On seed-starting


Help! I can’t find my porch for the seedlings!

Even though I am the most gung-ho of gardeners, I do have a secret. I dislike indoor seed-starting.

I am not sure if it’s all the indoor dirt, or the fact that our cats find potting soil and/or little seedlings amazingly intriguing, or if it’s simply such an easier process to plant the darned seeds out in the garden but…this is not my proudest hour.

Check the last date of expected frost in your area. Now, go back 8 weeks, and this is the date when you should start your heat-loving seeds like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. (Whew. I have a ways to go yet.) Look at that date again, and go back further for the slow-growers like the whole onion family. SIGH. THAT’S what I am looking at this weekend: I need to plant some alliums!

I’m not going to belabor my seed-starting process here. Let’s just say anything that can hold water can hold soil, so you can quite easily recycle all those cottage cheese and yogurt tubs you have destined for the recycling bin. My favorite thing to start them in are those big clear plastic boxes that organic salads come in: my MIL has been storing these for me all winter, and I have quite a stash from years past. So it’s a motley crew of containers wherein the seeds get started at Chez El.


Mylar blanket behind the salad stuff starting in the garage last year (yes, that’s metal stuff I pulled out of the garden below: love old farmers and their notion of “garbage heap”

My other secret is the use of mylar blankets to multiply the wimpy light of the fluorescent shop lights I use to grow the seeds. These are the reflective plastic “emergency” blankets you can find fairly easily in the camping or car section of your favorite big box store: they’re pretty cheap (about $2). I put them under the seeds and tent them over the light to keep a warm and bright little area for them.

Once they get big enough, I move the seedlings to my front porch. It’s a winterized porch, but we don’t have heat out there; if it’s expected to get really cold out there, I put an electric heater out there to keep the room above freezing. Not toasty, in other words.

What about the greenhouse, El? Well! It’s in there I will be starting all the cold-loving things like lettuces and cole crops. I won’t be starting them for another month or more, though. (Oh: and those crops? They’ll be started in the ground.)

7 responses to “On seed-starting

  1. Thank you so much for laying that all out for me. I have never had good luck with starting seeds indoors. Never. We had a little indoor greenhouse last season…I was expecting my third child in early april…we thought we were so cool and had it all together. Started our seeds in mid march..last frost here is normally 2nd week in May….or very end of april….they all looked pretty good, but then they got all moldy and yuck…was it too warm you think?

  2. Omigosh! I have to start my seedlings right now! We’re actually LESS than 8 weeks out and I’ve been thinking about seedlings, just thinking. But it turned remarkably warm today and has me itching to garden. And, frankly, planting is more fun than pruning off all the dead stuff. And since we might get another freeze, I’d rather wait. So I’m off to my favorite local nursery tomorrow to buy seeds of all sorts. (I’m a glutton for punishment!)

  3. All good tips!
    One note: drainage. Recycling yogurt containers is an excellent idea, but it’s super important to drill a few holes in the bottom so your seedlings don’t rot or damp off.
    By keeping them out of the sun, I get more than a few years of use out of mine.

  4. Seeds are tricky. I’ll try a few this year. I am using the compact fluorescents, the strongest I could find, and south light.

  5. Frugalmom: sounds like too much moisture to me, actually. The seedlings can drown if the soil is too damp, and the moisture can lead to what’s called “damping off,” which is a moldy thing that simply kills the plants. Otherwise, they were probably fine. Frankly, you were probably just really distracted šŸ˜‰

    Diana: Oh lucky you to actually be able to go outside and garden! I remember visiting my friend in Dallas in Feb. a couple of years back and being shocked at seeing her blooming roses. Sigh. So yeah, girl, get busy!

    Liz: I didn’t say I was giving away All my tips :0 but yes little drainholes are very important. I tend to err on the side of not watering the darned things enough, so worried have I typically been of the dangers of too much moisture. I had someone bring over a big tray of vegetables and dip this weekend (yuck) but my first and only thought (other than “those veggies are going into the compost”) was Wow look at that seed-starting tray!

    Elizabeth: fear not the seeds, woman! I really just dislike the process (I always manage to knock something over or get water over something else) and just simply wish my basement were actually warm enough to start the things. Life would be simpler if that were the case. But I really think you just can get more stuff, cheaper, by going through this process.

  6. OMG! That mylar blanket idea is great!!

    Also, I use a fan on a timer to discourage damping off.

    And, I’m a huge fan of the newspaper pots. You can easily plant them or they rip off easily (very little root disruption) for transplanting into the garden.

    Thanks for always such great posts!

  7. Angie: Every year I think “fan” but somehow never get around to it. My hubby is keen to try the newspaper pots; I personally don’t care but love to encourage anything garden-related out of him…hmm. Maybe I can put him on it with the kid! But thank you.

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