Starting plants from seed can be tricky and while sometimes daunting, putting in that extra effort and care is well worthwhile and produces endless rewards.
There are few things in this world I believe to be more important for the well being of our future as humans than preserving seed diversity – particularly of the plants we eat. Also, as a chef, home cook and new mother I also find it pretty awesome that I get to choose the flavor, nutritional value and beauty of the produce growing on my small little patch of land that will ultimately end up on my family’s and client’s plates.
Like so many things in life a lot of practice and some failure are part of the process. Every success will bring more best practices and sometimes some of your little plant babies won’t make it, and while it will be disappointing, it will teach you better systems for the following year. I recommend taking notes of what works and what doesn’t. Each year you will sure to be inspired by the little seedlings that pop up and grow into magical plants and hopefully a bountiful harvest.
The following instructions more or less are the same for anywhere, but I live in a Southern California coastal region with relatively mild weather. If you live in a place with more extreme weather you will have to take more care, particularly with choosing when to start your seeds. Refer to your seed packet for information on germination rates and timing as far as starting each plant variety.
Here is a step-by-step guide to starting your veggies from seed:
- Choose a good planting medium
- You can plant seeds in any kind of soil you want and some will grow, but in order to set you and your plants up for success it is reccomended that you choose a special medium that is appropriate for the delicate nature of seeds
- Look for a soil/medium mix that is fine and uniform in texture. It should be well aerated and loose. Ideally, the mixture will drain well while also holding moisture.
- You can purchase a high quality seed starting mix at your favorite nursery, or you can make your own. If you would like to do the latter, the Master Gardener Handbook offers a recipe combining 1/3 sterilized sand, 1/3 vermiculite or perlite and 1/3 Pete moss.
- Choosing Planting Containers
- It is important to choose containers that are heat resistant and be sure you sterilize before planting if you are working with recycled materials. For example, I will often save the old six packs from annuals or other plants I purchase or will also save recyclable food items such as clam shells or yogurt containers.
- This is a great way to double (or triple) use some of that annoying packaging that we are all trying to cut down on. Just be sure to rinse them out first with a 1 to 9 solution of bleach and water before adding your planting medium.
- You can also buy special seed starting trays online or at your local nursery, which can be reused year after year. These work well also, but be sure to sterilize between years. I have experienced first hand skipping this step and regretting it, so just do it.
- Fill container 3/4 full with moistened planting medium
- Use a spoon or something similar to place 3 seeds per container or planting cell on top of medium
- Gently add more planting medium on top of seeds. The general rule is to cover seeds with soil 2-4 times the diameter of seed
Be sure to keep containers moist – this is very important. They should never be soaked nor should they be dry for too long. I have found the most success keeping these conditions consistent by keeping my containers on a cooking sheet tray and slowly adding water to the tray so the containers soak up the water from the bottom up. Additionally, I always keep a spray bottle with water nearby my plant babies and make sure to mist the tops any time it looks like they are drying out.
Keep plant babies indoors if possible in a bright/sunny south facing location (when possible) making sure the high and low temperatures are not too extreme. Another positive advantage to keeping your containers on a tray is that you can easily move around your containers if conditions change throughout the day in one place and you find they will be happier somewhere else at night, for example.
You can refer again to the seed packet to figure out how long you can expect to wait for your seedlings to emerge, but be patient. Sometimes it can take longer than expected.
As always, I am happy to answer any questions or offer more details. I also reccomend looking for a seed starting workshops offered by local Master Gardeners or see if there is a Victory Gardening workshop being offered near you.
Happy seed starting!