2016 Seed Starting

Less than eight weeks to our last frost- let the wild rumpus start!

Growing up, we always bought starts of my favorite garden vegetables from nurseries. I have found that starting seeds is not nearly as hard as you might think, and it’s very rewarding.

First off, some important lingo. Your last average frost date is the keystone of timing for your garden. Ours is May 10th. The first thing I do around February is mark out eight, six, and four weeks prior to the last frost date. These are the normal intervals that seed packets instruct you to start seeds at.

Eight weeks to our last frost was March 15th
Eight weeks to our last frost was March 15th

That being said, some plants hate being transplanted and aren’t well suited to being started indoors. Some of these plants include cucumbers, beans, and cilantro.

Other veggies, like carrots, kale, snow peas, and beets can be planted well before your last frost date, so what’s the point in taking up space to start them?

I missed my eight week mark and just started my peppers and tomatoes with six weeks until our last frost date. This year I’m planning to go big or go home on canning. I’ve used up pretty much all of the tomatoes and salsa that I canned last summer, so I definitely need to expand. My staples for these recipes are jalapeños and roma tomatoes so I tripled the number of seeds I’m starting for those varieties.

I’m also starting sungold tomatoes (from seeds I saved last year), yellow pear tomatoes, grape tomatoes, ground cherries (aka husk tomatoes), gatherer’s gold peppers, italian sweet peppers, red belt peppers, three types of eggplants (Nadia, Beatrice, and Bianca Rosa), and just for laughs- pansies.

My peppers and tomatoes
My peppers and tomatoes

In addition to my plastic flat, I’m starting more romas, jalapeños, and red belt peppers in biodegradable pots to see if that helps. With this method, you don’t disturb the roots when you plant, as the roots can grow through it. I think the disturbance of the roots was a big contributor to why my peppers did so poorly last year. I set these little pots in a disposable aluminum cake pan that had a plastic lid, and it works perfectly.

When I first started to grow my own vegetable plants from seeds, I had no lamp and no heat pad. It is doable! But it is much easier to invest a few bucks on equipment, it makes things much easier. I ask for these kinds of things for my birthday and holidays. I have a big grow light on a timer, that is on for 12 hours a day, and a little heat pad that fits right under a standard seed-starting flat (tomatoes and peppers like being warm!). You should try not to put the heat pad on carpet. I have no alternatives and have done extensive testing with my model. I also use regular potting soil to start my seeds in, and I have never really had any problems with it.

Getting read to sow!
Getting read to sow on my tiny apartment patio!

Another trick if you’re starting a number of varieties is my method for labeling who’s who. You can buy the white plant labels for around $3 from most stores with a garden department. I always cut up a plastic yogurt carton, or this year a large, plastic fast-food drink cup. It’s so cheap and the results are the same!

Large plastic cup prepared to do work
Large plastic cup prepared to do work
Cut it into a single flat sheet, then into strips
Cut it into a single flat sheet, then into strips
Label plastic markers with simple and easy to recognize names
Label plastic markers with simple and easy to recognize names, make sure they fit under your start tray’s lid!

When you’re planting your seeds, make sure to follow the seed packet instructions! The people who grew the seeds know what they like, and following their instructions will help your chances of having a good germination rate. Near all of my peppers and tomatoes like being planted at 1/4 of an inch deep. I usually fill each cell up about 3/4 of the way and water that soil. Then, I plop my seeds in, label which group is what variety, and sprinkle 1/4 inch of soil on top of them. Heavy watering at this point can dislodge your seeds and make them float to the top, so I usually get a fine mister and wet the top of the soil.

Ground cherry seeds, so tiny!
Ground cherry seeds
Roma tomato seeds
Roma tomato seeds
Jalapeño pepper seeds
Jalapeño pepper seeds

 

 

 

When the soil starts drying out I add water to the bottom of the flat instead of watering from the top. Also I keep the clear plastic lid on the flat until most of the seedlings have gotten a couple “true leaves”, mostly because my cat is a seedling murderer and will lay on them.

My set-up
My set-up

I also keep a Garden Diary where I keep track of when I started seeds and planted vegetables. Mine goes back through about four years now, starting with my experiences in my backyard in Corvallis.

Don’t be daunted by starting your own seeds! The value is amazing and it is easier than you think. I’m still learning too!