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Seed Starting Help!


New to starting seeds?

No problem below you will find the basic steps of starting seeds in flats or individual pots. Don't worry about having to spend a lot on exact name-brand products. Honestly any of the products at your local garden center will work just fine. Any container will work but some are better and more convenient than others. Previous plant purshase pots or packs, flats, seed starting trays, plantable pots (coir, peat, cow pots), recycled plastic containers from around the house (needs holes for drainage) as well as handmade paper pots or soil blocks. Follow the simple is better rule to start with and have fun! 

First check your seeds for pretreatment tips and/or any special soil requirements such as acidic, alkaline, sharp drainage. Prepare seed as needed such as prechilling (stratification), seed coat weakening (scarification), soaking, smoke treatment. Look for germination information such as darkness or light needs, temprature, number of days to sprout and if erractic germ with longer time frame of months or seasons.

Gather the following items in a location that can get messy: 

  • Seeds with variety specific planting information 
  • Seed starting medium Not garden soil because it is sterile with no weed seeds and lessens dampening off caused by disease and fungus.
  • Seed starting containers *Recycled should be washed with soapy water and then rinsed with 1 part bleach to 9 parts water solution let air dry preferably in the sun. Reduces diseases that kill tender baby plants
  • Water 
  • Plant labels: Yes you need these. Wood, plastic or metal it's up to you
  • Marking Pen specifically for garden label marking or a grease pen because others will fade from water and light 
  • Sand fine grade from the garden dept not the beach, perlite or vermiculite is also helpful depending on amount of drainage needed for specific seeds. Grit from a feed store is another helpful item for increasing drainage and as a seed covering.
  • Organic fertilizer for after germination *Discussed below
Now to get your hands dirty:
  1. Seed starting medium needs to be moistened. Depending on amount needed mix in a bucket or wheelbarrow the starting mix and water so that it is becomes spongy damp not soggy dripping wet when you squeeze a handful (Not too wet). Let this mix sit a little while to get soaked up nicely. Start with less water than you think as you can always add more. Don't make soup.
  2. Fill planting container not quite to the top with mix: if you have large holes in the container place a piece of newspaper or papertowel in the bottom to keep the mix from filtering through. Do not pack the mix down tight just press in lightly.
  3. Scatter seeds evenly over the surface: larger seeds further apart or 2-3 per small pot, smaller seeds can be mixed with sand and then pinch cast or use a shaker for easier distribution. Review if the seeds have a light or dark requirement for germination. Seeds that need light should be covered very lightly with grit &/or a very small amount of the planting mix. If darkness is needed put dark plastic, newsprint or an inverted bottom tray over the container to block light. Also most large seeds need to be pressed down in the soill a bit about two to three times their thickness (Not too deep) 
  4. Insert plant label markers as soon as each variety is sown unless you like surprises 
  5. Water with a fine mist sprayer or use bottom watering so the seeds are not disturbed. Bottom watering is acheived by placing the planting containers  inside a bottom tray and water is added to the bottom tray and is soaked up through the holes in the flats or pots. Capillary mats can be used to aid in drawing water up into the seed starting container. Watering is the most important factor because water logged medium can cause seed rotting or fungal growth that kills baby plants or over dryness can kill the seed and causes wilt which weakens the little plants. Check them everyday or twice a day if you have extra air flow. Don't place directly in the sun because overheating can kill the seeds and delicate baby plants.  
  6. Cover containers with a clear platic bag, row cloth or lid to keep moisture in. 
  7. Now watch and wait. Watch for signs of fungus. Take the lids off for some airflow each day. The seeds that have darkness requirements need to be uncovered as soon they start to sprout. Move plants to bright light or under flourescent lights as soon as true leaves emerge (that is usually the second set). 
  8. If sown in flats or plugs or small containers then transplant after the first true leaves have fully unfolded which is the second set of leaves not the first seed leaves known as cotlydons. 
  9. These little plants with their true leaves need food. Seed starting mix is nutrient poor. Mix plant food up according to directions specifically for seedlings and add it to the water as prescribed. Seedling are delicate so go light with your food of choice so as to not burn them. Ogranic liquid fertilizer is a good choice. Easy to measure, mix and regulate the amount and timing of use. 
  10. Watering regime should be damp but not too wet and then let dry some between watering but do not let them dry out to the level of wilting
  11. Be sure to harden off new plants before planting out in the garden. Give them a little bright light and outdoor time each day but not direct sunlight or wind at first. Start 10-14 days or so before planting out. Figure out a safe protected place such as a porch, patio or cold frame to start. Gradually move into filtered sun and more sun with less breeze protection. Critical to keep up the moisture to prevent wilting.
  12. Remember to keep notes so you know what works and what doesn't for next year. Before you know it you will be answering questions and helping others start seeds.  

Happy seed sowing and growing! 




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