Yes, I know that most of the country is still a frozen mess and there is still about 4” of snow outside my window, but my thoughts are already in spring and summer (partially because this winter was just awful…not just the weather, but my darling 21 year old cat passed away this month). One way to get over the blues and cement the feeling of spring is to start my garden seeds!
Most flower and vegetable seeds need 6-10 weeks before they are ready to be planted out in the garden. And depending on your facilities (cloches, greenhouses, hoop houses), you can get most of your cold weather crops and some of your warm weather crops into the garden a couple of weeks earlier!
Starting your garden from seed is definitely more economical. A $3 pack of seeds (most are not that expensive, but you get the idea) can produce 10-20 plants over the viable life of the seed packet (2-3 years). Buying a single tomato plant in a garden center would cost that much or more. In addition, working with seeds provides for a larger variety of plants than what you can get at most garden centers and superstores.
We are in the infancy of seed saving so we still purchase our seeds, but we do select organic, non gmo providers like botanical interests and other brands I trust. I will still purchase a limited amount of plants from specialist nurseries since I do not have access to some of the more unique and exotic herbs and fruit plants I want to grow, but this gets us very far.
We have upgraded our seed starting equipment this year as we begin our journey into self sufficiency, we have made some small investments in this area to give our plants a good head start. I purchased two grow light fixtures to augment my south facing window. I also purchased a seedling heat mat to provide a gentle heat for those seeds that require warmer soil to germinate. Luckily Will had purchased a small freestanding greenhouse from a national discount store a couple of years ago; it makes a perfect incubator to trap heat and moisture…the ideal conditions for seedlings.
Always review your seed packets to understand the unique needs of each crop. Many spring crops like to be sown directly in the soil and are not designed to be started early, but many of the leafy spring and summer crops as well as fruiting crops (tomatoes, cucurbits, beans, etc.) benefit from a head start before being plunked into the garden.
I use a variety of containers to start seeds: seed trays, modules, deep roottrainers, even old toilet paper rolls depending on the crop (btw, beans love being sown in toilet paper rolls….the length of the tube provides the perfect environment for early growth and easy transplanting so their roots won’t be disturbed). This is a unique and effective method of reusing and recycling an item that would end up in the municipal recycling system or in the landfill. Instead, these rolls degrade in the garden, enhancing the soil!
I use a neutral seed starting material for most seeds that will be potted on into larger containers and a richer compost for crops that will go directly from their starting container to the garden.
The rule is to plant the seed equal to its depth in the soil. That works for some seeds, but others benefit from being scattered on top of the soil…again, make sure you read your seed packet description for recommendations. Once planted in the moist medium, I like to scatter grit on top of the seed cell. This provides a good mulch for the soil but also prevents bacterial growth that causes plants to dampen off.
To ensure you know what you planted where, label your seed cells clearly with indelible marker or ink….weeks of watering will wash away pencil!
Once our seeds were safely tucked in, I placed them in the greenhouse which I outfitted multiple grow lights and a seedling mat. The only downside of this method is the increase in energy usage over the next few weeks, but we are offsetting that use by extra no technology nights and we are at an advantage that the increasing daylight time is upon us (the clocks go back in a matter of days and Ostara aka, the equinox is a couple of weeks away).
Some of our plants will be started in a couple of weeks as they are quick germinating and maturing crops such as spaghetti and acorn squash…from seeds we saved from last year’s harvest. In addition, we plan to select the best crops we grow this year and save additional seed varieties like tomatoes and cucumbers…the process of seed saving can be daunting so we are taking it at a slow pace as long as good varieties and non gmo seeds are available to us.
Starting your garden from seeds is the best way to control the quality of the plants and the subsequent produce you harvest, get those hands dirty today!