Start Your Garden Seeds Indoors

Starting seeds inside is the best way to ensure success. The tiny seeds and seedlings do not do well with harsh weather changes. A late frost, which can happen in May or even June, delays your plans for planting seeds. Excessive rain can also prevent seeds and seedlings from growing. In addition, the problem of birds getting into the seeds and using it as a food source is not to be forgotten.

As the frost danger has passed, you can plant your seedlings into your garden.

Remember the three basics for all plant life, whether inside or out. They are soil, water, and light.

Small vegetable seedlings on a wooden table with gloves

Planting and Caring for Seeds

Clean gardening areas before sowing. On the list to do first is practice garden hygiene. Have a good spring clean before sowing. All pots and trays should be scrubbed clean with biodegradable detergent. Staging areas, worktops, and the interior of the greenhouse can also be done at the same time.

Soil. Always start with sterilized soil, as this is essential. There is a fungus known as damping-off-disease that can wipe out your hard work in a matter of days. Damping off is a condition where soil and water-borne fungi attack the seedlings stem base, causing it to die. For some reason the propagation of plants indoors allows just the right conditions for the spores of these fungi to grow rampantly. You can easily avoid this plight by using sterile soil or a sterile medium.

When you first start your seedlings cover them tightly with plastic wrap. This helps to maintain warmth and moisture, but be careful to uncover them when they begin to sprout so they don’t smother.

Germinating the seed. All seeds have different germination temperatures. Most will germinate between 59 degrees F to 68 degrees F. Seedbeds need to be moist but not excessively wet.

There is a variety of seed composts available on the market, but in general any medium that is not overly heavy, water retentive or high in nutritional value will suffice. There are many commercial helpers you can buy to make germinating seeds an easy project. Peat pellets that come with a miniature hot house require nothing more than adding water to the seed and peat and covering with the supplied lid. But some water, high-quality soil, sunlight and time are all that you need.

Sowing seeds and nurturing them through germination into strong healthy plants is one of the most rewarding tasks in gardening. Wherever you sow your seed, be it on a kitchen windowsill, in a greenhouse or garden shed, following a few basic rules will aid your chance of success.

Containers. A variety of containers are available to start your seeds. Some choices are flats, peat pots, paper cups, and even egg cartons. As with any plant, the size of the container used is determined by the plant you are growing and only experience can guide you here.

Garden plantings on a wooden table with gloves and other gardening tools

Watering. Like plants, seeds like to be kept moist. A good drainage system in the pot is necessary so they do not get too much water. There is no solution to them getting too dry though, just don’t forget to water them. Don’t count on all of the seeds sprouting even if you have purchased seeds from a reputable source, as some will be duds. For this reason, make sure you plant more of each seed than the desired number of plants you are looking for.

The most important element of growing your seedlings indoors is watching the moisture. They must be kept moist but not soggy. The most advantageous way to water is from the bottom. Set your pots in a tray and pour the water into the tray allowing the pots to soak up all of the water. Never let your pots stand in water as this will cause them to rot. If you have your pots in a very sunny window, place them in a tray with gravel. Keep the gravel watered just under the pots to keep them from drying out.

Sun exposure. Simulate the same conditions as those planted outside. The difference is that your indoor seedlings will need a little more attention and each plant will have its own considerations.

Seedlings require an enormous amount of light, either sunlight or artificial light or a combination of both. If they don’t get sufficient light the plants will get leggy or spindly, denying them a healthy start on the way to your garden.

Even in a bright window with a lot of sun, you may still need to use artificial light. If you do need to use artificial light, buy light bulbs that are manufactured specifically for that purpose. Even though they are for the singular purpose of growing plants, you still must keep them on for at least 14 hours a day. No artificial light can compensate for the intensity of direct sunlight.

As the seedlings begin to sprout, continue to keep them moist and turn them regularly to create even sun exposure.

Transplanting. As your potted seedlings grow up, brush your hand over them occasionally. This simulates the wind blowing and will stimulate root growth. When the leaves start to come out you can begin the process of transplanting.

For best results, you want to transplant them outdoors as soon as they are large and healthy enough to survive. A good rule of thumb to start with is four to six weeks after sowing the seeds, making sure they have at least two sets of leaves.

Small garden vegetable seedlings on trays ready for transplanting

Right before transplanting your thriving seedlings, feed them with a very weak solution of a water soluble organic fertilizer to give them strength through the transplanting process. The original medium you used to germinate your seeds can be put onto the garden. Seeds that did not germinate one year, might germinate the next.

Note: When you lift your seedlings to transplant, use a thin pointed object (e.g. a pencil), slide this under the seedling and tease it up while holding it by a leaf. Always hold the seedling by the leaf, should it break off it will only damage the seedling, where-as if you are holding the stem of the seedling and it breaks the seedling will die.

It is important not to start you seeds indoors too early. If they outgrow your pots, you will have to thin them and transplant them to bigger containers. This is not the best scenario.

Tips For Selecting the Best Seed

Any reliable seed house can be depended upon for good seeds. Even so, there is a great risk in seeds. A seed may to all appearances be alright and yet not have within it vitality enough, or power, to produce a hardy plant.

If you save seed from your own plants, you are able to choose carefully. A weak, straggly plant may produce one beautiful blossom. Looking at that one blossom you think of the numberless equally lovely plants you are going to have from the seeds. But just as likely as not the seeds will produce plants like the parent plant.

Tip one: if saving your seeds for next year, the entire plant is to be considered. Is the plant sturdy, strong, well shaped and symmetrical? Does it have a good number of fine blossoms? These are questions to ask in seed selection.

Tip two: seed size. We know no way of telling anything about the plants from which a collection of seeds came. So we must give our entire thought to the seeds themselves. It is quite evident that there is some choice; some are much larger than the others; some far plumper, too. Choose the largest and fullest seed.

If we choose a large seed, we have chosen a greater amount of food for the plantlet to thrive and nourish itself on. The little plantlet feeds upon this stored food until its roots are prepared to do their work. So if the seed is small and thin, the first food supply insufficient, there is a possibility of losing the tiny plant.

From large seeds come the strongest plantlets. That is the reason why it is better and safer to choose the large seed.

Tip three: look for seed impurities. Seeds are sometimes mixed with other seeds so like them in appearance that it is impossible to detect the fraud. The seeds may be unclean. Bits of foreign matter mixed in with large seed are very easy to discover. One can merely pick the seed over and make it clean. By clean is meant free from foreign matter. But if small seed are unclean, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to make them clean.

Tip four: seed viability. We know from testings that seeds which look to the eye to be all right may not develop at all. There are reasons. Seeds may have been picked before they were ripe or mature. They may have been frozen, or they may be too old. Seeds retain their viability or germ developing power, a given number of years and are then useless. There is a viability limit in years which differs for different seeds.

Tip five: seed germination percentage. From the test of seeds we find out the germination percentage of seeds. If this percentage is low, don’t waste time planting such seed unless it be small seed.

Why does the size of the seed make a difference? When small seed is planted, most gardeners sprinkle the seed in very thickly. So a great quantity of seed is planted. Enough seed germinates and comes up from such close planting. So quantity makes up for quality.

But take the case of large seed, like corn for example. Corn is planted just so far apart and a few seeds in a place. With such a method of planting the matter of percent of germination is most important.

Small seeds that germinate at fifty percent may be used, but this is too low a percent for the large seed. Suppose we test beans. The percentage is seventy. If low viability seeds were planted, we could not be absolutely certain of the seventy percent coming up. But if the seeds are lettuce go ahead with the planting.

Tip six: keep a diary. Experience is always the best teacher. Experiment a little each year with one or two new flowers, herbs or vegetables, as this will add variety and spice to your garden. Go to gardening forums on the internet and join the group. The experiences of others is always helpful, and the spirit of community is enjoyable and satisfying.

Don’t be afraid of mixing up colors, vegetables with flowers or different leaf textures. Make your garden your own. The important thing is that you enjoy your garden be it big or small.

A raised bed garden growing with small plantings

Growing it from seed while helping nature along without trying to control her is the real essence of what gardening is about.

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