Seed Starting

Seed starting


Seed Starting

My absolute favorite thing for starting seeds are soil pucks. They are inexpensive, store well, take up very little space, and are the easiest to transplant without disturbing the roots.

re-hydrated soil pucks

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You usually see these in big box stores in their own handy plastic greenhouse.  The largest packages come in a pack of 72 for less than $10.  I like the small cardboard refill boxes that come in a pack of 36. All you need to do to “activate” these are to soak them in water until they grow.  Once re-hydrated, you can insert a seed in it!  Be sure to keep it moist while you wait.

seed starting station

There’s nothing more thrilling than to check your peat pucks and find a sprout has emerged from the soil!

 


Starting seeds vs buying plants

The reason I love to start seeds is because it’s like I’m helping to create life.  I’m giving an “assist”.  It seems more genuine that way, especially when I tell someone “I grew this”, because I actually grew this from a tiny dormant seed.

Seeds are much cheaper than buying plants.  Seed packets are $3-$5 and contain somewhere between 20-500 seeds per packet, depending on the plant.  Plants from the nursery can be from $5-$20 each.  You pay for convenience when you buy the plant.  A nursery tomato plant costs $10, or I can buy a seed packet for $5 and grow 20 plants.   Nursery plants are convenient because you don’t have to wait, and you can get fruit faster, but you pay extra for convenience.

seed packets

Seed catalogs

To begin the seed starting process, you need to select your seeds.  I like to use only non-GMO, heirloom variety seeds and my absolute favorite source is Baker Creek Seed Company in Mansfield, MO.  They offer over 1800 heirloom varieties from all over the world. You can visit their seed farm and pioneer village in the beautiful Ozark hills.  They also send out a full color seed catalog every year for free.

Choose the right seeds

When planning a garden, it’s important to choose varieties that do well in your climate.  Several factors like humidity, heat, length of the growing season, and yearly rainfall contribute to the success or failure of crops.

Climate and growing seasons

I live in the South and it gets really hot in the summer- too hot for many vegetables to survive.  In the heat of the summer, I can still grow heat loving veggies like okra.  Okra is one of the most heat and drought tolerant vegetables on Earth.  There’s a good reason why Southerners love okra: pickled, fried, roasted, dried, dehydrated, whatever.  It’s because it keeps producing when everything else has succumbed to the heat.

In Oklahoma, July and August are the hottest months of the year with temperatures reaching up to 120 degrees F, which makes for some crispy plants and some cranky gardeners.  120 degrees F is the highest temp ever recorded in Oklahoma, in June of 1994.   The good news is, we have two full gardening seasons if you start indoors.

re-hydrated soil puck

In Oklahoma, we can start seeds for Spring in January-February, transplant in late March, and harvest in June-July before it gets too hot. For fall gardens, start seeds in July-August indoors, bring outside in early September, and harvest in October-November, some crops still producing under cover through the new year when it’s time to start seeds for Spring again.  Doing it this way keeps your gardening year round.

Way up North in Alaska, they have the opposite problem.  The growing season is very short because the majority of the year, it’s too cold.  The record high in summer is 100 degrees F and the record low in winter an astounding -80F!  Yeah, I don’t think that row cover is going to help.  Indoor gardens, heated greenhouses, and starting seeds indoors help alleviate stress of having a short growing season.

 

Where to start seeds indoors

I have a large, South-facing window in my bathroom where I like to start my plants indoors.  It just so happens that this is also the location of the bathtub, so I can water them right there.  Since the light is indirect, once my seeds have sprouted, the seedlings need to be turned every couple of days so they don’t grow sideways or become leggy.

 

Artificial light is really helpful for starting seeds indoors.  Just a couple of under-cabinet lights zip-tied to the underside of a wire shelf is all you need.  These come in a variety of strengths, with different contraptions and can get really expensive.  All you really need to start seeds is a cheap one made for under cabinet lighting, but with a bulb made for plants.

 

 


The Paper Towel Method

seed starting kit

This is my seed germinating method of choice.  I like to have as much control of the process as possible.  This helps me avoid wasting seeds and time.  Some plants, like corn, sunflowers, and pumpkins won’t do well in soil pucks because they are too large and will quickly outgrow them.  The rule of thumb is: if the seed is big, the plant will be big too.  Best to use a container of soil instead of a seed puck for these types of plants.

Simply sprinkle a little bit of seeds onto a moistened paper towel and place inside a plastic container with a lid.  The seeds will germinate with a high germ rate and you’ll see a “tail” emerge.

paper towel method

Now just grab some tweezers and carefully extract a seed.

planting a seed

Place the seed tail-down into the prepared soil puck and lightly cover the hole with some of the soil.

Keep your seeded pucks moistened, being careful not to let them dry out.  You can do this by using a mini greenhouse, or some kind of makeshift transparent container.  Rotisserie chicken containers are good for this.

Be careful that your soil pucks don’t start growing mold.  Leaving the lid on when there’s no light will cause mold to grow overnight.  I prefer to leave my pucks uncovered and use a small fan to keep the air circulating.  They do dry out faster, but they’re easy to water.  A bonus to the fan is that the sprouts grow stronger stems and get used to being blown around by wind.

Before long, a sprout will emerge.  Depending on the seed, it may look like a little green hump.

germinated seed hump

It’s alive!  What an awesome miracle of life.

Transplanting

sprouted pumpkin seed

Once you are ready to take them outside, you’ll need to “harden them off”.  This is easy in the fall, because your sprouts will be growing when it’s hot.  Hardening off is about getting the plants used to outdoor temperatures and also to get them used to being blown around.  This process takes about a week.  Start off gradually, especially if it’s still cold in the spring.

pumpkin seedling

Check the spacing requirements for each plant.  Some plants need an entire square foot of space, others can fit several in one square foot.  Square foot gardening is great for small spaces.

Now that you know how to start from seed, seed catalogs are going to be your new addiction.  Luckily, seed packets aren’t expensive and you can store them for up to 4 years indoors.  I’ve started seeds that were over 5 years old before, but that’s not the norm.  If you start more seeds that you can plant, share!  Seedlings make great gifts for your gardening friends.

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Post Author: Bountiful Broad

17 thoughts on “Seed Starting

    Bola

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    I find this content very helpful for when i finally get around to gardening.

    Anonymous

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    I know nothing about gardening so this was so helpful!

    Karla

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    I started growing seeds last year for the first time ever and they were like little babies to me. This year I’m enjoying tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers from my garden!! Thanks for all these tips

    Shelanda

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    OK. I’ve learned so much reading your article! Thank you for sharing.

    Anitra

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    This would be fun to do in my class with the kids!

    Stacey

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    This is so fascinating to me! I like to watch people garden, but I lack patience. I plant a few store-bought seeds, but I mostly buy plants already growing. I’ve been to Baker Creek. It’s a neat place to explore. We live a couple of hours from Mansfield, and we are Laura fans. So fun!

    Melissa

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    I absolutely love gardening! I had an amazing Lemon tree and an Avacado tree, both I grew myself from seeds I saved! I was so proud of them, but after a couple of years neither liked me anymore and both died 🙁

    Cerin

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    This is really neat!

    Kamie Berry

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    Now I know why my seeds never become anything. I have been planting them all wrong! I wonder if I can get some vegetables planted down here in Florida.

    Heather

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    I feel like this was written just for me! I couldn’t grow anything to save my life lol! My hubby tells me I have a black thumb instead of a green thumb!

    Tifanee

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    This reminds me of my dad. He has gotten into growing his own vegetables and fruits. I’m not sure what method he uses, but it’s always interesting to see what he’s growing. He likes to his own pickling of different veggies.

    Great photos! I started seeds indoors last year and they were too leggy. 🙁

      I’ve had the same problem before and it’s an easy fix: the sprouted seeds need to be closer to the light. If you’re using an artificial light, lower it, or raise the container by putting something underneath it so that it’s closer to the light.

    Anonymous

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    Thanks for the great tips. I’m so terrible about remembering to water things, but hopefully I could be successful. I tend to not think of it early enough so I end up buying plants.

    Jenn

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    What a good post! I plant see Seeds and flowers yearly but never extracted a seed!

    I love soil pucks too! We had great luck with them this year. Started them in a sunny window over a heat mat, and moved them to a cold frame in April. Saved so much money, and the plants are doing great! We had about 80% of them do well, which I think is a pretty decent percentage. 🙂

    John

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    This brings me back to my childhood! We used to get seeds and grow from there. I completely forgot this memory until I read your post. Thank you for reminding me of such a wonderful memory! 🙂

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