Confessions of an EVERYDAY ECOTARIAN

creative, conscious and conserving ideas, thoughts and solutions

Seed Starting for the Year March 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — adm @ 1:22 am
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Seed starting is one of those jobs that requires me to sit still and do something repetitive.  Normally, I like to keep moving and these kind of projects really drive me mad.  But, for some reason I find this task very settling.  I get the kids involved, we bring dirt inside and make a big mess on the hardwood floors.  In the end, we end up with hundreds of seedlings that will later be transplanted into our garden and eventually bring us food.  I think my kids enjoy seeing their food start from a seed and a dirt-covered floor as much as I do.

Over the years I’ve gone through the seed-starting process a few different ways.  I’ve settled on one that works well for us each year.  Here are the supplies we gather:

  • Seed Starting Mix
  • Plastic Trays and mini greenhouse covers, (like the “Jiffy” kind)
  • Plastic greenhouse “cells”
  • Spray Bottle
  • Seeds

I’ve found that using seed starting mix is the very best ways to get the seedlings off to a good start.  Other soils are made to hold water and can keep the soil too compact and too wet for optimal seed germination and early seedling growth.  Although I’ve tried making my own starting pots I’ve found that the plastic cells, trays and mini greenhouse covers are easy, cheap and work fantastically for getting the seedlings off to a great start.  I use these cells, trays and covers again and again for several years.  The spray bottle is a great way to water the seeds in and to water the young seedlings as they grow.  This is a task I give to my kids without fear because it is very difficult to over-water with a spray bottle!

Here is the process we go through to get our seeds started.  Again, its a process that we’ve worked out that seems to work well for our kids.  I assign them each an age-appropriate task and let them go!

  • Put seed starting mix in the cells (great for a toddler!)
  • Put 2 or 3 seeds in each cell (an older child with better fine motor skills is best for this)
  • Gently touch the seeds and lightly tap them into the soil
  • Lightly sprinkle a little more seed starting mix on top
  • Water the seeds in with a spray bottle
  • Cover with the plastic cover, put in a sunny warm place, keep moist, (but not overly wet) and wait for the seedlings to emerge!

Once the seedlings are growing, tip the edge of the cover up with pencils or a ruler so they don’t get too warm.  When they have grown a few leaves beyond their “first” leaves, take the cover off entirely.  At this point we usually water from the bottom, pouring water in the tray as needed.  It keeps the top of the soil from getting too wet which very easily leads to a fungus problem.  Many plants will need to be transplanted into bigger pots at some point.  We usually use big plastic cups with holes drilled in the bottom for drainage.   We also use these cups year after year after year.

Below, some pictures of this years future garden plants.

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Cold frames, winter sowing and other ways to get a jumpstart on the growing season February 16, 2010

It may not be time to get those tomatoes growing just yet but this is a great time to plant some cold-hearty vegetables even in the colder climates.  I live almost halfway between the equator and the north pole and even I can get a jump on a few crops this time of year.  The plants I love to get started as soon as I can are peas and lettuce.  Baby lettuce greens are such a luxury in my world in the winter so I am especially pushed to get those growing.  There are a couple of ways to do this.  One of my favorite ways is to build cold frames with straw or hay bales and old double paned windows.  These cold frames are easy, quick and only involve finding recycled doors and/or windows and using straw that can later be used for mulching plants in your garden.  Its as simple as creating a warmer environment for the plants than your climate allows at that time in the season by insulating them with the straw and the windows.  Here are some pictures of my cold frames, (as well as the milk-jug sowing I’ll talk about next) from last year, some of our garden seedlings and my curious then 1.5 year old son.

If you don’t happen to be married to someone who salvages any potentially useful thing from a variety of places you may not have what you need to build a quick cold frame.  That’s ok!  You can still do some “Winter Sowing” -or planting seeds while the weather is really too cold for them to grow.  Another quick way to do this is to use a variety of plastic containers for mini greenhouses.  A friend of mine who didn’t even grow up in an area with winters introduced me to this idea.  You can use old milk jugs, fruit clam-shell cases and more.  For more detailed instructions check out WinterSown.org.   They have a great deal of helpful information on the topic AND an opportunity to get free seeds.  -Yes free.  Last year I received many different lovely species of heirloom tomatoes and a few peppers  -all delicious.   Here are a couple of pictures of plants I grew in milk jugs.  Simply cut a slit around the bottom third of the milk jug, poke holes in the bottom for drainage and fill the bottom portion with seed starting mix.  Then, put your seeds inside.  At this point, tape up the slit in the milk jug and put the cap on.   This is my favorite part:  put it outside somewhere.  I love to just stick mine on top of a snowbank. Last year I put a few on top of the ice in our pool.  It makes me feel as if I am conquering winter.  Anyway, watch it every day and when the seeds germinate take the cap back off.   Then, watch your seeds grow.

The premise behind winter sowing is that by planting the seeds directly outdoors with a little help with heat conservation (either by cold frame or mini-greenhouse like a milk jug) you are allowing the seeds to germinate and grow as they would in nature.  This is opposed to starting the seeds indoors under a light or in a window where they just don’t get the same amount of sunlight.  Winter sown plants end up being heartier and healthier in my opinion.   Although I do use my cold frames to grow plants I can eat early in the season, (like lettuce) I also use them to start and/or grow seedlings I will later transplant in our garden when the danger of frost has passed.   They do seem to be healthier this way and it keeps the hundreds of seedlings out of my house where who-knows-what could happen to them at any time.

The time is now so get yourself a milk-jug, some lettuce seeds and get winter-sowing!