Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Seed Starting the Frugal Way

Great Rewards of Simple Planning Series
And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:12

I got the first seeds of the year planted today and I wanted to share with you how I start my plants from seed. It really isn't that complicated and only requires a few simple supplies. Although it may sound time consuming keep in mind that it is over a 1-3 month period. Starting your own seeds not only saves you nice sum of money it is very satisfying. Normally when I start my seeds the snow is still on the ground and it comes as a great encourager that spring is just around the corner.

You will need:

  • Soil (be sure to get soil specifically mixed for seed starting)
  • Containers
  • Seeds
  • Heating Pad (optional)
  • Water
  • Sunshine (or grow lamps)
  • Tender Loving Care

Now, it is possible to start seeds in just any old soil, but you are really taking your chances; and you probably don't want to have to throw out half of your plants because the soil had some disease in it. For the same reason you will need to sterilize any containers that have had soil in them. The choice of containers is very wide and the way you plant in them just as varied. You do not need to purchase any of those special seed containers that fill the shelves at you local garden center, whatever you have on hand is best for you because it comes at no extra cost. You can use:
  • small and large planters,
  • tin cans, styrafoam cups,
  • plastic containers such as berries come in,
  • egg crates,
  • cardboard box lined with plastic,
  • milk jugs and cartons,
  • yogurt cups,
  • soda cans,
  • pop bottles,
  • sectioned planters from last years plants,
  • and on and on.
Basically anything that will hold the soil together, and either has holes in the bottom or can be punctured. You can even purchase a nifty little PotMaker that transforms newspaper into perfect sized biodegradable seed pots. What I am using this year is old containers from last year and recycled produce containers. I was able to make some removable dividers from some old plastic salad boxes for the berry containers to separate them into six plant cells. I cut them so that the vertical dividers would lock into the horizontal divider. When it comes time to transplant all I will need to do is wet the soil and pull out the dividers resulting in six separate soil blocks containing the little plants.
I lined the bottom with a piece of wet newspaper before adding the dividers to prevent the soil from escaping while still allowing good drainage. You will want to do this with any container that has large holes.

Once you have your supplies together it is time to get started.
  1. Sterilize containers by washing them in a ten percent bleach solution, rinsing them out and letting them air dry.
  2. Pour your soil into a bin and add water a little at a time mixing it with your hand until it begins to feel like a rung out sponge when squeezed, and starts to hold together.
  3. Fill your pots with the moist soil leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch of space at the top. Tamp down lightly to create a bouncy soil.
  4. Sprinkle seeds over the surface of large containers and for separated containers that are small or have cells just place 2-4 seeds around the center of the cell. Press seeds lightly so they get good contact with the soil.
  5. Spread dry soil on top of seeds. Your seed packet may have a recommended depth printed on the back. A good rule for how much to spread on is the seed depth in the soil should be about 1-2 times the diameter of the seed. So a seed with the diameter of 1/8" should be covered with 1/8-1/4" soil. It don't have to be perfect though, just somewhere in the vicinity.
  6. Cover with something clear, such as an open zippy bag or plastic wrap (spread over tooth picks placed in the soil and secured with a rubber band), and place in some type of tray to catch any soil or water. My containers had the lids that came with them so I snapped those on and wrapped plastic wrap over the tops to cover the holes.
  7. Place in a warm spot like the top the refrigerator or on a heating pad set on low. Most vegetable seeds do not need light to sprout so you can cover them with a towel to hold moisture and heat when they are just starting.
  8. Check on them every day to see if they are have sprouted. If the soil looks dry mist with water or pour some water into the tray under them. DO NOT pour directly on the soil as that may disturb you little sprouts.
  9. Remove everything off the top once most of them have sprouted and place them in a sunny south facing window. If the window is cold you may want to continue the heating pad until they are well established. At this point you will need to divide the sprouts in the large container and transplant them to their own individual pots. If they were planted in divided pots wait until they have their full two leaves then thin to one strong seedling per pot.
  10. Transplant them to larger pots as thy out grow their little ones unless the pot you started them in is big enough. You can use regular potting soil for that. Normally the ones you start later in the season such as brassicas, squash, and herbs can be transplanted from their small pots directly to the garden whereas the early ones such as tomatoes and peppers need to be transplanted as they get bigger, especially tomatos. I have found that tomatoes need a milk jug size container and peppers a tin can size one.
  11. Harden off your plants when it starts to get close to planting time. For simple instruction for this check out this link. You may start this process early on when you start getting warm days if they are outgrowing your window, just be sure to bring them in at night. I hope to start keeping my larger plants in my cold frame once they outgrow our window, as long as the nights aren't to cold they should be fine if I have started to harden them off.
  12. Transplant to the garden according to each plants transplant date. Normally that is printed on the seed packet in relation to your areas last frost date.
For more information you can find instructions in any basic gardening book such as Gardening 101 by Martha Stewart Living Magazine.


Marcia Wilwerding said...

Cool post, Lyd. I know good-n-well you didn't learn this from me. *sigh*

-- maw

Savories of Life said...

we seem to like some of the same books. Good post