A-Z Gardening in Zone 3-4

For the organic gardner struggling in the short season climate

Seed Starting Secrets

Considering the price of seeds these days, every care should be taken to make sure most of them germinate. Linda and I garden extensively, we grow summer squash, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, winter squash, corn, peas, beans, chard, spinach, many kinds of lettuce, herbs, carrots, parsnips, onions, leeks, bunching onions, asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and an assortment of flower seeds. When we started gardening together 10 years our seed bill was about $50.00, this year our seed bill was over $200.00. Many of our seeds need to be started indoors and then transplanted into the garden or the greenhouse. We do the best we can to maximise germination rates

The most important step is to read the seed packet for starting directions. Knowing the proper conditions for germination can mean the difference between a good crop and a failure. Seeds require a full range of conditions in order to germinate. Some need heat, some do not, some need to be covered, some do not, some require light, some do not. Seeds also vary in how long they will take to come up. The cole crops will come up in about 3 days, I started rosemary a few weeks ago and I’m still waiting for them to germinate.

Seeds range in size from microscopic to as large as the nail on your little finger. The larger seeds are easy enough to handle, it’s the teeny weeny seeds, no more than a dust speck, that can prove to be a challenge. I like to put all my seeds, except for the dust specks, in a small bowl and use a eyebrow tweezer to pick them up and place them on the cell in the flat.

Found a great way to plant teeny weeny seeds, like lettuce, outdoors in the garden from “Organic Gardening Magazine”, in an article called “Best-Ever Seed Tape”. The article states, “It’s difficult to space tiny seeds, such as carrots, in the garden. The best way to solve this problem is to make homemade seed tape. Here’s how to do it:

1. Unroll a strip of toilet paper on a table (double ply works best), mist it with a sprayer, and place the seeds along the center of the strip. Be sure to space the seeds based on the seed packet’s recommendation. Tip: Alternate carrot seeds with radish seeds because when the radishes sprout, they help to mark the row and break the ground.

1. Starting along the strip’s long edge, fold a third of the paper over the seeds, then forl the other third over to cover the seeds completely. Lightly tamp the paper, misting it again to secure the seeds. Make as many of these strips as you need. Then carefully carry them to the garden.

3. Make shollow furrows in the prepared soil, lay the strips down, and cover them. In a juffy, your small seeds will be planted and perfectly spaced”.

Seeds are usually started in flats that have groups of cells, such as nine or six packs filled with potting soil in them, see picture above. Fill the cells with moist potting soil to the top of the cell, them tamp them down. If some of the cells seems to need more potting soil add more and tamp again. There should be about 1/4 ” of room on the top. We use a broken hammer handle. The large end is good on six pack cells and the small end on nine pack cells. Some of the really tiny seeds can be scattered over flats with or without cells in them and then transplanted when they are big enough to handle. Make sure that the flats without cells have drainage. Putting a flat with drainage holes into a flat that does not is a good way to handle this situation. When starting seeds indoors put the cells in flats that don’t have drainage holes. You can keep them moist by picking up a cell and putting water into the flat, make sure you don’t put too much water in or you will drown the seeds or cause mold to grow. Cover them with flat covers to keep conditions moist but not wet. If your cells are too wet take the cover off and let them dry out a little. Remember seeds need to stay moist to germinate.

I put two seeds in each cell, one in each opposite corner, of a nine or six pack. This will make separating them easier when it is time to transplant. I like to use nine packs for tomatoes and peppers because they take up less space since they will all have to be transplanted to a larger pot until they can be planted out doors or into the greenhouse any way. For seeds like cabbage or flowers, I like to plant in six packs because they will stay in these cells until planting in the garden and they need the extra soil to grow larger. We always plant every seed in a seed pack, if we run out of cells and we have just a few left we just add them to other cells in that flat. All the seeds will not germinate and there is always the occasional accident or frost that can damage or kill your plants, it’s always best to have a few extra on hand. Any extras you have you can sell or give away to grateful friends or neighbors.

The last and most important step is to label your seeds, I guarantee you will not remember what you planted later on. Use painters tape and a permanent marker, permanent markers will not wash out with watering. When you move the cells to a flat with drainage make sure you label as you go. It’s very easy to get mixed up. When you transplant into pots label each pot in order to make sure you won’t forget what you have. Take my word for it, it’s very easy to get mixed up and have no idea what you have especially with tomatoes and the Cole crops, cabbage etc.. It makes for a very interesting garden.

3 thoughts on “Seed Starting Secrets

  1. Pingback: Food is Renewable Energy « Agrowth: Nutrition & Sustainability

  2. Fairly new to gardening in colder climate (from hot Texas, no less!). Glad to read your info about seed starting secrets. Got some seeds sprouting indoors that I planted couple of weeks ago and a few more trays planted just today.

    Still way to cold the past few days to even “porch garden” here especially w/ the recent hard winds that started blowing. I do envy you the greenhouse!


  3. I have collected the seeds from my impatiences the past weeks and I would like to plant my own next year. It’s my first time and I would like to know who to proceed. When should I start to plant them inside ? How should I preserve my seeds ?


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