Jumpstart Your Garden with Seed-Starting Indoors
Have you been dreaming of your garden with garden plan in hand? While we anticipate spring’s arrival, a fun and kid-friendly activity is seed-starting indoors. You can plant tiny seeds and watch them pop out of the soil well before it’s time to plant outdoors. The demo garden has begun seed-starting on it’s first work day. This is a good way to jumpstart plants that need a longer season of sunshine like tomatoes, peppers, and onions.
What you’ll need:
- Seed-starting mix (or make your own)
- 2½” cellpacks, 4” pots (or small and large cups with holes cut in the bottom)
- Garden scoop, gloves
- Fertilizer (fish emulsion or Sure Start by EB Stone)
- Heat source (seedling heat mat, window space, grow lamp, or greenhouse)
If you don’t have your garden plan handy, that's ok. Write down a list of foods you (and your family) enjoy eating, and flowers you like. Pick a group of plants you’d like to grow, keeping in mind how many full-grown plants will fit in your garden space. Some easy-care plants to start with are: tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, onions, sage, basil, sunflowers, and marigolds. Growing flowers with veggies attracts pollinators and beneficial insects, and adds to the beauty of your garden.
Check the seed packets, or a garden planning calendar (such as LINK: http://portlandnursery.com/docs/veggies/VeggieCalendar.pdf) for outdoor planting dates. Then count back 6-8 weeks from the last frost date (Portland is around April 15th) and you have your seed-starting dates. A calendar is useful to mark your seed-starting and planting out dates.
Choose a place to grow your seedlings with a heat source and 12 hours of light a day. The newly planted seeds need a warm spot to promote germination, ideally between 65-75°F. A heat mat raises the soil temperature to 10-20°F above the ambient temperature. A south-facing window provides solar heating during the day. Grow lamps provide a constant temperature for the plants, but must be kept 4" from the top of the plant. A greenhouse provides an indoor environment, though temperatures may vary due to conditions of light and heat. Depending on your space and budget, figure out the best option for you.
Now the seeding fun begins. Start by dampening the seed-starting mix until it’s moist, not soggy. Take a cellpack or pot and fill it. Tamp it down gently and fill more soil to ¼” from the top. Take a look at your seeds-are they very small, or big as a pea? Sprinkle small seeds on top with a sprinkle of soil on top of that, and push big seeds down ½” – 1”, 2 seeds per pot. Label your plantings with flat sticks or tape on the outside of the pot. Most plants look alike as seedlings so it will help to keep track of them. Place pots in your designated grow area with heat source. As the seedling grows, you’ll have to transfer them to a bigger pot before it’s time to plant out in the garden. Another method of successful seeding is to make seed tape. See below.
Watering is very important at this time. The tiny seeds can dry out easily so as soon as you’re done seeding, water them gently with a spray bottle. Check your pots every day. The soil should be moist, not soggy, until the seedlings have true leaves and roots. To keep moisture in, it’s good to have a clear tray cover, or you can use a plastic bag with a rubber band. Once the plants have 5 leaves (3 true leaves), you can remove the lid.
At this time, fertilizing is important. The seeds have expended most of their energy to germinate, and now need more nutrition to continue healthy growth. Use an all-purpose fertilizer like fish emulsion, or Sure Start-a product made by EB Stone. You can add this when you transfer plants to a larger pot, or with watering. Reduce the product amount to half the recommended strength. Fertilize once a week.
By now, the plants should be growing more leaves, and developing roots, inch by inch. When it’s 2 weeks to the last frost date, prepare for planting outside by hardening off. This is a process of gradually acclimating the plants to changes in sunlight, temperature, and heat. Take them outside for a short time and bringing them back in before temperatures drop at night. Start with 1 hour, and lengthen each day until by the end of the second week, the plants can stay outside. After the last frost date, it’s time to plant in the garden!
How to make seed tape:
1. Cut a strip of toilet paper to 1½” wide by 12” long. Spray with water lightly.
2. Place seeds in the center of the strip, following the long edge. Space them according to the seed packet directions. Fold 1/3 of the long edge up. Fold the remaining 1/3 down so the seeds are enclosed. Spray lightly with water again. Put aside to dry. You can store the seed tape in a sealed bag or container and keep it in the refrigerator to preserve seed quality. Make sure to label the bag or the seed tape.
3. When it’s time to plant, make a furrow in the soil, following the seed packet directions for planting depth. Plant the seed tape, making sure it’s completely covered with soil. Water your new planting area.
How to Make Seed Starting Mix:
1 part peat or coconut coir
1 part vermiculite
1 part perlite