Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Seeds 101

I don't know how many people come into the store, look at the Seeds of Change seed rack and state that they can't start plants from seed. I tell them they can and they just shake their head, having given up after attempts and ending with non-germinated seed or seedlings that have died. So I'm on a mission this year to get those seeds going.

Last month I did a free seed starting demonstration at the store, which was well attended and everyone went home with a peat pot they had planted with calendula seed. I'm always amazed by calendula seed, it doesn't look like a seed at all, more like a dried up curled little worm. That this grows into a good size plant with those beautiful flowers is rather amazing. I also have some that I found when cleaning up the garden so planted them and hope to see some reseeding this year of the calendula. But back to seed starting...

While starting seeds isn't difficult, there are some things that ensure a good healthy seedling. The first thing I talked about was soil...a good soil starting mix is needed, not your soil from the garden or even a regular potting soil. I sometimes make my own mix with peat, but found a nice organic seed starting mix this year at my local organic garden supply store that seems to be working very well so far.

Second is light, seedlings need direct light and a lot of it. A good south facing sunny window is great. Since I don't have that, I use grow lights. There is all sort of discussion about types of light to use, but I've found a regular flourescent light works fine, for 12-14 hours a day.

Seedlings also need heat, and I keep mine protected against drafts. And although my grow stand is by a window, there is baseboard heat all along the wall, giving warmth from underneath.

One of the mistakes I find people often make is starting their seeds too early. Seed packets have a wealth of information, including how long it will take the plant to germinate and grow. I've learned not to start most of my seeds until March to avoid plants ready to go in the garden way before their planting time.

Then of course there is water. Seeds do not like to be dry, and are very unforgiving if not watered. I keep my seedlings consistently moist (not necessarily wet), watering several times a day if necessary. Yes this is a bit time consuming and needs to be paid attention, but I get so excited watching the seeds germinate and the seedlings grow that I check on them several times a day just for the fun of it anyways.

I fertilize with an weak strength organic seaweed and fish emulsion while their growing, which was also included in my soil mix along with some other natural nutrients.

Here are a few of my current seedlings, cucumbers on the left and zucchini just opening...

As the seedlings are nearing time to go into the garden, they need to gradually become acclimated to the weather outdoors, a process called "hardening off". There is nothing more discouraging than spending all that time growing a seedling and then having it die of shock when it is placed in the garden. I start by opening the window behind my plants for an hour a day and then gradually longer so they get used to the wind and small breezes. I then bring them outdoors to a protected area for more wind and then gradually into the sunlight acclimate to the sun. I do this over a week or two, not a long time but it really does help them become strong plants in the garden.

Or instead of doing all this, seeds can be directly planted in the garden and some prefer to be. Again, the seed package will tell which seeds start best in which manner but I find myself starting more plants directly in the garden every year. Make sure they are kept watered and I use HotKaps to protect the delicate seedlings from heavy rain or wind and also from insects.

So there's no excuse not to start plants from seed. It is economical and provides for a lot of choice in plants which may not be available otherwise. And just for the sheer awe that a small seed can become a plant to nourish our bodies and souls is reason itself. So happy seed starting!


Anonymous said...

Just started the tomatoes as I, too, have started too early in the past. Chilly last night wasn't it?

Linda said...

Yes, the evenings have been chilly and are supposed to be the next week or so. Guess it is still early Spring! I'm chomping at the bit to plant, but know better.... still hard to hold back!

Tatyana@MySecretGarden said...

Very good post! I found a lot of calendula volunteers in my garden.Start them once, and they'll come back every year.

Andrea said...

Hahaha, OOOOUCH! You hit me hard with getting the seeds then letting them die. That is the result of procrastination at its best! But i am back with my post after a month of detour. My blog is alive again, please try to peep in and i'm telling the truth, haha!

Christine B. said...

Strangely enough, I have never grown Calendula from seed. I will rectify said mistake/oversight.

Christine in Alaska, still under snow