On seed-starting

img_0743Red and yellow onions growing in a recycled aluminum pie plate and plastic cover.  Notice the crowding:  I intend to transfer these (and most of my seedlings) at least twice:  once to the grow bed in the greenhouse and finally to their spots in the garden.  Growing things in crowded conditions frankly enables me to maximize that lightspace, but yes, transferring twice is a big downside.

Baby steps:  seed starting!

Remember that I have openly admitted that I, gardenlover, hate starting seeds indoors.  But like many of these necessary things that are…tiresome, if I bite off only a tiny bit at a time then I feel the task is manageable.  I could NEVER set aside a whole (or even half) day to start seeds because I would certainly go crazy.

So I cheat:  I dump my dirt, compost, worm castings and peat into a large plastic tub and I fill the seed pots when I have the time AND the desire.  My gardening calendar has enough flexibility built into it that a few days either way isn’t going to hurt things.  I probably won’t wait too many days, though…the calendar won’t accommodate a true slacker.  For instance, after two weeks, the leeks I sowed are near no-shows.  Leeks are important so I planted a new flat.  (In my own time, of course…the next day.)

A big trick up my sleeve is those greenhouses.  Granted not all of you have them, but they enable me to use the lights for the first few weeks only and not the six or 12 that some seeds require.  I first grow the cold-hardy seeds (alliums, lettuces, brassicas) in small cast-off bits of recycling (Chinese take-out containers, cottage cheese tubs, etc.) and then, once their true leaves come in, out to the greenhouse they go.  Yep, it’s still cold outside but 40* nighttime lows shouldn’t hurt them in there.  I transfer the seedlings into the dirt and “double greenhouse” them by placing a piece of clear plastic directly atop their bed.  And then under the lights go the seeds of warmth-loving plants, and I repeat the process, because by the time they’re ready those greenhouses are hot enough for their needs.

Perhaps this last trick of greenhouse growing is out of reach for you this year.  What I’ve done in the past is to grow my bigger seedlings in my sunny front porch.  Because I potted things up in individual cups, stacking them on the windowsills worked fairly well.  On the one or two severely cold nights that spring, I put a space heater on out there.  You can also try making a coldframe outdoors, out of a window and some straw bales, or even of a clear plastic sweater box.  You can move the sweater box indoors if you fear a cold snap.

So even without the greenhouse the seed-starting thing can be tackled in a small batches, as you can tolerate it…

12 responses to “On seed-starting

  1. Excellent. That’s just what I needed- a step-by-step; it’s been a few years since I started seeds indoors, and I don’t want to miss anything. This year I’m jumping back into a giant vegetable garden, something I haven’t had since my gardening child lived here. We had so much fun that it just wasn’t the same without her here. Walking through the garden she and her husband planted (far away) last year inspired me to put a bit more effort into mine this year.

  2. I do the double transfer method with high attrition rate items too. Also with older seeds that may have lower germination. Saves valuable light space for sure.

  3. Then you can sit by and relax with a little glass of wine.


  4. Cranky was chatting with his baker friend at the market this morning. The baker said, “It’s time to plant seeds! Ready?”
    Cranky said true farmers plant seeds; the rest of us go to the nursery in April or May for seedlings.
    (But you know what? I think Cranky wants to try seeds.)

  5. do you not use a heat mat to help germination?

  6. Thanks for stopping by my blog yesterday El! We had our first seedlings pop up today! My little girls think it’s amazing (they planted their own), so that adds fun to process at our house.

  7. Thanks for making me feel better about the whole seed starting thing. I am very excited for it conceptually but the mechanics are still a bit of a mystery. Your post shows there is more than one (or 2 or 5) ways to do this, even with the timing (one of the most worrying parts). I wish I had a greenhouse or similar access. How does the plastic-sweater box work?

  8. Pamela, good. I think the rewards of a huge veggie garden are undeniable: we can only eat so many flowers! So good luck!

    Great, Christy, so I am not alone with my madness. It’s like kicking the little fledglings out of the nest early…even this weekend I am transferring some mesclun cuties that are just a week old. The greenhouse is warm enough for them now.

    Linda, well I could if it was still snowing. It’s finally thawed here so now I start going REALLY crazy! Yay.

    CC, hah. Real Gardeners Plant Seed. I can see the t-shirt now. Remind him how much he loves beans (even if DIY means less flirting opportunities with the bean girl).

    Oh no Sylvie I am too much of a tightwad. Couldn’t make the numbers work for how much time they’d save me. Everything will sprout, eventually.

    Lindsay, how fun for them! Yep it is quite amazing. Our girl gets to mist them and she thinks that’s quite gratifying…

    MC, no mystery, seeds WANT to grow! The blanket-box trick I used a few years back with lettuces. I put the flats in there and would vent the lid every day (it would get too hot otherwise) and closed it every night. I made sure it had maybe 1 hour of direct sun only: the rest of the time it was in bright shade. The greenhouse is the same thing but a lot bigger…

  9. Any recommendations on what types of veggies to start germinating indoors? I have some pepper seeds I saved from a pepper I bought at a local farm last summer. Is there a certain time of the year that would be better to plant them…like mid summer??? What seedlings do you start out with?

  10. I noticed there was another Lindsay posting so the previous comment is from a different Lindsay 🙂 You can call me Lindsay G.

  11. Pingback: Dropstone Farms » links for 2009-03-08

  12. Hi Lindsay G., Yes, peppers are great seeds to start. They’re kind of slow off the starting line so they need some time to get going, and they like it warm. Check your last frost date; you should start them 8-12 weeks prior to that date. I usually fudge and start them late: if they go out too early they become slug food, and then of course they’ll die with a late frost.

    Thanks for the ping Dropstone farms…

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