy steps to seed starting – germination and growing a healthy plant through light.
Light isn’t required for seeds to sprout, but warmth is.
- Fill peat pots, strips and cellular trays with damp seed-starter mix. You can use a variety of containers, including flats or trays, small individual pots, and cell-packs. If you’re reusing old containers, scrub them out, and soak them for half an hour in a solution of one part household bleach to nine parts hot water to destroy any disease organisms.
- Plant seeds at the depth given on packets. If you are using seeds that you have collected and don’t know the proper depth to plant them, a simple internet search will give you that information. As a rule of thumb, cover seeds to a depth equal to twice their diameter. Don’t forget to label each container so you don’t forget what is growing.
- Place plastic covers over or wrap trays with plastic wrap to keep moisture evenly spread.
- Move to the top of the refrigerator or set on a plant heat mat. When green sprouts are detected, remove the plastic wrap and move plants to a well-lighted location.
Strong light is essential for growth.
- Place seedlings in a south-facing window or under grow lights. Lights should be 3” above seedlings and adjusted upward as plants grow taller. Cooler lights such as fluorescent bulbs or LEDs, can be even closer to the seedlings to transfer as much light as possible.
- Keep seedlings under lights a minimum of 12 hours daily. For optimum growth, sixteen hours of light per day is recommended. Adjust the lights to maintain 1″-3″ of space above the seedlings.
- When the seedlings develop their second set of true leaves or when they start to get root bound, it’s time to transplant them to individual pots, such as 3- or 4-inch plastic pots. Fill the new containers with potting mix, moisten the mix and let it drain. To remove the seedlings from their original pots, squeeze each pot’s sides, and turn it upside down, keeping one hand around the soil ball. With both hands, carefully pull the soil ball apart, and set it down on a flat surface. Poke a hole in the new container’s potting mix. Carefully lift each seedling and its rootball, keeping your fingers under it for support. Place the seedling in its new container, and firm the mix around it. Water immediately, and then set the pots in bright light. Most garden plants benefit from a high nitrogen fertilizer at this stage in their development, but it is important to dilute the fertilizer to approximately half strength.
- Once the weather has warmed, prepare to transplant the seedlings to the garden outside. Don’t forget to harden off before planting outside to prevent the plants from being burned. To do this, take the plants outside for an hour or so then bring back in. The following day, expose the plants to a couple of hours of sunlight. Each day, increase the amount of sunlight by an hour or so. After 8-10 days, the plants will be fully hardened and ready to face full sunlight in the garden.
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