There are great advantages to starting seeds indoors, especially for vegetables, because in some cases, it's the only way to ensure that there will be any type of harvest. It doesn't matter what type of seeds you start indoors, the bottom line is that by planning ahead and planting the different types of seeds far enough in advance, you can assure yourself of an abundant harvest.
The general rule of thumb for starting vegetable seeds is that they need to be started a minimum of 8 weeks before they are to be planted outdoors. I prefer to allow ten weeks so that I can get some extra time to harden off the seedlings before planting them outdoors permanently.
CHECKING SEED VIABILITY:
To determine the viability of seeds before starting them, test some of the seeds. Unless you are certain of the date of harvest, it is impossible to know for certain, whether the seeds are viable, and what the rate of germination will be.
Take a moist paper towel and ring out the excess water. Fold the towel in half. Place the seeds in the middle of the divided towel. Then fold the sides over to create a little packet. Then put the seeds in a plastic zip lock baggie. Be sure to label the baggie so you know what seeds are inside.
This can be done with any type of seed. It's a great way to test the germination before planting. Place the baggies in a warm and bright location. Check to see whether the seeds have germinated in a week. It may take two weeks to determine how successfully the seeds germinate.
When it comes to seeds that have an especially hard outer shell, namely peas or beans, it is helpful to soak the seeds for a minimum of 24 hours. The longer the seeds soak, the softer the harder shell will get. Softening the hard outer shell will expedite germination substantially.
SUPPLIES AND OTHER NECESSITIES:
The three most important things that all seeds need in order to germinate are light, warmth and moisture. A warm room with a consistent air temperature is essential. Some sort of grow light is necessary too.
Create a lighting system by purchasing a shop light fixture that has chains that can be raised and lowered. It is possible to create a full spectrum growing light system by using an equal number of cool bulbs and warm bulbs. Look for bulbs with a higher lumen number. They will be brighter.
The light should be very close to the containers when the seeds are planted. After they germinate, the light can be moved further away. During the germination process, it is probably okay to keep the plant lights on 24 hours a day. Once the seeds have germinated, the lights should not remain on all day.
Leave the lights on for 14 to 16 hours a day until the seedlings are about 3 or 4 inches tall. From then on, the seedlings should do okay with 10 to 12 hours of light a day. A light timer will automate the process so it's not necessary to remember to turn the lights on and off.
Many people use heat mats because the heat mats are said to expedite the germination process. Heat mats vary in size, and the larger they are, the more expensive they are, but larger mats have room for more greenhouse units, so the larger mats are good for germinating large amounts of seed. A heat mat maintains an even temperature (warm, but not hot,) under the starter units to expedite germination.
There are other ways to provide warmth under pots. Be creative and think outside the box. Just make sure that no matter how the heat is provided, there is some means by which to keep it from getting too hot. The idea is to provide some warmth, but too much heat will kill the seeds.
*An inexpensive indoor greenhouse can also provide heat because the lights can be raised and lowered and put just above the seed starting containers.
*If the top of your refrigerator gets warm, and your kitchen is bright enough, that is also a possible place on which to germinate seeds.
*Hot water radiators that are covered with a pan or other protective covering work wonderfully.
*Lights that are lowered so that they are close enough to germinating seeds will provide sufficient warmth.
*My all time favorite seed starting container is a peat pellet. A peat pellet is a hard round pellet that swells when soaked in water. Once it swells, you are left with a small self contained unit that consists of some type of outer mesh that holds the peat based planting mix inside. These are ideal because the whole thing can be planted anywhere and there is no fussing about trying to get the seedling out of the container.
At first glance, peat pellets may appear to be expensive, but when you consider that there is no need to buy a pot or any type of planting medium, unless of course, the seedling is going to go into a pot, that it eventually evens out. The added benefit, however, is that you are adding organic matter to your soil with very little effort.
*Save containers from frozen microwaveable foods, butter tubs, sour cream, cottage cheese and any other type of container.
*Second hand stores and resale shops are great places to go to look for pans or containers that can be used hold small pots.
*Sometimes garden centers throw pots away if they have had to get rid of a plant. They will often throw the planting packs away too. It never hurts to ask if you can have things that would have been thrown away anyway.
*Go to a recycling center. All of the containers that have an identifying triangle with a number inside are recyclable.
Any type of container will work for sowing seeds. Starter pots can be made out of newspaper and the whole planting unit can be planted right into the ground or pot when the seedlings are mature enough to be ready for that.
A plastic greenhouse that can be purchased at most gardening centers can be helpful because it will contain the moisture and help to hold the heat in. If using these plastic greenhouses, it is necessary to cut two or three slits in the top, depending on the size of the greenhouse unit. This will allow air to flow through the unit and keep the soil and seeds from getting moldy.
Buy some clear plastic wrap at the grocery store, and use that and some tape to cover pots and containers. This will create an instant greenhouse like environment in any pot or container. Be sure to cut small slits to let air get in.
SEED STARTING MEDIUM:
When using peat pots, the ideal planting medium is a soil-less medium consisting of 1/2 peat moss and 1/2 Perlite. Commercial greenhouses use a special growers mix because they contain organic material that will improve drainage and aeration, and because they don't contain any added fertilizer.
It is not necessary to use soil containing fertilizer to start seeds. Some companies sell a special seed starting mix. This differs from traditional potting soils.
HOW TO SOW:
When sowing seeds, it isn't necessary to sow the seeds deeply. One of the reasons for unsuccessful germination is that the seeds are sown too deeply. Since heavy watering can wash the seeds away or push them deep into the soil, the best way to water the top of the soil is by using a plant sprayer and misting them.
To ensure that the entire starter pot, peat pot or pellet is sufficiently moist, pour some water into the bottom of the greenhouse container. If using regular starter packs, recycled materials or cups, any type of plastic container that is at least 1/2 inch deep will be suitable for holding water and providing moisture.
The plants can absorb the water from the bottom up and this will prevent the seeds from washing away or penetrating too deeply into the soil. Put plastic wrap over individual pots. Use large rubber bands or tape to secure the plastic around the top of the pot. Cut small slits into the top to allow air to circulate.
No matter what type of container one uses to start the seeds in, it is extremely important that there be adequate ventilation. Insufficient ventilation in an environment that is moist and warm can promote mold growth.
After planting the seeds, be sure that everything is properly labeled. Plastic silverware can be used as markers. Sharpie pens are permanent waterproof markers, and these are ideal for labeling any type of plant stake. The slats of broken mini blinds can also be used as plant stakes or markers. They can be cut to any size.
Depending on the variety of seed, it may take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks for the seeds to sprout. Once the seeds have sprouted and several leaves have developed, any type of plastic covering can be removed. If the lights were lowered to just above the top of the planting containers, they should be raised.