Starting a garden from scratch can end up being a big investment. We didn’t even have a shovel to break ground with when we started this adventure, so after we purchased our shovels, rakes, trowels, gloves, materials to build raised beds, I could keep going… equipment which will serve us for years, the last thing we wanted to cut a large budget for was plants. So, we decided to grow all our plants (ok, minus fruit trees) from seed.
The growing medium will provide the proper environment for germination. We got a couple seed trays which came with peat pellets. These worked terrific, but I’d rather not have to keep buying peat pellets, so we only use these now with seeds we can’t get to start any other way. We also tried the coco “coin” style seed starters with zero success. What worked for best us? Dirt. Not just any kind of dirt, of course, we use a 50/50 mix of top soil and a compost rich in chunks of aerating chicken feathers, sand, and brown material, with great results.
In order to get a jump on the growing season, and to better control conditions for your seedlings, you may want to start your seeds in containers. If you’re trying to get a head start on the season, starting indoors with seed trays will allow you to regulate the rest of the components easier. However there are some plants, such as lettuce, that fare better with fewer transplantings, so pick planting times, or pick container sizes accordingly.
No light = weak and fragile seedlings. Simple math. If starting indoors (and you’re in the northern hemisphere), be sure you pick a south facing window that receives direct sunlight daily, or supplement your indoor sprouts with plant lights.
Warmth is a must for good germination rates. Later in the spring and summer, the soil’s natural warmth is enough but unless you’re growing outdoors you may not be able to take advantage of the sun. so that we could get an early start, we invested in a head mat like this one. This made all the difference – before warming our seed trays, we just kept near a large window and hardly any of our seeds sprouted.
If you’ve selected a suitable growing medium, this part should be easy. Small plants and seedling can dry out in the blink of an eye, and for our seeds and seedlings, a daily misting is required. We water just enough to see some water draining through the trays. If you’re growing medium is just right, it will absorb some water to slowly release during the day, while allowing excess water to drain away. As water flows through and drains out the bottom, it will also draw oxygen into the soil, which is key for healthy root development and for preventing rot.
This last one may be the most important. Pay attention to your seeds! Until they have put down roots, and gotten a few sets of leaves, seeds and seedlings are very delicate. Several hours of high temps, or dry soil can be enough to wipe out your whole tray. At least once a day, check on them. Make sure they have water and light. Move seedlings that aren’t getting enough light. In addition to being key to your seedlings success, this is also the fun part! Watching your plants grow, and develop from dry little seeds into enormous fruit-laden monsters that will feed your family is what gardening is all about!