Returning to Our Roots // Starting Seeds
Our seeds have sprouted! I started our seeds the second week of March in their little seed beds and they all have finally popped up out of the soil. It's a beautiful thing. I can't really express my love of growing plants perfectly, but I'll sum it up to pride, joy, surprise, and utter fascination. It just makes my heart soar and my insides feel giddy. My love of plants is starting to become a lot deeper than I really ever imagined it would be. I grew my first plants from seed almost a year ago, in little clay pots on our dining room table. It seems so far away now, and I knew that starting vegetable seeds couldn't be much harder. Guess what. It's not difficult at all! Though I'm sure I'll have tough seedlings, I have found that starting seeds only takes patience and the right amount of natural ingredients: sunlight, water, and air. That's all you need!
When it comes to seed starters, there's lot of different options you can choose from, as well as some pretty genius ways to recycle old containers and such to grow your little starts in. While we enjoyed dinner with some Amish friends last week, which I'll be sharing on tomorrow, they were growing their starts in Chobani Yogurt containers. LOL. I can never not think of Gayle Waters-Waters when the word Chobani pops up. If you haven't seen those videos, you must. That was my entire second half of high school. This year, we purchased about eight seed starter kits from the hardware store. They were on sale and just figured we should try growing them the "proper" way. You can find most seed starter trays at your local hardware store, greenhouse, farm supply store, or basically anywhere that sells seeds. A seed starter kits comes equipped with trays with 2-3" deep holes for you to grow your plants in, and these should have a small hole in the bottom to allow for drainage. They also typically come with a drainage catching tray and a plastic cover to be placed over the top.
Along with trays, you'll want to purchase seeds (of course), potting soil (organic if possible! might as well start now), and a spray bottle to water your seeds. Later, you may want to purchase some organic fertilizer or plant food to spray your plants with. I'll most likely be looking to making some myself. If you have compost, it's a smart idea to mix that into your potting soil, which will have all the right nutrients to begin growing your seeds.
Now you have all of your supplies, you're ready to start planting. Last week, I went live on Instagram, and it was probably one of the best things I've done! It gave me a really good idea about how the classes we hope to start teaching will go along with what types of questions you all have. I mention this because I went live teaching how to plant seeds in starters. To the master gardener or farmer, that probably just sounds silly, but I know a lot of people are hesitant starting seeds - gardening is kind of a foreign subject to those of us who didn't grow up with or around it! And I hate that it is. More people need to know how to grow things and not rely on someone else to do it!
- Pick out your seeds and determine which plants need to be grown either indoors or directly sown, and which months they thrive best in according to the zone you live in. I shared which plants I was starting in March here. We live in Zone 5, so it's going to be chilly until the end of April. There are some vegetables that thrive in the cold weather, they're a bit hardier, like lettuces, brassicas, and Swiss Chard. When I visited an Amish greenhouse at the beginning of the week, the woman who owned it was saying she would be sowing her lettuces, radishes, and beets outside that day. When I asked about the frost she said that most of those hardier plants can take it. I decided to just start my seedlings indoors so that I know for sure they'll survive, and our garden patch still has yet to be cut out. Hoping to do that this upcoming week!
- Determine your planting depth and days to sprouting. All seed packets should come with some information on the back that lets you know how deep they should be planted and covered, how many days until sprouts should pop up, and how long until they can be harvested. I made sure to write down all of this information in my gardening journal (a very important tool!) along with the date I planted my seeds in their starters and what the weather was like that day. I keep track of everything I do in the garden in my journal, including tracking growth and how often I water. It's a smart tool to use in case you want to make changes next growing season and/or remember what you could have done differently.
- Soak your seeds. This is a good idea all around. It helps to speed up the germination process, and I can say that my seeds germinated within about 7 days all together when they were predicted to take 10-21 days. Seeds only need to be soaked either overnight or for 24 hours. Much after that, then they're kind of shot and you need to start all over again.
- Fill your starter trays with potting soil. You'll want to fill them about 3/4 of the way up. Larger seeds need to be sown deeper than smaller seeds. Most itty bitty seeds, like carrots, only need to be sprinkled upon the surface of the soil and not covered. Most herbs are like this, too. My Swiss Chard seeds, however, were huge and need to be buried 1/2 an inch underneath the soil. So just fill about 3/4 of the way with potting soil and place your seeds down according to your own judgement. I don't think it needs to be super strict. A good idea, too, is to mist the underneath soil, before you plant your seeds, and tumble it around a bit with your finger. This will help lock in moisture all around the seed. This helped mine promote growth quite a bit!
Your trays are set up and you're about to put your seeds in the soil. Well, go for it! There isn't much else you can do but hope that you've done enough to help them. If you've successfully soaked your seeds and filled your trays with moist soil, then you're already steps ahead of the game. Don't forget to make plant markers for every tray in case you forget what you planted! For me, I filled each tray with one type of vegetable, and I think we're going to have an extremely bountiful crop because pretty much every single little cup had 2-3 sprouts pop up. Probably going to be transferring those to new trays and giving them to other people! Here is how to plant your seeds and care for them:
- Place two to three seeds per little cup. This will ensure that at least one seed will germinate and sprout for you. It's most likely that both seeds will germinate and you'll end up with multiple sprouts like me. If that's the case, you can either transplant them into new trays or you can just carefully pull them out and discard them to your compost pile. You want to have only one sprout per cubicle; this promotes a strong root stock and much sturdier plant. If you leave them all, then they'll all be competing for root room in the soil.
- Cover with soil and mist. You want the soil to be moist but not soggy. Don't drown your seeds! When it comes to watering for the rest of their time in the starter trays, just mist them, even once they begin to sprout leaves. You just want to give them a light drink every time the soil seems quite dry. If you over water, then that might lead to molding and unhealthy plants. A good way to check is to dig a bit with your finger in dry soil, checking to see that the under-soil is dry as well. If it's still fairly moist, then leave it another day. If you pick up the tray, and it feels really light, then they need a drink!
- Cover your trays with either a plastic dome or some plastic wrap. This is crucial when you first plant your seeds. If you are growing inside your home, chances are that you keep it between a nice 60-70 degrees. This is the ideal temperature for growing new plants. The seedlings are underneath the soil, so they don't need direct sunlight, but they do need heat. You'll want to keep them warm, and the clear plastic covering will help the sun keep them nice and toasty. You'll know they're getting enough water and warmth by the moisture that collects on the top of the dome. Once the sprouts pop up, you can officially remove the cover. If you keep it on, then the seeds will begin to mold because it will be too hot. We ended up moving our seedlings out into the greenhouse, and it's been getting a bit cool at night, so I still put the cover on then to keep them warm.
- Watch them grow, ruffle them up, and harden them off! Your seedlings are ready for the garden when they have matured a bit and begin to sprout their true leaves. A good thing to do is to feed them an organic fertilizer or plant food until they're ready to be moved. Mix this with water in a half solution and spray them every week or two. You really only need to do this if you decided to plant them without compost. Another good idea is to ruffle up your seedlings by running your hand over their growth once or twice a day. This helps them grow strong and stocky bases. You could also put a light fan on them! About a week before they're to be planted outside, you'll want to "harden them off." This is done by setting them outside in a safe place, like a porch, and letting them sit in the shade for a few hours, then the sun, and letting them become accustomed to the elements (wind, rain, etc) before being planted in the ground.
I find the keeping of seedlings really relaxing. There's always a new surprise each day with they've changed! I took these photos of my Swiss Chard seedling (above) on Sunday and they looked completely different on Monday. It was wild! I really love keeping my gardening journal and tracking down every moment. It makes it all special and will be a wonderful keepsake when I've kept my 50th garden. My first one, documented! I am excited for the next few weeks to continue observing. I'll be letting you know how everything goes and when I plant new seeds. What are you planting this month?