In my last post I taught you how to map out your garden planting calendar. It's still cold outside but your seed starting chart says it's time to play in the dirt. So get out all your supplies:
1. Seed starting soil. This is a special mix that gives seeds just the right amount of nutrients for the first stage of life.
2. Aluminum foil trays with optional clear plastic covers and foil cookie sheets (one set per plant variety). I've added these to the Amazon box at the bottom of this post so you can see what I'm talking about. But I get these at the dollar store to save money.
3. A large bowl and wooden spoon
5. Sunny windowsill(s) or grow lights (See my Amazon links at the bottom of this post. This is what I use.)
Planting seeds has become a springtime activity that my daughter and I do together, and one of the few times I'm not complaining about things getting dirty, much to her delight. Last year we grew everything from seed and started the first possible date on our calendar. Not expecting a whole lot to grow, I added lots of compost to encourage things along. I carefully transplanted each and every seedling into larger pots as they grew, not wanting to lose a single one. Fast forward 8 weeks and my tomato "seedlings" were 5 feet tall, scrawny, and didn't produce much once transplanted to my heavily composted garden beds. Mistakes made, lessons learned:
I should have listened to all of my research and focused on the strongest and healthiest seedlings instead of trying to grow them ALL. "Survival of the fittest" comes into play here if you want healthy plants. Once the seedlings are large enough to transplant to larger pots (which I will get to in part 3 of this series), ONLY continue growing the healthiest of the bunch.
Don't over fertilize! I doubted my ability to grow an entire garden from seed so I added way too much compost at all stages of development. This resulted in my baby plants spending all their energy in growing taller instead of fuller and healthier. My house became a jungle of stringy plants seeking more sunlight than I could provide to keep them all alive before it was warm enough outside to plant them in the garden. And I ended up losing them all. Yes, all of them.
Planting all my seeds at the earliest possible date also contributed to overgrown seedlings that did not survive. When they were big enough to plant outside, the weather was still way too cold so I couldn't risk losing them to frost. Now if my seed packets say I can start seeds indoors 8-12 weeks before the last frost, I start them 7-8 weeks, NOT 12 weeks...
So now you have the benefit of my mistakes. Let's get to the fun part. Again, this is my method. Other growers might have different strategies. Experiment and do what works for you. Each season, you will become your own expert for YOUR garden. And as always, have fun!
1. Scoop some seed starting soil into the large bowl.
2. Add enough water to make the soil wet, but not soaking muddy. If you can squeeze water out of a handful of soil, you've added too much water. Add more soil to dry it out a bit. Mix with the wooden spoon.
3. Poke holes in the bottom of the foil tray with a pencil. This will allow for drainage as you water your seedlings.
4. Place the try on top of the cookie sheet and add the damp soil to the tray. You'll want a few inches of soil to start with but don't worry if it doesn't reach the top. You actually want some room to add more soil as the seedlings grow. (I'll explain that in a minute.)
5. Now you are ready to plant seeds. You can either poke holes in the soil where you want to place each seed or you can gently shake the seeds out into the soil and spread the around a bit. Cover the seeds with more damp soil.
6. You do NOT need to water them now because you've already watered the soil. I find that doing it this way helps the seeds not float around the starting tray and end up washed into a clump in a corner. Put the plastic cover on over the tray creating a mini-greenhouse. This comes in very handy if you have cats that may want to play in the dirt, or worse (wink, wink).
7. Place the little greenhouse in a sunny spot or under your grow light.
8. Monitor daily! Keep your seedlings evenly moist, but do not drown them or let them dry out.
As the seeds sprout and grow taller, add a little more soil around the stems to help them stand up straight. Once they are tall enough to touch the top of the plastic cover, take the cover off and protect them from pets. When they have outgrown the seed starting tray, you will want to single out the strongest and healthiest plants for transplanting into larger pots. In my next post, I'll teach you how to make pots out of newspaper for your little babies to continue growing. This will save you lots of money, and you can plant the whole thing in the garden when the time is right, saving you time as well.