March 23, 2012

The Basics: Starting Seeds Indoor

There are some obstacles you can run into when starting seeds indoors. From root rot and bugs, to seeds never sprouting at all. Here are the basics of what you need to know.

1. Containers:
  • Containers should have very good drainage. Poke additional holes in your container if you aren't sure.
  • Transplanting: are you able to transplant the starts into your garden without disrupting the roots on your plant? 
  • Material: do not use anything that has been treated, such as stained wood or treated metal. Try using old plastic bottles, milk cartons, tofu containers, or egg cartons. 
  • Make sure to disinfect containers that have had plants in them before. I rinse any old pots or containers with a watered down bleach solution. 
2. Heat:
  • Seeds need an average of 65-75 degrees to germinate (this is soil temperature).
  • Heat from the bottom works the best.
  • If your seeds are taking a long time to sprout, one reason may be the soil temperature.
  • You can purchase a heat mat for seeds, they are a little expensive but I find worth the $20. Other options: place near your heater, place under a lamp, on top of an appliance such as a dryer or refrigerator. Once the seeds sprout you can move the seeds to a more "discrete" location.
These shop lights are perfect for keeping the soil warm and providing extra light. I purchased mine for $7 at a hardware store.
3. Humidity:
  • Your seeds need humidity to germinate quickly.
  • Light is not necessary at this point, so don't be concerned that you are blocking the light with your cover. Try plastic grocery bags, storage lids, sandwich bags, plastic bins, you could even use a glass baking dish upside down. 
  • Make sure your humidity cover is a few inches off the dirt to allow the seed to sprout. 
  • Once the seed sprouts, remove the "humidity" cover.
4. Air flow:
  • Find/buy a small fan and set it to oscillate (on low) across your starts.
  • This will help prevent bugs and root rot.
  • The "wind" blowing across the start will also make your starts stronger, preparing them to be transplanted outside.
5. Water
  • I recommend watering your indoor starts from the bottom. You will avoid drowning your seeds and plants this way.
  • Make sure that your soil stays damp. A big mistake is either over or under watering during the early stages of the seeds development. Once the plant is more established it will be more forgiving. 
6. Soil selection:
  • I do not recommend using standard potting soil as you can run into some problems with this (bacteria, and large particles in the soil can cause the problems).
  • Search for dirt that says it is for starting seeds. 
7. Light:
  • You'll need to get your plants some Vitamin D (and if you are in Seattle, maybe you need some too).
  • Your seedlings do not actually need sunlight until they have developed their "true leaves" (the second pair of leaves that grow) which are the leaves that are able to do photosynthesis. That means you have a few weeks to figure out how you are going to provide your seeds with enough light.
  • I do recommend a grow light, which sounds scary, but I will cover this in another post. 

Phew. Lots of typing and not many photos. But hopefully useful. 

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