Sow seeds inside for a head start outside
By Michelle Thompson
Winter is a great time to plan a spring garden. Planting from seed is fun, saves money and offers more variety. Growing seedlings inside under preferred conditions gives plants a head start and extends the growing season. Consider seeds need at least 5-12 days to germinate with minimal soil temperatures of 50-65 degrees. Most plants require 5-8 weeks to grow before transplanting.
While shopping for seeds, select some seed starting trays and a seed starting medium. Trays make the best use of space. However, any container you can poke drainage holes in will work, such as yogurt containers or plastic drink cups. A homemade seed medium can be made with 1-part vermiculite or perlite (or combination) and 1-part sphagnum peat moss or sterilized fine compost.
Fill the tray cells with moistened medium and sprinkle 2-3 seeds into each compartment (more for bigger containers). Have plant labels ready with plant name and date. Cover seeds with growing medium to a depth 2-3X their width. Thoroughly water then cover the tray with the provided dome or plastic wrap, which keeps the soil moist enough for germination. Condensation on the cover is fine. Using a seedling heat mat stimulates seeds to germinate faster and roots to develop. Heat mats are helpful if your tray will be in a cooler area like a garage.
Once seedlings start to emerge, remove the cover and provide 12-18 hours of light. If plants start to get leggy, provide more hours of light or move the light source closer. Light can be supplied by a grow light or shop light that can hang (perhaps from a shelf) with the height adjustable as plants grow. Good results can be found with T5 or T8 fluorescent bulbs or full spectrum LED panels. My LED grow light panels are at the end of two flexible arms attached to a clip and provides enough light for two trays.
Overwatering can cause damping off (a fungal disease). Seedlings bend over with a “pinched’ looking stem or a fluffy white cob-web like growth is on the soil surface. Once infected, seedlings never recover. Using a fan for air circulation can help. I found something I had on hand, the fan from a small table top swamp cooler (used without water).
As plant roots grow, start to provide water from the bottom of the transplant tray. Seed starting kits include this tray or a plastic tray works. Provide a hardening off period by placing plants outside for increasing amounts of time to prepare them for transplanting in the garden.
Happy grow year!