Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The ABC’s of Seed Starting

Hello again,

Saturday March 5 brings a free class on Seed Starting to Skillin's at 10 AM and 2 PM. We have some great March and April classes coming up; check them out at http://www.skillins.com/information.html! You may sign up for any classes including Seed Starting at skillins@maine.rr.com!

In honor of our Seed Starting class, I am bringing to the Garden Log the ABC's of Seed Starting which is a handout we developed several years ago!

All you need for seed starting: seeds, some type of container, seed starting mix and some water. There are many different types of seeds: some very fine, some as big as the tip of your finger. And as there are many different types of seeds, there are also different ways to handle them. If you have purchased seeds, you will find the package gives a great deal of information on how long it takes to germinate (important as to how far in advance to start your seeds), how deep to plant the seed, how far apart to plant when transplanted outside (gives you an idea how many plants you want to grow) and their height at maturity (so you don’t end up planting something very tall in front of something low growing). You may also want to note the date of the packaging as the freshest seed has the highest rate of germination. If you harvested your own seed you may find the plants to be inferior since the cross-pollination has not been controlled. Seeds that are now offered as F1 hybrids produce the best as they are the first generation of pure plants that have been hand pollinated.

Before you begin, gather the materials you will need. Seedling trays can be either open trays or row trays with humidity domes to hold in moisture. You will need a soil medium such as Jiffy-Mix to be used in peat pots or row trays or you may opt to use Jiffy-7 peat pellets that serve as individual peat pots when water is added. Moisture and warmth is necessary for good seed germination. Moisten the soil medium making sure it is not too wet before you sow your seeds. Heating cables can be purchased to aid in warming the soil. Use milled sphagnum moss sprinkled over your seeds after sowing. A mist type spray bottle helps in watering without washing your seeds away. White plastic markers remind us of what we have planted.

Container, seed, soil mix—you are all ready to go! Be sure to read your seed packets. Tender annuals and warm loving vegetables benefit from the head start they get indoors especially here in the north where the season is short. Scatter the seed evenly over the surface taking care not to sow too thickly as crowded plants are prone to “damping off”.

Milled sphagnum moss can be sprinkled over the seed. Generally the covering should be the same thickness as the seed. Most seed germinates in the dark. Newspaper can be used over the tray but be sure to check often and remove as soon as seedlings appear. Some very fine seed such as begonias need light to germinate and would benefit from being 3 inches below fluorescent lights. When seedlings emerge place them in a southeastern window and take care that the sun is not too hot. Be sure to rotate the trays a ¼ turn daily as the seedlings will grow toward the light and you do not want them to stretch. Plants grown under fluorescent lights grow more evenly but make sure you have placed the trays close to the lights to be beneficial. When using artificial light, cool white and warm white work the best in a two light system. Special grow lights such as the Vita-lite fluorescent tubes are a bit more expensive but provide the closest light to sunlight. At first the seedlings should be within 4” of the lights; move them further away as they get bigger. Plant lights should be on 12 to 16 hours per day (timers are very useful here).

Dome covers will aid in humidity and may help to keep the soil moist but dome covers should be removed during the day as it is just as important that the seedlings have good air circulation. You will still need to water your seedlings when the soil surface is dry to the touch. Do not let them dry out but do not saturate them either. Keep your seedlings evenly moist. Water them lightly until the water drips out of the bottom of the container.

In the coming weeks look for Transplanting Seedlings, where we talk about how to handle successfully started plants. As always let us know if you have any questions!

Mike Skillin
Skillin's Greenhouses
February 22, 2011


Anonymous said...

You never should have called me "gardener". I thought I had all of your "handouts"in a file but probably missed that class. I know practically nothing about planting seeds inside. I used to just read the package directions and sow them outdoors when the ground was warm enough.
The last two years I have tried it with grow lights. Didn't know you were supposed to take the dome off. I always left it on until the seedlings were one inch high. (Not a sign of a very good gardener). I thought it was a lot of work (to much lifting for me). I get much more of a thrill going to Skillins to buy hundreds of seedlings!! I did save a lot of seeds last fall from favorite perennials that I want to try just to see if they will germinate. I love Little Leo LB just because it is so early. I'm sure I'll end up buying them from you as in the past but it will be fun to try it.

Anyway, thanks for sending "The ABC's of Seed Starting". I'll print it off and file it in case I change my mind and decide to try it again.

I wanted to try to make the PM class but they haven't started to plow here and I'm not tackleing that mess. I know I would have picked up a lot of information even if I don't decide to plant myself.

Mike Skillin, Skillin's Greenhouses said...

Hey Barbara Gardener,

YOu are quite a gardener to be sure.

We are going to try and get a make up time for the seed starting class. Seed starting can be fun and rewarding but it can be tricky; one of those pursuits that is as much art I think as science.

I will admit I have much more fun buying seedlings than I do starting seeds--but we sure talk to a lot of seed starters out there!

Mike S.

Sarah in India said...

Hi Mike,
I attended your seed starting class and I feel very confident this spring about starting my seeds! Last year I had about a 50-50 chance of killing a seed from too much water or sun. I do want to know if you will send out some highlights for transplanting but most importantly (for me) the vegetable class you held over the open house weekend. I missed it and I missed one held at the Audubon and the more I know, the better I feel when I'm out there in the garden. This is my second year of gardening so I need all the support I can get!
Sarah (not in India anymore)