Way before spring arrived, we began planting seeds indoors. In the midst of February’s snow and cold, we planted leeks, celery, celeriac and winter lettuce. In March we planted parsley, broccoli, kale and more lettuce. This week when we planted peas, spinach and carrots directly in the garden, we started indoor flats of tomatoes, eggplants and peppers as well as basil, marigolds and zinnia.
This pre-season practice of starting seeds indoors gives us a jump on the growing season, saves us money and allows us a wider choice of plant varieties than the selection of transplants we might find in a garden center.
Here’s what you need:
* Seeds (purchased from catalogs, garden stores or saved from previous years – many seeds are good for several years);
* Seed starting growing medium (we use a sterile seed-starting mix which we buy in large bags at Hadley Garden Center);
You’ll want to study the seed packets and gardening information in books or online. Most seeds are best planted directly in the garden when the time is right. However, some plants need a long growing season and are better set out into the garden as young plants (transplants) so that they will reach mature size before their growing season ends. Sometimes you just want that first tomato or eggplant before September! These are the plants you might want to start indoors.
If you are starting seed indoors, you want your seedlings to reach “transplant size” at the proper time for going out in the garden. Some need to be planted three months before they go outside, while others are ready in three weeks. This is where a little research will help you get the timing thing correct.
To plant the seeds indoors, we cover a table with newspaper, fill our planting flats with moistened seed-starting mix, and open our seed packets. We try not to put seeds too close together, because they don’t grow as well when they are crowded. With bigger seeds we plant then 1 inch apart. We cover the seed lightly with growing mix and gently press them down. Some seeds germinate best in light, so we hardly cover those at all.
Some seeds need pre-treatment. Parsley, for instance, is a slow germinator and will come up much faster if you soak the seed in water for 24 hours before planting. Herb and perennial seeds may need other kinds of pre-treatment like alternate freezing and thawing (stratifying) or getting roughed up a bit (scarifying). Do your research.
When the seeds are planted, we label each flat – I use cut-up sections of white plastic blinds from the recycling center – with the plant variety and date. Then we gently water the flats and cover the trays of flats with cut-up plastic produce bags.
For a few heat-loving plants, like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and basil, we place a heating pad turned to low under the plastic layer and absorbent newspaper layer on which the seed trays sit. For plants that need heat to germinate, this makes a big difference.
Stay tuned for the next post, in which we will describe the care and feeding of emergent seedlings in preparation for what we hope will be another abundant harvest from our Good Life garden.