It is so easy--seed-starting is the first science project most students perform, piling lima beans onto government issue, brown paper towels, and growing the little seedlings in the window sill. There are all kinds of quick tips for seed starting online. We have tried to streamline that information into a very general little guide that will work for most vegetable and flower gardens.
Seed Starting Supplies:
People use soda bottles, milk cartons, paper egg cartons, bio-degradable peat pots, and little store-bought planters. Just make sure you have good drainage and enough room for the new plant's root system.
It must drain well, be free of disease, and be free of weeds. Do not use ordinary garden soil. Store-bought seed-starting mix is usually pretty good. Many veteran gardeners usually have their own seed starting recipe that includes perlite, vermiculite, peat or sphagnum, and a dash of lime to cut the acidity of the peat. You do not need to worry about fertilizer until after the plant germinates--the seed has plenty of stored energy and nutrients.
Choose varieties that have a high probably of success in your climate. Choosing your seeds, pay close attention to tolerances and resistances.
Label all of your seed cups clearly. It can be incredibly frustrating if you had clear plans for your garden, but you are not really sure which little green sprig is the cucumbers.
Soil must be moist but not wet. Seeds need water to germinate. Water activates the enzymes in the seed that tell the plant to start growing. The seed then swells, bursting its shell and reaching for it's first taste outside light and nutrients.
Most of your garden vegetables and annuals are going to prefer a temperature between 65F and 75F--just about 70F is a good target. Because plants com from climate extremes all over the planet, they have adapted different preferences for ideal germinating conditions. Vernalization, literally: "prepare for spring", is one example--plants must be exposed to winter cold before they will germinate.
Plants need oxygen to metabolize their food just like we do. If you over-water your plants or bury them too far under the soil, they may not get the oxygen they need to use their stored food. Always place the seeds on top of the moistened soil, then cover to the proper level with lose soil. Some really small seeds shouldn't be covered at all.
For the most part, light, like fertilizer, is not important until after the seed has already germinated. But some plants, especially annual flowering plants like impatiens, must be sown on top of the soil. This is not because they are producing food. It is an adaptation that allows the plant to wait until there is enough available sunlight before it attempts to grow.
After Your Seed Sprouts:
Back to The Park Gardener's Handbook
Your new plants need lots of light now. Set them in a southern-facing window if you can. Florescent lights will work if you can't use natural light. Turn them frequently to ensure even growth. If your plant starts to get tall and spindly, it is not getting enough light.
Keep the soil moist but not wet. Setting the container in a pan of water and letting the water wick up from below is the best method for ensuring even watering and strong root growth.
- Hardening Off
Once your plant has established a strong root system and the risk of frost damage has past, you can start acclimating your new plant to full sun and wind. Sit them out in the morning, and bring them inside at around noon. Do this for a couple of days before you plant them in the ground permanently.