Annuals · Garden DIY · Herbs · Perennials · Vegetable Gardening

Getting Ready for Seed Starting

It won’t be long before seed starting begins at my house. Besides the joy of watching seedlings emerge and grow into full-size plants, starting plants from seeds gives me the chance to fill my gardens with more plants. Let’s face it…if you want a LOT of flowers and vegetables, it can get very expensive purchasing all those transplants at the garden center. A packet of seeds is only a couple of bucks and yields anywhere from ten or twenty to hundreds of plants, depending on the type of seed.

I spent an afternoon last weekend collecting all the supplies needed, choosing and scheduling the dates to start different varieties of seeds, and putting up the shelves and lights.

Containers for Seed Starting

In the past, I purchased seed starting kits for the sake of convenience. This year, in keeping with one of my New Year’s resolutions to find ways to garden less expensively, I am using recycled containers – cardboard egg cartons, milk jugs, juice cartons and pots from last spring’s plants.

Cardboard egg cartons are perfect for starting seedlings because a dozen seeds can be started in a small space. When they get too big for their little egg-sized spaces, they are transplanted to larger pots. Even though egg cartons are porous, I slice a hole in the bottom of each cell to ensure excellent drainage.

Plastic milk jugs and juice cartons are other favorite containers for seed-starting. Smaller milk jugs and juice containers are ideal to start a few seeds; gallon jugs are saved to start overwintered tubers of cannas, dahlias and sweet potato vines. Just cut the tops off and punch several holes in the bottoms for drainage.

Four-and-a-half-inch pots saved from past purchases are cleaned with a water and bleach solution.

Aluminum baking trays to hold water underneath containers were purchased several years ago.

So many other containers can be used – yogurt cups and cottage cheese containers, paper towel and toilet paper tubes, and some to go containers even come with plastic lids that you can use to keep humidity high while seedlings are germinating.

Growing Mediums

With the containers ready to plant, I gathered a few bags of seed starting mix, potting mix and vermiculite from the garage. I haven’t found much difference between brands as far as rate of germination but make sure the soilless potting mix is fertilizer-free. Vermiculite is used to very lightly cover the top of the potting mix to reduce the chance of damping off – death of seedlings caused by a variety of fungal diseases.

Shelves & Lights

The most difficult part of setting up my shelves and lights was making room for them. The tropicals overwintering in the sunny south-facing sliding glass doors in our master bedroom had to find a new home first. This was no small feat. Five very large, heavy pots and several smaller ones were relocated in front of the dining room window – a space not nearly large enough, but the only sunny space available. Who needs to eat at their dining room table anyway, right?

There is no need for fancy equipment to start seeds. A few years ago, we purchased some inexpensive plastic shelving. We found them, the shelves, and the light fixtures in the basement and checked to make sure the bulbs were working.

Although the labeling system – which made so much sense when we marked them before putting them away last spring – didn’t seem as easy to follow as all the pieces laid together on the floor, it only took about an hour to set them up. Without one false start, causing us to take apart the bottom layer, turn the shelves around, and reinsert the light-holding hooks, it would have been even quicker.

Scheduling Seed Starting

It is important for me to start seeds soon enough so they are large enough to transplant when conditions outdoors permit but not too early that they outgrow available indoor space, especially important in our small house. A schedule can be as fancy as an excel spreadsheet with sowing, transplanting and ready dates or as simple as variety names written on days of a calendar. Here’s mine.

With my supplies gathered, the shelves and lights up, and the schedule completed, I am ready to get growing. I’ll be planting black-eyed Susan, purple coneflowers and foxgloves tomorrow, and so it begins.

Are you starting seeds this year? Tell me about your set up. Is it fancy? Or did you find a clever way to grow seeds without spending much money? I would love to hear about it.

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