Spring is just around the corner and that means it will be time to plant your spring garden. Now is the time to get a head start by starting your seeds indoors. Starting seeds indoors has many advantages, so let’s look at a couple of seed starting tips and advantages that I have learned over the years of gardening.
Use a good seed starting medium
There are many soils to choose from and most of them will germinate seed, however there are certain soils or seed starting kits that make germinating easier.
Seed starting soil which can be purchased at any nursery is very fine and spongy when it gets wet. You want something that will hold moisture since this is what seeds need to germinate. In fact a seed can germinate in total darkness as long as there is moisture. Light is only needed once germination has begun. Do you remember germinating bean seeds in elementary school with a wet paper towel? Moisture is the main key and temperature is the second.
Depending on the type of seeds being germinated you can use single cell trays or a shallow tray that you place the soil in and sow the seeds in the same space. Either way is fine and both have their pros and cons.
I personally like to use single cell trays like the Park’s Seed Bio Dome. It comes with sponge seed starters that soak up water from the bottom and keep the seed moist. It’s also especially nice for indoor seed starting since there is no soil to mess with.
You can also sow seeds in an open tray as I mentioned earlier. This method is quick and easy when sowing but creates more shock for the seedlings when transplanting. It is still a good method and in my experience seems to give a higher germination rate.
Temperature is very important when germinating seeds. You will need to know what each seed requires temperature wise to germinate. All seeds are different, but are usually in a close enough range that you can germinate multiple seed varieties in the same space.
For example, you can germinate tomatoes, peppers, radishes, beans, squash and many more in warm soil temp, while broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, carrots and others need a cooler soil temp to germinate.
The best way to control soil temp when germinating is to use a heat pad. There are many brands of seed starting heat pads that heat the soil from underneath the pot or tray you are starting your seeds in. These are simple plug in heat pads that usually have multiple settings and are waterproof. Some come with thermometers that will keep track of the soil temp and turn the heat pad on and off to keep soil at the correct temp. I have found that when starting seed indoors the soil temp is usually easy to control with your central heating system, if you keep your house around 65-70 degrees most seed will germinate without the use of the heat pads, although the heat pads can speed up the process.
You can also make your own heat pad with incandescent rope lights, but usually the time it takes to make one is not worth the few extra dollars for a real heat pad.
There are also heat cords that can be buried in the soil that heat it but these aren’t really necessary unless you are germinating on a larger scale.
Water and lighting
Water is the most important thing you need to germinate seeds. Without water, you will just have seeds. Any source of water that you have will work to germinate seeds, of course if you have access to rain water that is the best, since it is usually pure and full of nitrogen.
I like to be able to use kits that enable me to water from below the seeds where the water is soaked up through the bottom of the soil or plugs. This is much easier and cleaner for indoor seed starting. If you don’t have the ability to use a kit like this, misting with water multiple times a day from the top is just as good. Remember to never let the seeds dry out. If you do, you will have a very low germination rate since most seeds will have started to germinate and dried up and died. Seedlings are very weak and vulnerable and usually any stress will kill them.
Lighting is only important once the seedlings have germinated and you see the two baby leaves. At this point the plant will be seeking sunlight to produce food and it’s first mature leaves. The use of a good grow light or very, very bright window will be necessary. If you have your seedlings in a window that is not getting direct sun for a majority of the day your seedlings will get very long and leggy and will be very fragile. Once this happens, it is very hard to get them to survive. At this point it may be best to just eat them as sprouts. Now, if you have the ability to set them outside during the day that would be great, however if you are starting seeds indoors it’s usually because it is still very cold outside.
Benefits of starting seeds indoors
There are many benefits to starting seeds indoors.
- Controlling the temp is easier
- You get a head start on the growing season and therefore can harvest sooner
- You get the joy of gardening when it is still to cold outside to grow
- You can experiment with different types of seeds with better control than sowing outside
- higher germination rates
- Get to see the plant grow from a seed to a mature plant
There are many other benefits to starting your seeds indoors but you can only find out what they are if you do it yourself.
Start your own seeds today!
Don’t wait any longer, go out and get what you need to start growing plants now for spring and be the envy of your neighbors when you have that first tomato weeks before they do or your flowers are blooming long before theirs!
Have fun and experiment with different varieties of plants to see what you can grow!