There could be multiple reasons for starting seeds at home. One reason could be the climate you live in where there is a short growing season, such as Canada. By germinating seeds at home it will will extend the growing season and produce more harvest. Another reason is the associated costs with gardening, by starting seeds at home, gardeners can save hundreds of dollars. Yes, it requires some initial setup costs upfront and time commitment, but then you know exactly what was used to start your garden plants.
1 Timing of seed starting
Timing of seed starting will vary from vegetable/flower type. The plants that take the longest to germinate and ones that withstand cooler temperatures such as cabbage, lettuce and peppers should be started 8 weeks before last frost. Most flowers and tomatoes are recommended on starting these seeds at home about 6 weeks before last frost. Lastly, vegetables that like warm weather and quick at germinating such as cucumbers and squash, its recommended to plant 4 weeks before last frost.
Starting seeds at home is not only cost effective, it can also be a great way to keep busy during the last few months of winter where most individuals are antsy to winter to go away. For families, this is a great science project with children. It will allow kids to get nice an dirty (which most tend to enjoy) and will educate how the food they eat on daily basis was produced.
2 Selecting container type
Selecting a container type which will be used for starting seeds at home can be anything as long as it drains and deep enough for root development. Seed starting items can be bought at any garden supply store for example HomeDepot. There are many options to choose from including plastic and peat pot kits.
If you are on a budget, you can make your own containers from items you have at home already, such as cardboard egg carton or solo plastic cups. Make sure to put drainage holes in plastic cups, as the plants will most likely die without proper drainage.
Most seedlings and young plants dislike having their root system disturbed. Keeping transplanting and up-sizing of container to minimal will insure young plants will keep growing strong. Peat pots are great option for being able to plant seedling plants directly into garden without disturbing the root system.
3 Planting medium
It is important to start new seedling in a new sterile mix. Do not use dirt from you garden or from other house plants, as that soil will be to harsh on the new seedlings and may contain diseases or pests. For easiness, one can purchase seed-starting mix from the local garden center.
Additionally, ingratiates like sand, perlite, vermiculite, and peat moss can be bought separately and combined to make own planting media. This approach is preferred as items can be bought in bulk and can be used for other purposes in the garden later on or around the home.
Our preferred combination is vermiculite and peat moss, which together provide moisture holding and air growing medium. The ration is 2 part of peat moss to 1 parts vermiculite.
It is important to pre-moisten the mixture before placing it in the containers of your choice. Let the moisture sit for 3-5 days, allowing peat moss to absorb the water. The mixture should be moist to touch and not soaking wet when planting seeds.
4 Seed planting and labeling
Most seed packets provide germination rate and recommended spacing. This information is important for determining number of seeds need to be placed and how closely. For vegetables such as cucumber, tomatoes, or peppers, 2-3 seeds in each container will insure that at least one seed will germinate. Bigger and faster growing vegetables such as beans or peas, that also have a very high germination rate, only 1 seed should be planted per container. Herbs such as parsley or basil can be planted many seeds per container.
At any point, excluding herbs, if all or more than 1 seed is germinated, it is recommended to thin out the plants. Cutting the smallest (weak) or tallest (leggy and brittle) germinated plants to allow the best plant in the pot to grow and get stronger without competition. Note: Use scissors for thinning process as we do not want to disturb the roots of other plants in the container.
Make sure to keep the surface of the dirt warm as it encourages faster seed germination. If you bought a kit at a store, most will come with a plastic dome to be used to cover the plants. Alternative cost effective step for starting seeds at home is by covering over the containers gently with cellophane that you may already have in your kitchen.
Avoiding rookie mistakes such as mixing up plant verities can be accomplished with the used of common household items. Wooden craft sticks (at Michaels), popsicle sticks or coffee stir sticks can be used with a sharpie to label each container.
5 Lighting and water
New seedlings need daylight for growing strong. When starting seeds at home there are couple of options for lighting. First and least expensive is by placing your containers on south-facing window. The only downside to this is that the new seedlings with grow and tilt in direction of the lights, resulting in leggy and brital stems. Rotating the pots every day or two will keep the plants from leaning too much.
Second option, is to buy a pair of lights from your local hardware store for under $50. To have simulated light to that of the sun, some items to keep in mind when shopping for lights. Most light packages provide important color information such as lumens (brightness) and kelvins (light appearance or color temperature). For best at home seed starting lights that mimic the day light, keep your lights to these ranges:
- Lumens level range 2,000 to 3,000
- Kelvin level range 4,5000 to 6,500
- Watt (measure of electricity used) important for electricity bill, but not in success of seedling growth and strength
The plastic covering mentioned in step 4 should keep the soil moist for days allowing the seeds to germinate. Due to how delicate new seedlings are, it is recommended to have a tray on which your containers will stand. Putting 1/4 water in the tray allowing the dirt to absorb for 30 minutes and then emptying out the excess of water. This process will allow water to be absorbed from the bottom, without disturbing any new growth from the top and will also encourage the new seedlings roots to grow down in to the dirt.
Resources and supply links
The Old Farmer’s Almanac: https://www.almanac.com/gardening/frostdates/NY
Amazon seed starting supplies: https://amzn.to/30kbmDG
HomeDepot medium supplies: https://www.homedepot.com/s/soil%2520amendment?NCNI-5
HomeDepot lights: https://www.homedepot.com/p/Honeywell-4-ft