Starting with a Seed
If this is your first garden or you gardened last season but are looking for some advice or improvements to your previously tried methods, the tips in this article are for you.
You can buy your plants at any of the many nursery stores, or you can get adventuresome and grow your own. I do both. Some plants I like to buy, like my peppers that are a bit temperamental if you injure the stem or root while transplanting. Peppers also need warmth to germinate, so that means soil that consistently is more than 70 degrees, but not much warmer, as they will burn up. So, buying a warming mat is the best option to assure successful germination in Georgia. I prefer to leave this plant to the experts, so I routinely buy my pepper plants.
Tomatoes germinate easily, as well as cucumbers, chard, zucchini, melon, and a few others, so I start them from seeds. Although I must confess, I cannot pass up a healthy tomato plant at the nursery, so I also buy some.
Another issue with buying plants is the available selection. Naturally, you can buy only what they stock, which can become rather pedestrian year-after-year. Those of us who get excited reading a seed catalog know how tempting it is to try the newest versions of produce that is a bit more interesting. Of course, you could sow your seeds directly in the ground. Some seeds/plants do great with that process, but I promise you that can become like watching a pot of water boil! But to each their own!
Following are six basic rules regarding seed starting.
- Rule Number One: Don’t use your garden soil to germinate seeds. Use a potting mix that is light and fluffy and already nutrient enhanced. Pour your soil in a tub and add water until it feels like a crumbly mix that you could almost make a ball from, but not any wetter. Then you can use potting trays, egg cartons, yogurt cartons, or any vessel that will hold soil and water to plant your seeds. The other option is to buy the Peet Pellets that are compressed blocks of soil. I got 200 for $16 on Amazon. You soak the pellet in water, it explodes in size, and you plant your seed. Plus, you don’t have to transplant the seed. You plant the pellet directly in the dirt, and it decomposes. This is my favorite process. These pellets come in several sizes to accommodate larger plants. I have attached a before and after picture of the small version. As you can see from the photo on the right, it is very compact and not messy at all.
- Rule Number Two: Don’t plant your seeds too deep. Yes, you bought that fluffy potting mix, but planting the seed too deep makes the plant work too hard to break the surface. Take a pencil head, push down into the soil only about 2X the size of the seed, and drop in a couple of seeds. Brush the soil back over the hole and you are done. The reason you plant a couple of seeds is that usually, all seeds don’t germinate. If they all germinate, then gently transplant one to another pod.
- Rule Number Three: Don’t forget to label your potting vessel with the kind of seed and the date you started the germination. Most seeds look very similar when they first emerge. It’s always good to know what you are planting so you know when you started the seeds and how deep to plant. You want to record the date because this will tell you how well they are germinating. Most seeds will germinate in two-to-five days and pop through the soil shortly after that. Typically, you are ready to plant in five or six weeks. It’s important to know which seeds to start early. Those that are frost tolerant like lettuce, greens, onions, sugar snap peas, potatoes, carrots, and turnips, all can be planted weeks before the last frost. Plants like tomatoes, peppers, basil, and cucumbers need to wait until after the last frost to enter the ground. It is important to harden the plants by setting them out in the sun once they are close to planting. On warm, sunny days, just set them out on your patio, but bring them in before the evening temperature drops.
- Rule Number Four: Be certain not to over water. Always water from the bottom, let the pot absorb the water, and then dump the remaining water out of the pan. Water again when the color of the top soil looks and feels dry. Whatever vessel I choose, I make certain it has holes in the bottom for this very reason.
- Rule Number Five: Make certain the plants are getting 12-to-16 hours of direct overhead light. They will stretch for the light and then become leggy if they aren’t getting enough. I use a grow light that I got from Amazon for $20. It has a self-timer that comes on and goes off at the same time every day.
- Rule Number Six: Don’t give up too early. This may seem like a bit of work, but it is well worth the efforts. You may spend $4 to $5 for one plant at some of the local nurseries. You will spend $1 to $5 for a packet of 10-500 seeds in a packet depending on the plant choice. Yes, getting started takes a few dollars, but the result truly is a money saver if you are diligent.
These are just a few of the simple rules. Stop by the Farm and chat with some of the farmers who have seed trays basking in the sun. We always are willing to share our treasured farming secrets.
A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them
-Liberty Hyde Bailey
Farmer Kevin examines some of his plants that seem to be thriving.