The best part about late winter/early spring is starting your summer garden now by planting seeds indoors. It’s a great feeling knowing how your plants started, but also the tremendous amount of money you save by starting your own seedlings instead of buying them along with the variety of seed available compared to plants that are sold.
The seed packets that you have will tell you the recommended growing time before you can plant them outside, which is usually after the frost date in your particular area. You will then want to count backwards from your area’s last frost date to get the suggested planting time.
For example, the seed packet I have is for tomatoes that says to start indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost. My area’s last frost date is around May 21st, so I would start my tomatoes anywhere around March 26th to April 9th. This date does not have to be perfect, so don’t stress yourself if you plant a bit too early or a bit too late.
Well enough of that yapping…let’s get our hands dirty! But before we can play in the dirt, we have to make sure we have everything we need to complete this project.
Things you will need:
~ seeds, of course! If you don’t have your own already, I’ve found that you can get them at a really good price from your local discount stores. Other ways of getting seeds, particularly free ones, are from friends, other gardeners (they’re always willing to share), garden clubs, and seed swapping sites/ads just to mention a few.
~ potting soil or seed starting formula, a soil-less mix is best for starting seeds. Don’t worry if it has fertilizer or special nutrients already added to it or not. Just get one that says that it’s made for seed starting.
~ containers & trays to hold the pottingsoil & seeds. I usually use the cell packs that I’ve acquired from previous years or you can buy them new. If you are using previously used containers and trays be sure to wash and disinfect them before hand. I just add a cap or two of bleach to hot sudsy water and let them soak for a bit. This will loosen any previous years leftovers and will be easier to remove. Then just rinse thoroughly and let air dry.
~ any bowl or container to use as a soil/water mixing bowl. (This item isn’t really necessary, but I find it handy to use to dampen the soil before adding to the cell packs/containers.) I usually just use a big old bowl that I’ve devoted to only soil mixing. You will also want to make sure that this has been cleaned too.
Now that we have everything we need, let’s really dig in!
~ add your potting soil to the bowl and mix in enough water to make the mix moist but not soggy where the water is pooling up.
~ now fill your seed container and lightly press down the soil – add more soil until the container is about 2/3″ to 3/4″ filled.
~ look at the back of your seed packet, it will tell you how deep the seed needs to be planted (some seeds need light to grow so the packet will tell you to sprinkle on the surface and not to cover with soil). Make an indent in the soil with your finger about the depth of the seed packet instructions. I usually make a few holes per cell so I can grow more than 1 seed at a time in the same cell. Drop the seed into the hole and cover with additional soil.
~ you do not need to plant all the seeds that come in a seed packet. Only plant what you think you will use plus a few more. I usually grow a little bit more than what my plan is to allow for some seeds that might not make it, seedlings that are weak and die off, or if I’m lucky enough to have extra I can give away the additional plants.
~ once your seeds have been planted, cover the container with either plastic wrap or a plastic dome that would have come with the tray. This will help to keep the moisture in, assisting in germination (seed sprouting).
~ place the seed container/tray in a warm location away from the direct sunlight. Some people use heating mats specially made for seed starting.
~ your seeds should start to sprout after a few days, the seed packet will give you an idea of how long to expect. Once they have sprouted, remove the plastic cover and move to a bright area. I have shelves in my cellar with fluorescent lights to shine down onto the seedlings. This is great because it not only adds the necessary light but also warmth. I set the lights on an automatic timer so I don’t have to worry about making sure they get enough light, which I set them to be on for about 12 to 14 hours.
~ keep an eye on the soil to be sure it doesn’t dry out too much. Add water from the bottom by adding to the tray that the cell packs sit in or mist the top with water. Now is a good time to add a little liquid fertilizer to the watering can.
~ some seedlings, like tomatoes, should be transplanted, or replanted, into an individual larger pot by themselves once they have several sets of leaves on them. This will give them more space so their roots can grow stronger and not get tangled in with other plants.
~ Now you have your summer garden started and you’re that much closer to getting outside and working that soil!
~ Have fun with this and enjoy…it’s good for the soul.