I know that Tuesday posts are supposed to be about Pests and Diseases but this week we are going to focus on starting seeds. Today is Part 1 of Seed Starting 101. Pull up a chair and imagine you’re back in school…we are going to take this back to the elementary level and also show lots of how-tos. The rest of the week will be about starting seeds and we’ll follow the progress of the ones I’ve planted.
WHAT DO SEEDS NEED TO GERMINATE?
Let’s think about how seeds germinate in nature; in the wild, many seeds are dropped in the fall and then they lay there dormant, waiting for the right conditions to come along. What those conditions are vary greatly from plant to plant but suffice it to say that they need the proper temperature, proper amount of moisture and the proper amount of light. When all of those conditions are met, the seed germinates. If the light is right and the water is right but the temperature is wrong, the seeds won’t germinate. And so it goes with any of the combinations…you must have all three conditions be met for a seed to germinate. So what does that mean for you and the seedlings you are trying to grow indoors in anything but a natural environment? It means that the temperature needs to be approximately 70-75 degrees, water has to be available to the seeds and in most cases, light needs to be available. I say most cases because there are a few seeds that prefer darkness to germinate. We’ll discuss those later in the week; I’d like to do a post about seeds that are difficult to germinate as they deserve further attention.
If you are starting your seeds in your house, the temperature requirements shouldn’t be a problem. If you are starting them in a cooler environment like your basement, you may want to invest in some bottom heating pads. There are special ones designed for seed starting that are made to tolerate a bit of moisture and I would recommend using them instead of a heating pad that you would use for your arthritic shoulder.
The next issue for seeds is water. If you are using a conventional soilless seed starting medium like peat moss or a peat moss blend, the soil needs to be wet all the way through. It is very easy to think that the media is wet when it really has dry pockets throughout. I recommend wetting the soil, stirring it thoroughly and then wetting it some more. If you are using peat pellets, wet them from the bottom and allow the pellets to absorb the water for 20 minutes or so. Then be sure to pour out the extra moisture before starting your seeds.
Lastly, and perhaps the most difficult part of starting seeds, is light. It is virtually impossible to replicate the big glowing orb in the sky inside your house. Sure, it’s possible but for the average gardener, the amount of money required to purchase and operate the lights would be prohibitive. I use standard fluorescent shop lights with a warm bulb and a cool bulb. Using the two different bulbs provides a broad spectrum of lightwaves that the plants need. Your seedlings will need 16 hours of light per day so it’s a wise idea to invest in a timer…you don’t want to feel that sense of panic rise in you while you’re at work and you realize that you forgot to turn the lights on before you left your house this morning.
Before you start sowing your seeds, figure out a way to identify what seeds you are growing once they are in the seed flats. A tomato is a tomato is a tomato after it germinates and it will be July before you can figure out whether you’ve planted a Green Zebra or an Amish Paste. I made that mistake last year and I wanted to kick myself all last summer. I could tell who was who when they were in the controlled setting of my house but once they went to the garden, I lost track of their names and I wasn’t able to figure out which ones they were, except for the most obvious ones. I grew about 15 types of tomatoes last year and I’m going to be doing the same this year and it’s my goal to be able to report back to you the characteristics of each. If Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers have any bright ideas for avoiding this confusion, I’m taking suggestions!
Tomorrow, I am going to be doing a picture tutorial of starting seeds. If you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment below or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy gardening!