Get Growing: It’s Seed Starting Time
With the bulk of winter behind us, it’s time to think spring! March is the month to prepare for the growing season ahead by planning your garden and starting seeds. Here are some tips to help get you growing!
- Seeds: For 2013, the Chequamegon Food Co-op has Seed Savers Exchange seeds available. Seed Savers Exchange was founded in 1975 and is dedicated to preserving heirloom fruit, flower, and vegetable varieties. For more information about Seed Savers Exchange, please visit www.seedsavers.org.
- Containers: You can really use any shallow vessel to start seeds, but divided containers work the best. While you can reuse containers from year to year, you should sterilize them by soaking in a hot water and bleach solution.
- Growing medium: Garden soil can carry pathogens and weed seeds that inhibit seedling growth. Soil also has a heavier texture. It is best to start plants in a soilless starting mix that contains vermiculite and peat. This light-weight mix has a texture and porosity perfect for germination.
- Timing: Follow the instructions on your seed packets to determine when to sow seeds. Tomatoes and peppers thrive in the heat, so they are best started indoors in early spring. Check out the days to harvest, too. On average, our frost-free growing season goes for 134 days.
- Sowing: Many seeds need a soil contact to germinate. Look on the seed packet for sowing depth. Otherwise, the general rule of thumb is to plant seeds four times deeper than they are wide. The tiniest seeds may need to just be scattered on the surface of the growing medium. Don’t forget to mark your pots, so you know what you have planted.
- Location: You may want to either buy or make special shelves. You can even use a simple wire shelving unit. Choose a spot free from drafts and out of the reach of pets and children. Ambient air temperature should be around 60 degrees for germinating seeds. Use a heat mat (also known as a grow mat) to provide additional warmth.
- Light: Natural daylight is not adequate for seed starting. Choose inexpensive fluorescent light fixtures (sometimes called shop lights) and hang them at most four inches above your plants.
- Watering: Seeds need water to germinate, so you need to keep the growing medium moist. Use a spray bottle to gently mist the seeds. Once your seedlings have set their true leaves, you can add fertilizer to your water once a week.
- Hardening off: Before transplanting outdoors, get your seedlings used to their new environment by leaving the plants outside for longer periods of time. Choose a shady spot, and place the seedlings there for several hours, gradually increasing the time over the course of two weeks.
- Planting: Choose an overcast day to place your seedlings in the garden. Water them well and get ready for a great growing season!