Growing your own garden transplants from seed is very rewarding. It saves a ton of money, and you have access to many more varieties than the typical ones found in garden centers and big box stores. Here are some tips on getting started.
Select your work area—a surface at a comfortable height and close to a water supply where you’ll have room to spread things out. Assemble your equipment: seed-starting containers, starting medium or soil mix, watering can, labels, marking pen, and seed packets.
You can start seeds in almost any kind of container that will hold 1 to 2 inches of potting mix or seed starter mix and won’t become waterlogged. Once seedlings form more roots and develop their true leaves, they grow best in containers that provide more space for root growth and have holes for drainage.
You can start seedlings in open flats or in pots. Individual containers are preferable, because the less you disturb tender roots, the better. However, individual containers dry out faster than open flats. Many gardeners start seeds in open flats and transplant seedlings to individual containers after the first true leaves appear. You can reuse your seedling containers for many years. To prevent problems with dampening off, you may want to sanitize flats at the end of the season by dipping them in a 10 percent solution of household bleach. One cup of bleach plus 9 cups of water equals a 10 per cent solution.
You can recycle milk cartons and many types of plastic containers as seed-starting pots. Just be sure to poke a drainage hole in the bottom of each container to allow excess water to run out.
Cover the seeds to a depth of three times their thickness by carefully sprinkling them with light, dry potting soil or seed-starting medium. Don’t cover seeds that need light to germinate, this will be indicated on the seed packet.
Write a label for each kind of seed you plant and put it in the flat or pot as soon as the seeds are planted, before any mix-ups occur.
Set the flats or pots in shallow containers of water and let them soak until the surface of the planting medium looks moist.
Cover the container, using clear plastic to make a mini greenhouse effect.
Then put the containers of planted seeds in a warm place where you are able to check them daily. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. As soon as you notice sprouts above the soil surface, remove the plastic covering.
Seeds contain enough nutrients and food to nourish themselves through sprouting, so a seed-starting mix does not have to contain nutrients. It should be free of weed seeds and toxic substances, hold moisture well, and provide plenty of air spaces. Don’t use plain garden soil to start seedlings; it hardens into a hard mass and most likely will contain weed seeds and soil borne pathogens that will attack the tiny seedlings.
Some gardeners prefer to plant seeds directly in potting mix and eliminate transplanting. Planting in large individual pots is ideal for plants such as squash and melons that won’t grow well if their roots are disturbed.
Moisten the planting mix before you fill your containers, especially if it contains peat moss or sphagnum moss. Use warm water, and allow the mix time to absorb it. When you squeeze a handful of mix it should hold together and feel moist, but it shouldn’t drip.
Space large seeds at least 1 inch apart, planting 2 or 3 seeds in each pot. Plant medium-sized seeds ½ to 1 inch apart, and tiny ones about ½ inch apart.
To sow seeds in tiny furrows or rows, just make shallow ¼- to ½-inch-deep depressions in the soil with a plant label or an old pencil. Space the seeds along the bottom of the furrow, then lightly cover with planting mix.
For more information on starting seeds, and a handy frost chart, please see the Old Farmer’s Almanac at http://www.almanac.com.