There is so much information online about how to start your seeds indoors that it can be overwhelming to say the least. It took me a while to motivate myself to do it after realizing it can’t be that hard to do. The supplies needed are not that expensive or that extensive. Any of your garden catalogs or boxed stores will carry a line of indoor seed starting products from trays to lights. What is really needed to ensure success is a warm area and sterile potting mix to germinate your seeds. I decided to try a self-watering tray last year and found myself purchasing another system to try this year. (We are a self-watering garden business after all!) Like our self-watering garden, The Eco Garden System, the self-watering seed trays work just as well! There is less worry of overwatering or under watering which is crucial in seed germination. I also use the peat pots that can be planted directly into the garden once the hardening off process is done. Some tips and tricks I have learned from starting seeds indoors come from failures to complete and total success once they are transplanted and growing. Here are a few tips to keep in mind from a fairly green indoor gardener.
Tip #1: Start out small until you get the hang of where the best spot is to begin. Planting trays and trays of seeds only to find out they do not have enough warmth or light is wasted time and frustration. Lesson learned, I have moved my seeds to a table in the basement where I have electric wall heat that keeps the table and seedlings warm and productive. It is also near a large sliding door for added light when needed. I did purchase a heat mat last year as well as lights and will say that both are very helpful in having success. Again, a warm spot and sterile potting mix are vital. (I will get to light and watering later)
Tip #2: Start seeds that are recommended for indoor beginnings. Radishes and carrots do best if sown directly into garden soil once the threat of frost has passed. The most common indoor starts range from tomatoes, peppers, onions, eggplants and cucumbers. Reading your seed packets will help with any additional instructions when starting the seeds indoors such as when to start and how deep to plant the seed.
Tip #3: Eliminate air pockets in sterile potting mix before planting. When filling your pots and trays make sure to pat down potting mix to eliminate air pockets. Another way to do this is starting out with a moist soilless mix. Putting the soilless mix in a bucket and moistening with warm water eliminates the need to water right away. (Have paper towels on hand for muddy fingers, however. Lesson learned!) Either method works.
Tip #4: Water with a mist sprayer. This will ensure less disruption of soilless mix and newly planted seeds. In the beginning it is important to water very carefully and not too often to avoid disease that comes with overwatering. Here is where the self-watering trays come in handy. By filling the reservoir below your trays, the need to water is less frequent. Until your seeds show signs of emerging using the sprayer will help in the first couple of days. As the water wicks from the bottom into the pots it is not as necessary to water. This gives the seeds enough water to utilize without soaking the pots. It really is a great way to grow plants!
Tip #5: Turn overhead grow lights on after seeds have emerged. My first mistake was leaving lights on twenty four hours from the start. It is important to cover your newly planted seeds and place where it is warm, at least 65 to 70 degrees. Once the seeds start to emerge than it is time to uncover and put under lights. A sunny window works, however, your plants will struggle trying to reach for the light which changes throughout the day. If you are using overhead lights, they should be at least two inches from the emerged seeds and heightened as they start to grow. At this point they will need at least twelve hours of light. Turning the lights off at night allows the plant at least eight hours of darkness which, like in nature, gives the plant rest.
Tip #6: Label what you plant. My first mistake was not having a clear label on what I planted. I used a marker on the peat pots only to find out it disappears after watering! I now keep a diagram on paper that shows exactly what I have planted and where. Using garden markers work as long as they are plastic. I used craft sticks last year, but again, being wood they soaked up the water and the marker disappeared. Lesson learned!
Tip #7: Thinning the seedlings is important because they will eventually crowd each other out. This is hard to do when you are so proud of the sea of green growing under the lights. Choose the strongest seedling and instead of pulling the others, which might disrupt root development, just snip the weak ones at the soil line. My first year doing this, I pulled more healthy than weak and, again, lesson learned!
One thing is for sure if you don’t try you will never learn. Growing your seeds indoors can be very rewarding with the feeling of accomplishment, as well as savings in the bank. My success last year gave me an abundance of plants. I had so many pepper plants that I gave some to a friend. I found myself calling a little too often just to find out how my pepper plants were doing! Funny thing is because of the epic fail in marking my plants she informed me they were hot peppers, not sweet bell peppers! Oops! Lesson learned!
From a small seed a mighty trunk may grow.