In this post, I will talk about the traditional method for starting seeds and give you some tips for starting your seeds indoors to get a jump start on your garden. Here are my tips for starting seeds indoors...
Flats: The best flats to use are the type that have a tray, a clear top and several cells. These flats can be purchased wherever seeds are sold. If you are planning on reusing your flats, it is crucial to clean and disinfect them first. Wash them in soapy water, then soak in a one-part bleach to nine-parts water solution. This will help prevent seedling blight, a fungus that causes seedlings to die off at the base.
|Seed starting flat and cells|
Soil: It's best to spend a little more money and get the kind of potting soil specifically made for starting seeds. This will help with germination, and give your seedlings a healthy start in
life. You can use a general potting soil if you prefer, but it tends to be too heavy for seedlings. Always use fresh, sterile potting soil. Never use soil from the garden to start seeds in containers!
Light, light and more light: A south facing window is the ideal spot for starting seeds. If the seedlings start to grow towards the window, rotate the flat daily and consider adding another light source. Inexpensive shop lights or grow lights could be used to supplement. Ideally, the lights should hang 6-8 inches above the flats, and be kept on for about 14 hours a day.
Heat: Adding bottom heat will also help with seed germination. Heating mats can be purchased at a local nursery; an old electric blanket is an inexpensive alternative. The flats could be placed on top of a radiator or heat vent instead of using a heat mat.
Timing: Read each seed packet to determine when to start seeds indoors; generally it's six to eight weeks before last frost. (our average last frost date is May 15th). Starting seeds too early will result in weak and leggy seedlings, which may not survive the transition to the garden.
Water: Seedlings prefer consistently moist soil. Keep in mind that the soil can dry out very quickly once the lid has been removed from the flat. Seedlings can't survive long without water. Soggy soil promotes pest infestations (like soil gnats) and disease.
Ventilation: Once most of the seedlings in a flat have started to grow, begin ventilating them. Slowly acclimate the seedlings to the room by propping the lid open an inch. Keep propping it open an inch every few days until the lid is completely off, and leave it off. At this point, an osculating fan can be used if desired. The fan will provide additional ventilation and help to strengthen the seedlings.
Hardening Off: Outside: Hardening off the seedlings to the outdoors is a crucial step. If you planted your seedlings from your house directly into the garden, you would almost certainly have a 100% fatality rate.The seedlings need time to get used to being outside before they are planted into the garden. Once the weather warms in the spring, put the seedlings outside in a shady location for several hours each day. The seedlings should be protected from sun, wind and heavy rain. Gradually expose them to the sun over several days. Keep in mind that the soil will dry out much faster outside, and the flats may need to be watered more than once a day. When the weather is warm enough, the seedlings can be left outside overnight.
Ok, so when can you start to plant them out in the garden? Here in Minnesota, we are in Zone 4. Cold weather plants (those that can handle frost exposure) can be planted as early as mid to late April.
Our average last frost date is about May 15th so you'll need to wait to plant your warm weather seedlings until after the last frost. Every year is different though so keep an eye on the weather report.
That's it for my tips on starting your seeds indoors. Feel free to add any tips that you may have or ask me any questions. Good luck and I hope that you have an abundance of seedlings to plant in your garden this year!!