Howdy! Since the time of the year for getting your indoor starts has come, I figured I would post this rather detailed and excellent (yes, I say so myself) guide on how to get ‘er done.
If you are feeling the provident living zeitgeist that is spreading across much of the planet, you are probably intending to plant a vegetable garden when spring rolls around. If so, congratulations! With little effort and care, you will enjoy many fruits of your labors and will find yourself feeling connected to this great earth.
Now, if you are one of the more enterprising types, you might be considering starting your vegetable seeds indoors, rather than waiting and buying the starts at a nursery or DIY store. This is a great idea! If this is your first time starting your own seeds indoors, read on for some pro tips.
Before you can plant your seeds, you need to gather your materials. Of course, seeds are a crucial material, so you will want to get an idea of what you are going to plant. When you know what tasty delights you intend to nurture, you can go to your local nursery or garden store and buy the seed packets. Alternatively, you can order your seeds from one of the myriad seed websites.
For those who would like to explore the world of heirloom seeds, you are best served by heading online and tracking down a good website. Try Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds as a starting point. You will want to get a jump on your seed ordering so that you don’t find that your favorites are out of stock, so start shopping by the middle of February.
In addition to seeds, you will need some good, reliable potting soil. For best results, get some organic soil and mix it with some fully decomposed compost. You can do this in any five-gallon bucket. Make sure your bucket has a lid and you have a great way to store your potting soil!
Next, you will need something to plant the seeds in. You can find those small planting flats at nurseries and garden centers. If you want to cut costs, you can start your seeds in cardpaper egg cartons. Be sure to poke a hole in the bottom of each space for drainage if you go with the egg carton. Also, egg cartons make it easier to transplant your seedlings into larger pots. Simply water well, let the moisture get soaked into the egg carton completely, then peel off the paper.
You also need some larger (not big though!) pots. For the frugal, sour cream, cottage cheese and yogurt containers are perfect for this. If you prefer to buy your larger pots, look for 2-3 inch sized pots. If you use recycled pots, be sure to poke a couple of holes in the bottom for drainage. Truth be told, 16 oz plastic cups work really well for this type of pot.
Water catchers (yes, that is the technical term…) are vital if you don’t want to make a huge mess each time you water. You can use the sour cream/cottage cheese/yogurt lids for this if you like. You can also wash off the flat styrofoam plates that your grocery meat comes on. Those work very well. Aside from those, you might go buy some water catching trays from the local nursery.
Lastly, find a sunny window! Your starts will love it if they can get at least 4 hours of sun each day.
So here’s your list of materials:
3. Small starter pots
4. Larger (but not big!) intermediate pots
5. Water catchers
6. 4 hours of sun each day
Now let’s discuss the procedure for getting your seeds to grow, transplanting seedlings, and getting those young plants into the ground.
In general, if you put a seed in dirt, water it, and let it get some sun, it will grow. You can expect this to happen nearly every time. Your major concern should be to water the young plant properly. So as a rule, keep the dirt moist but not soaked while you wait to see those tender green shoots break through the soil.
One question is whether you should plant more than one seed per small pot. You can do this, but expect to have to separate two or more lovely seedlings when transplanting time comes.
Once the seedlings have broken through, keep the soil moist, but not as much! When your seedlings are about 1/2 inch tall, allow the dirt to dry out a little between waterings. This promotes strong roots.
When your seedlings are a couple of inches tall, it is time to transplant them into bigger pots so that they can get bigger. Before removing the seedlings, fill your intermediate pots with dirt, pack it somewhat tightly, then hollow out a space for you to insert the seedlings’ roots. You will also be planting the seedlings a little deeper than where the roots meet the stem. In fact, you should plan on burying that seedling up to very near the bottom-most leaves. This promotes a strong stem.
Now, if you used egg cartons for your seedlings, you can do what was described above to remove the seedlings with their root and dirt back from the cartons.
Otherwise, to remove the seedlings from the starter pots, start by squeezing the pot on every side to loosen up the packed dirt. Next, allowing the seedlings to go between your fingers when you put your hand close to the top of the dirt back, turn the pot upside down. Squeeze and wiggle until the dirt and root pack come free.
If you have two or more seedlings you want to preserve and replant, you will want to make sure the dirt is a little moist. With the dirt moist, gently work the roots of the seedlings apart. Don’t worry if you lose some small, hairy roots. As long as you keep the main, thick root intact, you should be okay.
Insert your seedlings into the prepared spaces in your intermediate pots, gently holding them straight up with one hand and using the other hand to pack the soil firmly. Water immediately and get those plants back into the sunny window.
This next step might be tough, emotionally. Don’t water. Seriously. Don’t water until that soil is nice and dry. Not bone, Sahara dry, but dry to the point that you can’t see any moisture at all. What this does is alert the plant’s roots to the need to get to work. Thus, strong roots result.
Your plants should perk up inside of 36 hours, probably earlier. Water every couple of days. If you overwater, the roots will get lazy, then die. So don’t do that.
When your plants are large enough, and the weather is agreeable enough, that you are ready to put them in the ground outside, you need to harden them off. This involves placing the plants outside for an hour or so on the first day, during the warm time of the day. The next day you can place them outside for two hours.
And so on. In just over a week, your plants will be hardened off. If you timed it correctly, of course. Don’t put them out during a cold spell!
With your plants hardened off, you are ready to put those indoor starts in the ground. Good luck!