Jan 18, 2012

Starting Seeds Indoors

Hines Farm Red Oak Paper Pot Makers - Time to Start Using All those Paper Pots I Made... Monte

Starting seeds indoors will give you earlier vegetables and flowers, and your cultivar choices will be endless. The process of germination may seem complex, but the act of seed planting is reassuringly simple. Just take it step-by-step, and you’ll soon be presiding over a healthy crop of seedlings.

Select your work area—a surface at a comfortable height and close to a water supply where you’ll have room to spread things out. Assemble your equipment: seed-starting containers, starting medium or soil mix, watering can, labels, marking pen, and seed packets.

Choosing Containers You can start seeds in almost any kind of container that will hold 1 to 2 inches of starting medium and won’t become easily waterlogged. Once seedlings form more roots and develop their true leaves, though, they grow best in containers that provide more space for root growth and have holes for drainage.

You can start seedlings in open flats, in individual sections of a market pack, or in pots. Individual containers are preferable, because the less you disturb tender roots, the better. Some containers, such as peat pots, paper pots, and soil blocks, go right into the garden with the plant during transplanting. Other pots must be slipped off the root ball before planting.

Square or rectangular containers make better use of space and provide more root area than round ones do. However, individual containers dry out faster than open flats. Many gardeners start seeds in open flats and transplant seedlings to individual containers after the first true leaves unfold. Choose flats and containers to match the number and types of plants you wish to grow and the space you have available.

Excellent seed-starting systems are available from garden centers and mail-order suppliers. You can also build your own wooden flats. If you raise large numbers of seedlings, it’s useful to have interchangeable, standard-sized flats and inserts.

You can reuse your seedling containers for many years. To prevent problems with dampening off, you may want to sanitize flats at the end of the season by dipping them in a 10 percent solution of household bleach (1 cup of bleach plus 9 cups of water).

Homemade containers: You can recycle milk cartons and many types of plastic containers as seed-starting pots. Just be sure to poke a drainage hole in the bottom of each. Cut lengths of clothes hanger as a frame for your flats so you can wrap them in plastic to encourage germination. You can bend the wire to fit into a plastic flat filled with pots or six-packs, or staple the wire to the sides of a wooden flat as shown at right. Use clear plastic wrap or plastic bags (like the ones from the dry cleaner) to enclose the flat.

Two make-at-home seed-starting containers are newspaper pots and soil blocks. To make pots from newspaper, begin by cutting bands of newspaper about twice as wide as the desired height of a pot (about 4 inches wide for a 2-inch-high pot). Wrap a band around the lower half of a jar a few times, and secure it with masking tape. Then form the bottom of the pot by creasing and folding the paper in around the bottom of the jar. You can also put a piece of tape across the pot bottom to hold it more securely in place. Slip the newspaper pot off the jar. Set your pots in high-sided trays with their sides touching. When you fill them with potting mix, they will support one another. There are also commercial molds for making newspaper pots.

Soil blocks encourage well-branched roots and produce good seedlings. You can buy molds to make soil blocks, but making them is a messy, labor-intensive process.

Begin by mixing a wheelbarrow-load of potting soil. Use plenty of peat moss and lots of water to make a thick, wet, gummy mass with the texture of peanut butter. Jam the soil-block mold into the block mix. Press the mold hard against the bottom of the wheelbarrow, and then lift and eject the blocks from the mold onto a tray. Then arrange the blocks in flats and plant directly into them. Don’t let soil blocks dry out: Because of their high peat content, they don’t absorb moisture well once they have become dry. Water from the bottom or mist gently until roots grow. Once roots fill the blocks, they become solid and easy to handle.

Seed-Starting and Potting Mixes Seeds contain enough nutrients to nourish themselves through sprouting, so a seed-starting mix does not have to contain nutrients. It should be free of weed seeds and toxic substances, hold moisture well, and provide plenty of air spaces. Don’t use plain garden soil to start seedlings; it hardens into a dense mass that delicate young roots can’t penetrate.

Make your own seed-starting mix by combining one part vermiculite or perlite with one part peat moss, milled sphagnum moss, coir, or well-screened compost. Or, buy bagged seed-starting mix. Let your seedlings grow in such a mixture until they develop their first true leaves, and then transplant into a nutrient-rich potting mix (be sure the mix you choose is labeled organic, or check the list of ingredients, and avoid mixes that contain added synthetic fertilizer). To make your own potting mix, combine equal parts compost and vermiculite. For more recipes for mixes, see the Houseplants entry. For safe handling instructions for seed-starting and potting mixes, see the Container Gardening entry.

Some gardeners prefer to plant seeds directly in potting mix and eliminate transplanting. Planting in large individual pots is ideal for plants such as squash and melons that won’t grow well if their roots are disturbed.

Moisten the planting mix before you fill your containers, especially if it contains peat moss or milled sphagnum moss. Use warm water, and allow the mix time to absorb it. When you squeeze a handful of mix it should hold together and feel moist, but it shouldn’t drip.

If you’re sowing directly in flats, first line the bottom with a sheet of newspaper to keep soil from washing out. Scoop premoistened planting medium into the containers or flats, and spread it out. Tap the filled container on your work surface to settle the medium, and smooth the surface with your hand. Don’t pack it down tightly.

Sowing Seeds Space large seeds at least 1 inch apart, planting 2 or 3 seeds in each pot (snip off the weaker seedlings later). Plant medium-sized seeds ½ to 1 inch apart, and tiny ones about ½ inch apart. If you’re sowing only a few seeds, use your fingertips or tweezers to place them precisely. To sprinkle seeds evenly, try one of these methods:
Take a pinch of seeds between your thumb and forefinger and slowly rotate thumb against finger—try to release the seeds gradually while moving your hand over the container.
Scatter seeds from a spoon.
Sow seeds directly from the corner of the packet by tapping the packet gently to make the seeds drop out one by one.
Mix fine seeds with dry sand, and scatter the mixture from a saltshaker.

To sow seeds in tiny furrows or rows, just make shallow ¼- to ½-inch-deep depressions in the soil with a plant label or an old pencil. Space the seeds along the bottom of the furrow.

Cover the seeds to a depth of three times their thickness by carefully sprinkling them with light, dry potting soil or seed-starting medium. Don’t cover seeds that need light to germinate (check the seed packet for special germination requirements). Instead, gently pat the surface of the mix so the seeds and mix have good contact.

Write a label for each kind of seed you plant and put it in the flat or pot as soon as the seeds are planted, before any mix-ups occur.

Set the flats or pots in shallow containers of water and let them soak until the surface of the planting medium looks moist. Or you can gently mist the mix. If you water from the top, use a watering can with a rose nozzle to get a gentle stream that won’t wash the seeds out of place.

Cover the container, using clear plastic or a floating row cover for seeds that need light, or black plastic, damp newspaper, or burlap for those that prefer the dark.

Finally, put the containers of planted seeds in a warm place where you can check them daily. Unless the seeds need light to germinate, you can save space the first few days by stacking flats. Just be sure the bottom of a flat doesn’t actually rest on the planting mix of the flat below. Check the flats daily; unstack as soon as the seeds start to sprout. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. As soon as you notice sprouts nudging above the soil surface, expose the flat to light.

Sowing Timetable To plan the best time to start seedlings indoors in spring, you need to know the approximate date of the average last spring frost in your area. Count back from that date the number of weeks indicated below to determine the appropriate starting date for various crops. An asterisk (*) indicates a cold-hardy plant that can be set out 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost.
12 to 14 weeks: onions*, leeks*, chives*, pansies*, impatiens, and coleus
8 to 12 weeks: peppers, lettuce*, cabbage-family crops*, petunias, snapdragons*, alyssum*, and other hardy annual flowers
6 to 8 weeks: eggplants, tomatoes
5 to 6 weeks: zinnias, cockscombs (Celosia spp.), marigolds, other tender annuals
2 to 4 weeks: cucumbers, melons, okra, pumpkins, squash

Source URL: http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/starting-seeds-indoors

Links: [1] http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/14-tips-starting-your-own-seeds 

14 Tips for Starting Your Own Seeds
Ensure that your plants are organic from start to finish by starting your own seeds.

Start your own seeds and you can be sure that your plants have been raised organically from first to last. And by sprouting and nursing your own seedlings, you don't have to wait for warm weather to get your hands dirty. Best of all, starting your own seeds is easy and fun. Here's how to get started now:

Place sure bets
Some plants lend themselves to home germination better than others. Surefire vegetables include basil, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chives, leeks, lettuce, onions, peppers, and tomatoes. Some reliable annual flowers are alyssum, cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias. Perennials include Shasta daisies, columbines, and hollyhocks.

Get the timing down
To calculate when to sow your seeds, go to our seed-starting chart, print it out and then fill in the blanks. Then you will have a planting plan you can follow through the season.

Gather containers
Reuse last year's nursery flats if you have some around. Otherwise, any container 2 or 3 inches deep will do. Punch holes for drainage into the bottom of containers and set them into trays. Protect against plant disease by thoroughly cleaning all used containers: Wash them in hot, soapy water, and rinse with a dilute solution of household bleach and water. If you want a less-irritating substitute for the bleach, use distilled white vinegar.

Pick the right growing medium
You can buy bags of seed-starter mix or you can make your own by blending equal parts of perlite, vermiculite, and peat. Add 1/4 teaspoon of lime to each gallon of mix to neutralize the acidity of the peat. You'll eventually want to repot most of your seedlings into larger containers before setting them into the garden. But lettuce, melons, and cucumbers are finicky about being transplanted and should go directly from the original containers into the garden. When starting these fussier plants, always add two parts well-aged, screened compost to your mix to give them a healthy beginning.

Sow carefully
Moisten your medium in the containers before sowing the seeds. Next, drop seeds onto the surface of the mix, spacing them as evenly as possible. Cover the seeds to a depth about three times the thickness of the seeds. Some seeds, such as ageratum, alyssum, impatiens, petunias, and snapdragons, should not be covered at all because they need light in order to germinate.

Top it off
Lightly sprinkle milled sphagnum moss, a natural fungicide, over everything to protect against damping-off, a fungal disease that rots seeds and seedlings. In the case of seeds that need light to germinate, sprinkle the moss first and then drop the seeds onto the moss.

Keep seeds cozy
Cover the flats with plastic wrap or glass to keep the environment humid and place them near a heat vent or on a heat mat made especially for seed starting. Most seeds germinate well at about 70 degrees F.

Keep them damp
Mist with a spray bottle or set the trays into water so the mix wicks up the moisture from below.

Lighten up
At the first signs of sprouting, uncover and move the containers to a bright spot—a sunny window, a greenhouse, or beneath a couple of ordinary fluorescent shop lights (4-footers with two 40-watt bulbs). The lights are worthwhile, especially if you live in the North. They provide a steady source of high-intensity light. Short days restrict window light, and your seedlings need 12 to 16 hours of light a day. Suspend the lights just 2 inches above the plants and gradually raise them as the seedlings mature. If plants have to stretch or lean toward the light, they can become weak and spindly. To turn the lights on and off at the same time each day, hook them up to an electric timer.

Cool down
Seedlings don't have to stay as warm as germinating seeds. Move them away from radiators and air vents, or off the heating mat, as soon they have germinated.

Feed them
If youre using a soilless mix without compost, begin to fertilize your seedlings as soon as they get their first true leaves. (These leaves emerge after the little, round cotyledon leaves.) Water with a half-strength solution of liquid fish/seaweed fertilizer every week or two. Use either a spray bottle or add the fertilizer to the water you set the trays in if you're using the wick-up method described above.

Give them room
If the seedlings outgrow their containers or crowd one another, repot them into larger containers filled with a mix that includes compost. Extract the seedlings with a narrow fork or flat stick, and handle by their leaves and roots to avoid damaging the fragile stems. Tuck the seedlings gently into the new pots, and water them to settle the roots.

Pet them
Lightly ruffling seedlings once or twice a day with your hand or a piece of cardboard helps them to grow stocky and strong. Or, set up a small fan to gently, continuously blow on your seedlings.

Toughen them up
About 1 week before the plants are to go outside, start acclimating them to the harsh conditions of the big world. Gardeners call this hardening off. On a warm spring day move the containers to a shaded, protected place, such as a porch, for a few hours. Each day—unless the weather is horrible—gradually increase the plants exposure to sun and breeze. At the end of the week leave them out overnight; then transplant them into the garden.

[2] http://www.organicgardening.com/paperpots 

It's easy to make your own biodegradable seedling pots. Simply spread open a standard sheet of black-and-white newspaper, then lay a 1¼ -inch-diameter dowel along one edge of the paper. Roll the paper and dowel one turn, then dab a small amount of flour-and-water paste on the rolled portion of the paper.

Continue to roll the dowel to within 3 inches of the end of the paper, then apply more paste in a zigzag pattern to this remaining area and finish rolling. Remove the dowel and allow the paper to dry overnight. The next day, when the paper is dry, cut the tube into 3-inch lengths.

When you're ready to start sowing, stand the open-ended cylinders upright inside a planting tray or flat, fill each with seed-starting mix, then plant your seeds. When it's time to transplant, place the pots right in the garden—the paper will decompose. (Be sure to cover the entire paper pot with soil so that the paper doesn't act as a wick, drawing moisture away from the seedling roots.)

[3] Hines Farm Red Oak Paper Pot Makers

DEC 8, 2011
Hines Farm Red Oak Paper Pot Makers

Larger Photo - Three freshly lathe turned paper pot makers made from salvaged red oak. Pots, 2" in diameter x 3" high are easily made from 1/4 sheets of newspaper, folded into 1/3's and wrapped around the 2" oak pot makers.

Larger Photo - "45 Pots made from Sunday Newspaper did not put a dent in it!" Paper Pots, with plant can be incorporated in the soil at planting time and will become compost in the soil. Good way to recycle in a very local, value added way.

I plan on turning some various size Garden Dibbles for use with these Paper Pot to make planting a breeze...

Example Garden Dibble

Related Links: http://hines.blogspot.com/2012/02/seed-starting-simplified.html


Bulk Vegetable Seeds said...

Great post.Thanks for sharing such a useful information with us.

Unknown said...

Great information. I just put up a coupld posts on seed starting indoors. Good luck with your garden this year!