Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How to start seeds indoors

This spring I have studied and researched and thereby learned how to plant my tomato seeds in my kitchen, then be able to transplant them to my backyard garden in just five weeks.

My tomato seedlings grew to be 16 inches tall, sturdy as soldiers. And it was super fast once I invested time, energy and yes, some money, into my little system.

Now I have the equipment and know-how for starting seeds for every season in my life. You need to try this!
Beyond seeds, you will need these things:
  • Seed-starting tray with clear plastic dome lid
  • Potting mix
  • Heating mat made especially for seed-starting
  • Shop light from the hardware store with 4 plant light tubes
    (see Quirky Cultivator tomorrow)
I got the domed seed-starting tray and accompanying heating mat, sold together online as a "germination station."

The tray I used allowed me to choose the seed-starting soil mix. The big-box stores tend to have one or the other of these 8-quart bags: Jiffy Natural and Organic Seed Starting Mix (yellow bag) and Miracle-Gro Seed Starting Potting Mix (blue bag). They are $5 or $6 a bag, and it's well worth the money because it's high-quality stuff and it takes only half a bag to fill my tray. 

Here's where you get dirt under your fingernails, which is my favorite part. Pour your soil into a container and add a little water at a time, squishing it together between your fingers. You'll need to add water until the soil is the consistency of a wrung-out sponge. If you've done this properly, the soil will be wetted but not saturated. When you squeeze you'll want to see a few drops of water fall out, but that's all. Now put the soil into the tray holes.

Generally you'll plant tomato seeds at a depth of 1/4 inch, but double-check your seed packet. Place two seeds on top of each hole then cover with 1/4 inch of soil. Don't pack it down. Placing the tray over the provided under-tray to catch any drops.

Now you will make your own greenhouse effect by placing the clear plastic dome over the tray.  Check your seed pods every day and water if they are looking less than moist. Having the heating mat underneath and your shop light hanging overhead, you might need to water every day.

Set your domed tray on your nifty germination heating mat. This is the way the big greenhouses sprout seeds, and I never really believed it was worth the money, but no longer! The heat mat is a stiff, thin system completely encased in vinyl. I love this mat, which increases the soil temperature about 5 to 10 degrees above room temp. I keep it plugged in all day every day until the baby plants outgrow their dome.  I paid about $40 for the "germination station" tray and heating mat together. Now I will be able to plant a $3 packet of seeds instead of $3 to $5 transplants in Big Box Land.

This is just one way to start seeds. What tips do you have? Please leave a comment below and I will get right back to you.  

Next: Using a shop light as a grow light

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