There are a lot of ways to start seeds. Do a bit of research to find seeds of plants you’ll love. I go with heritage seeds but if you want to use hybrid and just stock their heritage seeds, that works too. My Gardening Self-Assessment can help you evaluate your garden’s unique needs, from your growing zone to recommended soil supplements. It’s super quick and guaranteed to up your gardening game!
Each year I mix up a few new varieties. I love the Black Krim Tomato it has an awesome sweet flavor. It’s pretty hardy weather-wise, but it’s really susceptible to blight.
TIP- Learning to save seeds is a great way to increase sustainability and food security.
I live in North East Massachusetts, so I usually start my seed starting process in Mid February. I use the peat moss pellet trays by Jiffy. You can get them at Home Depot or Lowe’s for about 8.00 each.
Wet the pellets down according to directions. Let each pellet absorb water for a few minutes, then take a spoon and open the mesh on each pellet.
Sort out the seeds you plan on planting by how long they take to sprout. This will determine which plants you will put together.
I then label the trays, so I know which row has what plant in it. Then I will poke a hole in each pellet ( the seed packs will tell you how deep). Depending on the seed, I will put 2 or 3 seeds in each pellet. 3 for smaller seeds 2 for larger (cucumber or pumpkin)
When the whole tray is full, place the clear dome back on top and tape in place then put in a warm dark place. I have a hallway on my top floor that is dark and has a corner of baseboard heat my seeds love it.
Stack the trays on top of each other. My garden is decent in size, and I gift plants, so I usually have about 5 trays of seeds.
Keep an eye on the seedlings. The peat pellets should always be damp, but the taped on plastic greenhouse domes should keep the moisture in. When the majority of the tray is sprouted, uncover the tray and put it in direct sunlight. I use a TV table and put it right up to a window this will hold 2 trays this way. Every other day rotate which tray is closest to the window pane.
Keep the trays like this, watering them carefully every other day. You want them only slightly moist not wet. Don’t let the peat moss get dry. I just take the tray to the sink and turn the water pressure on a little and use the water sprayer. It’s easy and fast.
Once the plants have 2 sets of real leaves (besides the leaves that sprouted), you can transplant the seedlings. For tomatoes, zucchini and pumpkins, I go to the dollar store and get one-gallon pots. All my other plants go in the large party cups you can get at any party store, target, or grab the leftovers from family parties. I think they are 20 oz or so. They are the perfect size for all the other plants.
This is where you have to pick your plants. Where you planted 2-3 seeds earlier, you may have 2 -3 plants. Oh no. Well, pick your champion. Pick the biggest leaves, greenest plant or just go with your gut but pinch the others off. The 2 plants will not be happy together.
Some plants may be “stemmy”. Say you have a tomato with a really long thin stem. When I transplant it, I put a tiny scoop of dirt in the cup, put the pod in the cup, and finally fill the cup to the top. Don’t try to bend the stem because it will most likely snap. (I’ve learned this the hard way)
This year I splurged on growing lights. Don’t bother. The cups I put on the window sills grew better. So I literally line every window sill in my home with cups of plants. The cups I use fit perfectly! By the time the fear of frost is over, your plants will be huge! You will be the envy of the neighborhood.
The important part is getting your plants use to the outdoors (hardening). Day 1: take the plants outdoors and put in the shade and in a less windy area of your yard for 2-3 hours. Day 2: another shady spot out of the wind increase to 6 hours. Day 3 -7: the same. Then slowly start allowing them to be exposed to more direct sunlight.
Some suggest the hardening process should take up to 2 weeks, some say a week. I usually go towards the 2-week limit; watching the plants and weather. If it’s really warm or cold adjust how long the plant is outdoors.
If the plant starts to look white, don’t worry – just take it back indoors. It’s usually either windburn or sunburn and the plant can easily heal itself. It just means that the plant was not ready to be exposed directly to the elements yet.
From a pack of seeds, I usually see a success rate of about 70%. Every once in a while, I see a whole pack of seeds do nothing. You can get a “dud.” That’s why I usually pick up a few varieties when picking a veggie.
TIP- Do you look closely at your seed packets before you buy? You should, and here is why!
Always keep the envelopes your seeds come in so you can follow the planting guide. It’s tempting to fit in more plants, but you will regret it when you are in peak season and trying to squish in between your plants.
When autumn arrives, it’s time to get busy saving seeds from your summer harvest. Read and learn how to save seeds. My Gardening Self-Assessment can also help you learn more about your growing zone and your climate’s optimal planting and harvesting times.
Guest post by reader Kay C.
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