Gardening from seed to harvest: Starting your seeds indoors

Selecting your seeds

When you are browsing for seeds make sure to read the directions on the back of the package. These instructions are a wealth of information and ensure that the seeds are planted at exactly the right time. A seed that is planted too early or too late may be subjected to frosts and other such factors. Consult the farmer’s almanac for information on the last frost date in your area and calculate the sowing date accordingly. Planting times are a critical bit of information in achieving a proper garden. Not all seeds should be germinated indoors; some fast growing seeds, such as green beans, should be sowed directly in your garden. And lastly, select vegetables that you like to eat. Some easy to grow varieties include: cherry tomatoes, English cucumbers, Swiss chard, and sweet peppers.

Starting your seeds indoors

Starting your seeds indoors is much cheaper than buying plants and requires minimal equipment.

You will need:

• A Jiffy greenhouse system. These kits can be purchased at any gardening store and are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. If available space is an issue or you only have one sunny windowsill in your home, they offer a format which you can conveniently place on your windowsill. They come with easy to follow directions, a tray, pellets (in which you will sow your seeds), and a plastic dome cover which will create a greenhouse effect ensuring a moist ecosystem.

• Water

• Seeds

• Warm location (20°C)

• Labels to keep track of your seeds

• Liquid organic fertilizer

Whether you decide to buy a starter kit or make your own, remember to use a pre-moistened sterile soilless mix (moisten it so that it holds together but it should not be sopping wet). Use a plastic tray for bottom watering. Grow-lights are recommended but not essential; the seeds will germinate in a warm location like over the refrigerator (18°C to 21°C). Sow 2 seeds per cell at the proper depth (as outlined on the seed packet). A good rule of thumb is to sow them 3 times as deep as the seed is wide.

Seedling Care

Once the first seed sprouts, open the dome and allow air to circulate. Once all the seeds have sprouted, you can remove the clear plastic dome and expose the seedlings in a sunny location, preferably on a window with a southern exposure. Watch your seedlings grow making sure that the pellets remain moist by bottom watering them or by using a water mister. Do not overwater; too much moisture will cause the seeds to rot. Rotate the trays daily to ensure that all the seedlings have sufficient sunlight exposure and that they are growing strong and upright stems. Because we are sowing 2 seeds per cell, we may get 2 seedling sprouts. If this happens, simply cut the weaker or smaller seedling with a pair of scissor; do not pull it out, as this can cause damage to the root. When the first true leaves have developed, begin watering with a balanced liquid organic fertilizer.

Once your seedlings have full, healthy looking leaves, they are ready to be transplanted into biodegradable peat containers. Do this step by delicately lifting the seedlings from their leaves rather than their stems.

Transplanting your seedling

For this step you will need:

• Peat pots (soak them before adding soil)

• Soilless mix (moist)

• Water

• Seed labels (write the variety and the date sown)

• A warm sunny location indoor or under grow-lights keeping them 2 to 4 inches above plants.

If the soil is dry, use a mister to gently water the transplanted seedling to keep it moist, but not dripping. Two weeks before transplanting outside, bring the seedlings out for a few hours a day gradually acclimating them by increasing the time spent in the sun each day. When the last frost has passed you can conveniently place your peat containers directly into your garden or pots, as they are biodegradable. Your vegetables will need to be planted in an area that gets at least 6 hours of sun per day.



written by Claudia Ficca