Seed Starting 101: Part 1


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.


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 Happy gardening!

February 28, 2012Permalink 3 Comments

Friday Free For All: The Soil Cube Review


I’m really excited about today’s post as I get to review a product known as the Soil Cube. Clayton Jacobs of Deeply Rooted Organics was kind enough to send me one so that I can review it for you all. As a reminder, I will give you my honest opinion and would never endorse something that I don’t believe in. It is my job to earn your trust so that you can depend on me to give you honest answers…no BS allowed!

What is a Soil Cube?

A Soil Cube is just what you see below. It is made of two 2″ soil chambers that you fill with potting soil or your own special soil blend. The handle is the piece of wood that touches the soil chambers and the push bar is the piece of wood located at the top. In this picture, the Soil Cube is resting on the tongs that are used to easily remove the cubes from the planting tray at a later time.

Soil Cube
Here is the Soil Cube in all of its glory. It is a very simple design that allows you to make 2″ blocks of soil for planting your seeds.


How does the Soil Cube work?

To get started with the Soil Cube, you need to select a potting mix that works well for seedlings. I stopped by Home Depot and picked up Miracle Gro’s Organic Choice potting mix since I didn’t have some of the items that Clayton recommends in his directions. I’m disappointed with the contents of the potting mix I chose. It looks to me that it is just peat moss with a little pine bark included.

Soil Cube Review

The next thing that you’ll need is a tub in which to put the potting mix. I chose a small (approximately 12″ x 18″) plastic tub that I had lying around. I filled it about 3/4 of the way and added water. Clayton recommends to wet it until it reaches oatmeal consistency.

Soil Cube Review

According to the directions, you need to push the Soil Cube through the soil to fill the chambers and then press the chambers against the side of the tub to tightly compact the soil. So that’s what I did and this is what it looked like:

Soil Cube Review

Soil Cube Review

And now comes the magic right? It’s time to release the soil cubes into the tray. Here we go…

Soil Cube Review

Failure. But I don’t think it was the Soil Cube’s fault. I blame it on operator error and the potting mix not being wet enough. So I added a little more water and this was the result…

Soil Cube Review

OK so we’re getting there! The little divots in the top of the cubes are where your seeds go and I can see them this time. I was very excited so perhaps that accounts for the out of focus shot…sorry about that! I continue on in my journey of soil cube making and after about 3 minutes, this is what I ended up with:

Soil Cube Review

Thirty-two 2″ cubes of soil to plant my seeds in. You may be able to tell that my first cubes are in the top right corner and my last ones are in the bottom left. There is definitely a technique to mastering the Soil Cube but once you get the hang of it, you move right along.

So what’s my overall opinion of the Soil Cube?

I think that it is well worth the $36 investment (that includes shipping). I have a strong hankering that if I had chosen a better potting mix or had blended my own as Clayton recommended, I would have had better results in the beginning. I am interested in seeing the outcome with a true seed starting mix and I plan on updating this post when I obtain a bag.

The only concern that I have is that my indoor seed starting area is very small and I can’t fit as many seeds in the area as I can with the Jiffy pellets that I have used in the past. I want to expand that area so perhaps now I have the perfect reason to do so! I am excited to use the Soil Cube with some of my veggies that I want to have as larger plants when I put them in the garden. Veggies like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will be thankful to have such a large area to spread their roots.

I highly recommend the Soil Cube to all of my Mid-Atlantic Gardening readers. Don’t be frustrated if the first soil cubes don’t turn out perfect. With a little practice, I think that you too will be impressed! If you’ve used the Soil Cube, leave me a comment with your thoughts below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!