How to Start Seeds Indoors
Planting seeds indoors in the mid-winter time-frame has become an annual event for me and it is the only relief I have from the miserably long, retched cold winter. The only issue I ever have with this endeavor is I end up planting more seeds than I have places to put them in the spring and summer. In the past I have given away about half of what I grow. I guess it works out, because if anything ever happened to the plants, I have plenty of backup.
How to Start Seeds Indoors
This post is more of a “How to Start Seeds Indoors” post and has a very detailed (and long) YouTube video to go with this post that is at the bottom of this page.
I have included photos of the Seed Starter Mini-Greenhouse in the pictures titled The Tray Front and The Tray Back. I bought these the other day at Walmart for $4.47. These trays can be used year after year if you are gentle with them and I have some trays that I have been using for several years now. The reason I’m not using them this year: See the picture up above labeled “No Digging Out Here”. My old trays are in the shed in the back of the yard and I can not get into the shed right now due to snow. The picture below shows what you get in the seed starter kit if you buy one like I have.
How to Start Seeds Indoors
The kit includes a 72 cell tray, a greenhouse top, and a waterproof bottom tray so water doesn’t leak out all over when you water your seeds.
The tray sits in the waterproof bottom, as shown in the picture titled “The Tray”. The 72 cell tray has two holes in each cell as depicted in the picture titled “Holes for Drainage”. As the name of the picture states, these holes are for drainage of the cells, so the roots of the plants don’t set in submerged water for a period of time. Just make sure you empty the water proof tray from time to time if you do overwater a little.
If the roots do sit in standing water for more than an hour or two, it could very well cause the plants roots to start to rot. Some plants can do ok with standing water, but most do not like it at all.
How to Start Seeds Indoors – Sanitize
If you are going to re-use previous years trays, you need to sanitize them. According to the Penn State EXTENSION Philadelphia Master Gardeners, you should use a 1:9 ratio of unscented bleach to water to soak and wash your trays and then rinse them well. This will kill any pathogens and unwanted nasties that may be left from last years plants.
Putting the Soil Together
One of the things you will want to do to have the best luck with your seeds is to put good soil together.
I have used a mix for three years now and it has done wonderfully for me. I use 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 garden or potting soil and 1/3 garden soil with manure mixed in. What I used this year is shown in the picture “The Ingredients”. I use the cup shown in the picture titled “Garden Soil and Vermiculite” and use equal amounts and dump it into a 5-gallon bucket. Then I reach my hand in and manually mix the soil together until it is even all the way through.
The vermiculite lets the soil drain more easily, the garden/potting soil is the base and the garden soil with manure adds a little boost to the plants once they get their roots going. I prefer to use all organic products, but sometimes I can not find what I want at this time of year. If I could find good quality compost, I’d substitute the soil/manure compost for that.
Label and Document
Now that you have the soil ready to go and the trays ready to go, BEFORE we put any soil in the tray we need to label and document.
As you can see in the picture titled “Cells 1-1”, I use a sharpie to label the trays. I do this in each corner of the tray. I put ‘tray# – row#’ on the corners. Each tray will have a different number. This was my first tray, so it is tray 1. My second tray would be tray 2 and so on. As I’m looking at the tray, the left lower and upper corner is always row 1. As I’m looking at the tray, the right lower and upper corner is always row 12.
So on the first tray I have 1-1 on the left lower and upper corner and I have 1-12 on the the right lower and upper corner.
The second tray I do will have 2-1 on the left lower and upper corner and I have 2-12 on the the right lower and upper corner. The YouTube video shows this a little better than I described it.
How to Start Seeds Indoors – Notes
This will allow me to document what plant is in each row and allow me to keep very good notes about what is where, when it sprouted, and if I have any other things I want to note. I document as shown below in the picture titled “The List”
As you can see in the picture, today I planted:
1-1 Afghani Sesame
1-2 Leek, American flag
1-8 Velvet Mesquite – Front 3 – Just planted, Back 3 – scarify with sand paper.
In row 1-8 I have Velvet Mesquite. In the front 3 cells I just planted the seeds and in the back 3 cells I scarified the seeds with sand paper. The directions for these seeds say they have better germination with scarification, so I did an experiment and tried both ways in one row and will know the results because the experiment is well documented.
Putting Soil in the Cells
Now that labeling and documentation is done, we can fill the cells with the soil we previously made. I use the cup shown in the picture above to put soil on top of the cells. Then I push the soil into the cells with my fingers. I do not cram the soil in with force, but rather gently press the soil into the cells.
Now that the cells have soil in them, we can start planting. The seeds planted today are shown in the picture titled “Today’s Seeds”.
As you can see, I have purchased seeds from Baker Creek, Restoration Seeds, Terroir Seeds, and Adaptive Seeds. The seeds in the yellow envelope are seeds that I traded a person at a training class for. The seeds in the sandwich bags are seeds that I saved from my garden a few years ago.
I follow the directions on the package, if there are directions. Some seeds call for 1/4 inch depth and others call for being sown on the surface because they require light to germinate. If I run across seeds that don’t have directions, generally the guidance is to plant them to as deep as the seeds are big. So a 1/4 inch seed should be planted 1/4 inch deep. Or you could look it up on the internet, as a Google search will give you just about any answer you search for.
When planting to 1/4 inch or any other depth, I use a pencil point to make the hole and estimate the depth of the hole, drop a seed or two in, and then cover it up, pressing slightly while covering.
Watering and Covering
Once all of the seeds are planted, it is time to water them. Do not just pour water on top of the soil. This could cause the seeds to move and mix with other seeds and could cause something called dampening off. The safest way to water indoor plants as they are starting out is to do it from the bottom. If you put the plant trays in water, the soil will wick the water up from the bottom. You will know that it has enough water when the top of the soil looks wet and almost forms a puddle.
How to Start Seeds Indoors
I use an extra water proof tray and fill it with water and set the plant trays in them. This is depicted in the picture titled “Watering the Seeds”. After the water has wicked up, usually about 30 seconds, I take the plant tray and put it in the sink for a few minutes to drain off the excess water. Then I move the plant tray back to it’s original water proof tray.
After the trays have been watered I use the ‘Green house’ top to cover the plants. The ‘Green house’ top is the clear plastic lid that came with your plant tray. This is depicted in the picture called “Greenhouse Effect”. This top will keep the humidity up where the plants are and act kind of like a greenhouse. Most houses up north have very low humidity due to furnaces and other heating mechanisms. The water in the soil will evaporate rather quickly in the dry air.
I only keep the lid on my plants for about a week or so. Once the plants start germinating I remove the lid so the plants get better light and so it doesn’t get overly humid in there. The lid will get condensation on it and will diffuse the light. I want the plants to get 100% of the available light once they have sprouted. I also do not like to keep the humidity extremely high once the plants have sprouted as this can cause mold and other issues with the young plants.
Timers and Lights
Even though I love messing around with the plants, I don’t want to be a slave to the plants with extra work.
So to automate things a little I use a timer with my grow lights. I just use a simple timer shown the the picture titled “Timer”. I set the timer to come on around 6AM and let it run until around 10PM.
I then plug an extension cord into the timer and plug the lights into the extension cord.
I have four florescent shop lights that are 4-feet long. Each holds two florescent bulbs. I special ordered full spectrum grow lights from Amazon. They cost a good bit more but offer better light for the plants. I only plug the lights in when I need them. As seen in the photo “How to Start Seeds Indoors”, I only have two trays on the table at the moment, so I only need one light. As we enter spring, I will plant more seeds and will need to plug more lights in.
The grow lights have hooks on them that connect to chains. I can move the grow lights up or down on the chains as needed. I want the lights to be as close to the plants as possible without touching them. I also need them high enough to put light on the entire tray below them, which usually requires them to be at least a foot above the tallest plant.
I will end up watering the plants about once a week when they are just sprouting up and will have to water them several times a week as they get larger and drink more.
YouTube on How to Start Seeds Indoors
Please watch the YouTube video titled “How to Start Seeds Indoors” for more details on this project.
The above YouTube video titled “How to Start Seeds Indoors” covers everything I did today related my planting seeds for the first time in 2016.
Now just sit back, relax, and think about the wonderful garden you will have this year.
Don’t forget to check read the article about Hardening Off Plants. If you just move them outside and plant them in one fell swoop, you will kill them all! There is a process called hardening off that slowly acclimates the plants to the outside temperature swings and strong sunshine. I’ll post an article on this subject probably in the mid to late April time frame.
While most of these plants are annuals and perennials and will not be sold at Great Escape Nursery, please check that site out, as we will have bushes and shrubs for sale there.
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For an update to this post, please see Seed Starting Indoors – Little Improvements
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