If you’ve caught spring fever and are eager to get growing, you’re in luck! Many avid gardeners started planting cool weather crops a couple of months ago, but don’t worry, it’s not too late! Now is the perfect time to start warmer weather crops like squash, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, basils, sunflowers, and many others.
Starting seeds at home not only amplifies self-sufficiency, health, and happiness but helps one gain more control over crop timing and extend the growing season. It’s also extremely cost-effective, and you’ll be able to have more say in the varieties of vegetables and herbs you want to grow.
Four steps to successful seed starting:
If you didn’t save seeds from last year, and want to get the most benefit out of your garden, select organic and heirloom seed varieties. Heirloom seeds are open-pollinated and will breed true as long as they don’t cross-pollinate with another plant from the same species. You’ll be able to save the seeds in the fall to use for next year’s garden, which will create more resilient plants. If you want to support local seed companies, Sow True Seed, True Love Seeds, and Living Seed Company offer organic, non-GMO, and heirloom seed varieties.
Seed starting medium:
Choosing a seed starting mix can be daunting, as most mixes do not actually contain “soil.” Using a sterile, lightweight, soilless mix that will retain moisture is key. Many companies use vermiculite or perlite for aeration, and either sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir for water retention. If you can, opt for a mix that uses coconut coir over peat moss, since peat moss is mined from bogs and thus non-renewable and not as sustainable. A great local brand of seed starting mix is made by the company, Dirtcraft Organics. Moisten the seed mix, add to flats or containers of your choosing and tamp down. Plant seeds according to the packet instructions, in general seeds should be planted at a depth of two times the width, or diameter, of the seed.
Many people think you need an elaborate setup to start seeds indoors. This is not so, but you will need to create a specific environment for incubation. Since most seeds don’t need light to germinate, with the exception of some native perennial plants and medicinal herbs, a light source won’t be necessary until they sprout. Germination requires a damp and warm (around 75 degrees) environment, so using a seed warming mat or placing your flats or containers next to a heat source will help speed up germination.
Once they sprout and it’s warm enough during the day, you can place seedlings outside to photosynthesize, taking them back in before the sun goes down. This works best with cool weather plants like brassicas, lettuce, and spinach; use a light inside for nightshades or plants that require warmer temperatures. Indoor lights provide more control and will make sure seedlings are protected from the outdoor elements.
Potting up, hardening off:
Once your seedlings have grown their second set of leaves and are outgrowing their seed flats, you can start potting them up in slightly larger containers with a nutrient-dense soil mix. A way to check and see if they’re ready to be potted up is to pop one out of its cell and examine the root system. You want the roots to have reached the bottom without being too crowded, if the roots seem like they’re getting root bound, it is definitely time to give them a larger container!
Prepare your containers with your soil mix, gently loosen the roots and cover with soil pressing down firmly, but not too firm. Once potted in their new soil medium, they should go through a growth spurt within a couple of weeks. This is a great time to start hardening off your starts in preparation for garden graduation. Hardening off is important to avoid shock and possible stunted growth.
Two weeks before planting outdoors, start taking plants outside for a couple of hours each day, increasing the amount of time they are outside to acclimate them to their new home. You’ll want to prepare your garden ahead of time and check the seed packets to know when it is safe to plant outdoors.
Starting seeds on your own can feel overwhelming, but once you take the plunge and experience the joy and benefits of tending seedlings, you’ll be hooked! Be sure to check out our 2022 Gardening Series, with Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring classes, as well as Homegrown Dreams, happening April 30th.
Author: Julie Douglas
Julie is the Marketing & Communications Associate. She is the owner and Clinical herbalist at Wildkrafted Kitchen, a holistic healthcare company in Asheville, NC. Julie is a medicinal herb grower, ethical wildcrafter, educator, and formulator of internal and external medicines. After graduating with an AA focusing on Photography and Ceramic art, Julie went on to pursue their passion for sustainable small-scale agriculture in Washington state where she apprenticed on various organic farms. After discovering their affinity for medicinal herbs, they moved to Asheville to study Holistic Herbalism at the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine. Julie’s main goals are to make alternative healthcare accessible to marginalized communities, decolonizing herbal medicine, and be part of mutual aid networks which strengthen and empower the community.