Starting Plants From Seeds – Tips To Ensure Success

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Phil: Welcome to my bedroom.

If you haven’t picked up my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the home page of Smilinggardener.com.

Today we’re talking about starting plants from seeds. I like going right into something like this that has the trays and then you can grow the plants individually and then you pull them right out of here and put them into the garden.

So this has holes in it for drainage, then I can plop it into this guy which doesn’t have holes in it, and that can capture the water – so that’s how that works!

In terms of what kind of potting mix you use if you get a conventional potting mix it’s usually going to have chemicals or fertilizers in it, or peat moss in it. 

Now chemical fertilizers, I’m not really a big fan of for a number of reasons. The peat moss I’m not a huge fan of, it’s something that basically is not that sustainable – we should be leaving those peat bogs where they are. 

They have a really important role to play in our ecosystem. That being said, it can be beneficial in seed starting there’s even research showing that if you don’t have peat moss in there the process doesn’t work quite as well, it still has always worked okay for me.

So I’m not really sure what to say about that. I don’t tend to use peat moss, but a little bit maybe is okay. Can I leave it at that for now? Because I want to keep the video short.

What I recommend most people do is go and buy an organic potting mix, a seed starting mix or a potting mix that’s OMRI listed – that means you know it’s organic. It probably is going to have peat moss in there, it’s going to have some compost in there. 

Maybe a bit of lime, but that’s something that’s really easy to get going with. If you have a really nice big window you can just put your seeds right there.

They really need at least eight hour of sun a day, and what I always find is even if I have a nice big window it can be difficult to get enough sun because your overhang of your roof and the walls block some of that sun from coming in.

And what happens is the plants can start leaning to the sun and get kind of lanky. So what you have to do in that case is turn the plants regularly. That’s kind of unnatural actually to have to be turned like that all the time but that’s what you need to do.

On the other hand what I like to do is have a little bit of supplemental lighting. So here is a fluorescent light – it’s in the six thousand calvin range so look for that when you’re buying it. 

I’ll turn it on so you can see it, and what I do is I have it propped up about four to six inches above wherever my plants are. So occasionally I need to raise it up a bit.

And I just put it on top of whatever I have, today I have it on top of my book. That’s usually where it kind of starts out at. And I just set it there like that.

What I do is I’ll just leave this on for twelve to fourteen hours a day so then the plants are getting a lot more light and they can grow more efficiently, they’re going to grow straight up instead of pointing out towards the window.

I still often put it by a window anyway, I don’t know why I kind of like having that natural light there. Now the other thing we can do to really improve this process is to have a heat matt to provide some heat because a lot of these plants really want to have nice warm soil and you know, we want things to happen fairly quickly.

And so that’s where a heat matt comes in – it plugs right into the wall, you set it right under the tray just like this, and you’ve got our heat!

Seeds can take a while to get germinating and get going and we really want to help them along with that process so what I do is I soak them for six to twelve hours. That’s why I have them sitting in this bowl instead of in a seed packet.

So there’s a couple of reasons we do this. One is just having them in water is going to get them nice and full of water of course they need water to get germinating and so it really helps them kind of swell up and get going, it really starts that germination process.

The other reason is the water allows me to coat them in some other things that I’ve talked about before. Liquid kelp which has lots of different minerals and natural growth hormones that really help that germination process along. 

So it’s a main one that is often used in soaking seeds. It should say on the label hopefully, but just half a teaspoon per five hundred milliliters of water. The same amount of sea minerals, which is full of minerals and other bioactive substances and you could use either of these or you could use both of them. 

Now I’m starting something that I’ve never bothered starting before and that is corn, and that’s kind of a weird thing to start because you can just put corn out there and it works fine. But I just kind of wanted to see what happens when you start corn so I thought I’m going to start corn today.

The next thing I do once I’ve poured that off is I take my mycorrizzhal fungi, because corn LOVES these mycorrizzhal fungi and I just sprinkle on the tiniest little bit over the seeds.

Ta Da! I have some potting mix in here now. And I actually have a good tip for you, after you get your potting mix in there then you can water in it before you’ve done your seeding and it’s just a little bit easier to get things wet before hand I find.

When I do that, you know, I put my biostimulants and my EM in there as well, it’s just a habit of mine whenever I’m watering something like this – I’m using those biostimulants. 

Often when you do something like this it make sense to seed two seeds into each spot and then what happens is when they come up you can basically cut out the weakest seedling that means you’re always selecting for a stronger seedling.

So in this case since I’m planting corn and since they’re so big and since I know they’re going to germinate pretty well, or I HOPE they’re going to germinate pretty well I’m only going to plant one. 

Do you guys think it’s kind of weird to start corn from seed? I think it’s kind of weird to start corn from seed, but it’s also really fun to try stuff like this. Who knows what will happen??

Here’s how we do it…go like that…and just make sure it’s covered! Some seeds will come up in a few days, some will take a couple of weeks. A lot of the vegetable seeds we do will take less than a week.

You want to keep it moist in there and until they’ve germinated an easy way to do that without really aggravating the seeds with the watering can is to use a spray bottle. 

Once I’m done seeding I’ll put this on top to keep the moisture in there, and then once those have germinated and come up I’m going to want to take that off or at least remove it partly to get some more air circulation going on in there.

Then eventually I’ll take it right off. Through the magic of time travel we now have corn! It’s actually been about a week and things are looking really good and there’s only problem is that I’m heading out of town tomorrow for three weeks, so I have to plant this corn today!

Ideally what I would want to do is let in be in here for probably another week or so to establish a stronger root system, but I can’t do that so we’ll see how well it works but at least we have a nice example here of starting from seed.

If you have any questions about starting plans from seeds you can ask them down below and I will answer. If you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course you can do that down below, you can also join me and my sister, haley over on Facebook.com/smilinggardener

Phil: Welcome to my bedroom.

If you haven’t picked up my free online organic gardening course you can do that right on the home page of Smilinggardener.com.

Today we’re talking about starting plants from seeds. I like going right into something like this that has the trays and then you can grow the plants individually and then you pull them right out of here and put them into the garden.

So this has holes in it for drainage, then I can plop it into this guy which doesn’t have holes in it, and that can capture the water – so that’s how that works!

In terms of what kind of potting mix you use if you get a conventional potting mix it’s usually going to have chemicals or fertilizers in it, or peat moss in it. 

Now chemical fertilizers, I’m not really a big fan of for a number of reasons. The peat moss I’m not a huge fan of, it’s something that basically is not that sustainable – we should be leaving those peat bogs where they are. 

They have a really important role to play in our ecosystem. That being said, it can be beneficial in seed starting there’s even research showing that if you don’t have peat moss in there the process doesn’t work quite as well, it still has always worked okay for me.

So I’m not really sure what to say about that. I don’t tend to use peat moss, but a little bit maybe is okay. Can I leave it at that for now? Because I want to keep the video short.

What I recommend most people do is go and buy an organic potting mix, a seed starting mix or a potting mix that’s OMRI listed – that means you know it’s organic. It probably is going to have peat moss in there, it’s going to have some compost in there. 

Maybe a bit of lime, but that’s something that’s really easy to get going with. If you have a really nice big window you can just put your seeds right there.

They really need at least eight hour of sun a day, and what I always find is even if I have a nice big window it can be difficult to get enough sun because your overhang of your roof and the walls block some of that sun from coming in.

And what happens is the plants can start leaning to the sun and get kind of lanky. So what you have to do in that case is turn the plants regularly. That’s kind of unnatural actually to have to be turned like that all the time but that’s what you need to do.

On the other hand what I like to do is have a little bit of supplemental lighting. So here is a fluorescent light – it’s in the six thousand calvin range so look for that when you’re buying it. 

I’ll turn it on so you can see it, and what I do is I have it propped up about four to six inches above wherever my plants are. So occasionally I need to raise it up a bit.

And I just put it on top of whatever I have, today I have it on top of my book. That’s usually where it kind of starts out at. And I just set it there like that.

What I do is I’ll just leave this on for twelve to fourteen hours a day so then the plants are getting a lot more light and they can grow more efficiently, they’re going to grow straight up instead of pointing out towards the window.

I still often put it by a window anyway, I don’t know why I kind of like having that natural light there. Now the other thing we can do to really improve this process is to have a heat matt to provide some heat because a lot of these plants really want to have nice warm soil and you know, we want things to happen fairly quickly.

And so that’s where a heat matt comes in – it plugs right into the wall, you set it right under the tray just like this, and you’ve got our heat!

Seeds can take a while to get germinating and get going and we really want to help them along with that process so what I do is I soak them for six to twelve hours. That’s why I have them sitting in this bowl instead of in a seed packet.

So there’s a couple of reasons we do this. One is just having them in water is going to get them nice and full of water of course they need water to get germinating and so it really helps them kind of swell up and get going, it really starts that germination process.

The other reason is the water allows me to coat them in some other things that I’ve talked about before. Liquid kelp which has lots of different minerals and natural growth hormones that really help that germination process along. 

So it’s a main one that is often used in soaking seeds. It should say on the label hopefully, but just half a teaspoon per five hundred milliliters of water. The same amount of sea minerals, which is full of minerals and other bioactive substances and you could use either of these or you could use both of them. 

Now I’m starting something that I’ve never bothered starting before and that is corn, and that’s kind of a weird thing to start because you can just put corn out there and it works fine. But I just kind of wanted to see what happens when you start corn so I thought I’m going to start corn today.

The next thing I do once I’ve poured that off is I take my mycorrizzhal fungi, because corn LOVES these mycorrizzhal fungi and I just sprinkle on the tiniest little bit over the seeds.

Ta Da! I have some potting mix in here now. And I actually have a good tip for you, after you get your potting mix in there then you can water in it before you’ve done your seeding and it’s just a little bit easier to get things wet before hand I find.

When I do that, you know, I put my biostimulants and my EM in there as well, it’s just a habit of mine whenever I’m watering something like this – I’m using those biostimulants. 

Often when you do something like this it make sense to seed two seeds into each spot and then what happens is when they come up you can basically cut out the weakest seedling that means you’re always selecting for a stronger seedling.

So in this case since I’m planting corn and since they’re so big and since I know they’re going to germinate pretty well, or I HOPE they’re going to germinate pretty well I’m only going to plant one. 

Do you guys think it’s kind of weird to start corn from seed? I think it’s kind of weird to start corn from seed, but it’s also really fun to try stuff like this. Who knows what will happen??

Here’s how we do it…go like that…and just make sure it’s covered! Some seeds will come up in a few days, some will take a couple of weeks. A lot of the vegetable seeds we do will take less than a week.

You want to keep it moist in there and until they’ve germinated an easy way to do that without really aggravating the seeds with the watering can is to use a spray bottle. 

Once I’m done seeding I’ll put this on top to keep the moisture in there, and then once those have germinated and come up I’m going to want to take that off or at least remove it partly to get some more air circulation going on in there.

Then eventually I’ll take it right off. Through the magic of time travel we now have corn! It’s actually been about a week and things are looking really good and there’s only problem is that I’m heading out of town tomorrow for three weeks, so I have to plant this corn today!

Ideally what I would want to do is let in be in here for probably another week or so to establish a stronger root system, but I can’t do that so we’ll see how well it works but at least we have a nice example here of starting from seed.

If you have any questions about starting plans from seeds you can ask them down below and I will answer. If you haven’t signed up for my free online organic gardening course you can do that down below, you can also join me and my sister, haley over on Facebook.com/smilinggardener

Note: I’ve now started selling the organic fertilizers and microbial inoculants mentioned in this post. You can read more about that here.

You can get the jump on spring by starting plants from seeds.

Some plants pretty much need this, especially heat-loving plants like tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers being planted into cooler climates.

A few others such as carrots and squash really dislike being transplanted, so it’s best to directly sow them in the garden when the time is right.

For the rest, it’s up to you whether you’d like to get a head start by starting seeds indoors. Starting Plants From SeedsI actually have a couple of trays going right now in order to test the germination of some of my saved seeds and to test some new seed sources of perennial greens I’m going to be growing. I’ll harvest all of these next month and then start seeds again for the garden.

It’s best to start most vegetable seeds 4-8 weeks before your last frost date in the spring, which you can look up here for U.S. cities and here for Canadian cities, or you can search online for your city/country.

The last frost date in Toronto, Ontario is May 9, while the date in San Antonio, Texas is Feb 28.

That means for many of my readers, the time to start planting seeds indoors will be somewhere between early January and early April.

And if you’re new to starting seeds, it’s great to do a practice run to get comfortable with the process, because it takes a bit of experience to get good at it.

You can also continue starting seeds indoors throughout the year, to be moved into the garden gradually as you harvest the early stuff.

Containers

For containers, I prefer multi-cell trays, rather than seeding all in one tray and separating later.

That way I can move plants directly into the garden when ready, rather than making extra work and disturbing the roots twice by potting them up, but that’s just my preference.

Put those trays into another big tray to catch water, and have a dome for placing on top to keep it nice and humid in there.

Potting Mix

Most conventional commercial potting mixes contain chemical fertilizers and a high percentage of peat.

Those chemical fertilizers can cause various problems for the health of your plants.

The peat is mined from threatened, slow-growing bog ecosystems, is very difficult to wet once dried, and holds water so tightly that roots can rot when it’s saturated.

So I don’t tend to use it much, but I also don’t mind if you use a little because it does seem to help with germination.

And for most people who want to start simple, I do recommend buying organic, chemical-free potting mixes, perhaps certified on the package by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI), most of which do still contain peat.

If you’re doing a lot of starting plants from seeds, you’ll save money by making your own. There are all sorts of recipes out there, but I keep mine simple.

I make my potting mix from approximately equal parts screened compost, course sand, and good soil. Sometimes I’ll add perlite if I feel the mix needs lightening up so it doesn’t get too compacted.

The advice is often to make a sterile mix, but I don’t do that because creating a biological void invites opportunistic organisms.

Instead, I introduce the organisms I want, both in high-quality compost and a touch of effective microorganisms.

Light And Heat

Starting Plants From Seeds

When starting plants from seeds, you’ll need a place with at least 8 hours of direct sun each day.

But that can be difficult, especially in the winter, even with south-facing windows.

Because of this, it makes a big difference to have an additional light source – simple fluorescent lights in approximately the 6000 Kelvin range, suspended 6 inches above the foliage. I leave them on for 12-14 hours a day.

In the video above, I just used one 24″ length light above one tray. In the photos on this page, you can see I have four 48″ lights above two trays, which gives more balanced light across the width of the trays.

If you’re sticking with just the original light source – the sun galloping across the winter sky – you’ll probably need to rotate your plants so they don’t incline in one direction towards the light.

Rotation is a bit unnatural for them, but it’s better than having them all permanently leaning like a dog with its head out the car window.

You’ll also benefit from supplemental heat when growing plants from seeds, especially those plants that originated in warmer climates like many of our annual vegetables, especially if your trays are sitting beside a cold window.

Soil temperature makes a huge difference for germination, so it can be worth spending a bit of money for a heat mat, but again, it’s not usually necessary.

Soaking seeds

It takes time for seeds to wake up once you plant them – anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks, depending on the species.

You can give your seeds a head start by first soaking them for 6-12 hours in a solution containing sea minerals and/or liquid kelp.

These organic fertilizers stimulate plant growth and health, and help them deal with stressors. The water activates germination.

After soaking and draining my seeds, I sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi on them, except those from the cabbage and beet families because they don’t form a mycorrhizae relationship.

How To Plant Seeds

Before planting seeds indoors, water the soil without saturating it completely.

When I’m watering, I also use my effective microorganisms, liquid kelp and/or sea minerals.

Seeds should be planted about twice as deep as the diameter of the seed, whether in the garden or in a tray.

Planting 2 seeds per cell will give you a better chance of getting something growing in each cell, and allow you to cut out the weaker seedlings once you can see which ones are doing better.

A spray bottle helps to keep the soil moist until the plants come up. You want to keep it moist until after germination, when you can let it dry out a bit between waterings.

When your plants are almost ready to go outside, you can “harden them off” by bringing them outside for a few hours during the day, gradually upping their time in the open air over several days before you set them free in the big wild world of your garden.

Do you have any questions about starting plants from seeds? Let me know below.

52 Comments

  1. John on March 8, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    Once the seeds have germinated, should the heat mat be removed and room temperature lowered? I am getting mixed messages about this from various sources.

    • Phil on March 8, 2014 at 4:39 pm

      Technically, it depends on the type of plant. Tropical plants like warmer soils, so it can be left on. For my heat mat, it’s not as though it makes the soil all that warm, so I always just leave it on the whole time.

      • David Bole on March 8, 2014 at 7:59 pm

        I have read that when seeds start sprouting to take them off the heat mat and take the dome off . Is this true ?

        • Phil on March 9, 2014 at 1:01 pm

          Definitely take the dome off to allow for air circulation, but if the plants are those that would grow in a hot environment, I leave the heat mat on.

          • David Bole on March 9, 2014 at 10:12 pm

            Tks Phil, I look forward to more of your informative articles.



  2. Sue on March 8, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    Where did you buy your light?

    • Phil on March 9, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      I bought it at my local fertilizer/hydroponics store, but you can get them online, including Amazon.

  3. Sylvia Knittel on March 9, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    Is there any benefit to using mycorrhizal fungi in container plantings? The plants in containers won’t get the benefits of a root ‘network’ – but are there other benefits?

    • Phil on March 10, 2014 at 12:44 am

      Absolutely – may even be more important in containers. Go for it!

      • Sylvia Knittel on March 10, 2014 at 12:46 am

        Thank you!

  4. howard on March 9, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Hi, I really appreciate all the valuable info you pass on to everyone. My question is what is the 6000 kelvin range on the light bulbs? Are they special plant bulbs and if so, where can I get them? Thanks again for your help.

    • Phil on March 10, 2014 at 12:48 am

      Search for T5 fluorescent lights. Amazon has them, as do many other online shops, and local hydroponics shops.

  5. gbg on March 10, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Most of the vegetable plants in my garden grow in raised containers (4′ x 5′). Does this reduce the microbial activity? (There are no earthworms in the soil.)Thanks for all you useful information.

    • Phil on March 11, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      If the soil was brought in, there’s a good chance it has less microbial activity, but you can certainly increase that by using compost and microbial inoculants, and you can set up a thriving soil food web.

  6. huden on March 11, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    should I use water from the tap to start seeds

    • Phil on March 12, 2014 at 1:25 am

      You certainly can, but it’s nice to let chlorinated water sit out for 24 hours so the chlorine can off gas, or if there’s chloramine in your water, you can add a bit of vitamin C to tie that up.

  7. Joyce on March 13, 2014 at 2:06 am

    I wanted to participate in your survey asking whether I plant food or ornamentals. I thought of the property, with the veg. garden at the back, herb garden close to the kitchen door, the apple trees at the front, the new pear trees, the current, gooseberry and raspberry bushes by the chicken run and I decided to click on food. But then I remembered the flowers in the front garden, the circle garden with the lovely irises, the tiered garden, the day lilies by the mailbox, the columbine around the well-head, the poppies and shasta daisies in front of the barn, the containers by the front walk, and the lilac/bush rose and hydrangea bushes near the lane. The survey doesn’t allow for voting for both, so I thought I would just tell you my choice is both. We’re having another blizzard today, and more cold temps are forecast. Spring arrives next week, but we still have a deep snow cover (good for perennials, I know) and it’s hard to believe the calendar. My mental tour of the gardens, prompted by your survey question, has been a good contrast, and reminds me that this white landscape will change. Thanks for the lift!

    • Phil on March 13, 2014 at 2:16 am

      Thanks for sharing Joyce! I love winter, but am definitely looking forward to tulips myself.

  8. Ann on March 14, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    To water seedlings, what ratio of EM and Sea Minerals to water should I use?

    • Phil on March 14, 2014 at 9:51 pm

      If possible, I like to go with 1:500 EM to water, and 1:100 Sea Minerals to water. So that would be a little less than 1/2 teaspoon of EM and 2 teaspoons of Sea Minerals per quart of water.

  9. Lynda on March 31, 2014 at 1:17 am

    I planted tomato seeds about 2 weeks ago. I have watered with sea-crop and BioAg. They are just now getting their 2nd set of leaves but the stems seem weak. Do I need to be feeding them something else as well or am I just rushing it?

    • Phil on March 31, 2014 at 12:45 pm

      It’s generally due to not enough light. Even if you’re using fluorescent lights, which seem bright to us, it’s not nearly as much light as they would get outside. My recommendation is to add more light and position it within a few inches of the top of the plants. As an aside, be sure not to overdo the Sea Crop and Bio Ag – they’re both excellent choices, just in small amounts.

  10. Milen Kostadinov on June 5, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Hi, Phil. I have 2 T5 lights on my seedlings stand however I still do see that my giant tomato plants which I have started just a week ago are making a long stem which obviously is the symptom of having lower than needed light income. Sure the both lights are Sunlight Fish& Grow T5 bulbs with single fixtures but they have a connector so they are both connected together in one shelve. The only thing I did not buy so far is the Nano Reflector which I’ve been told that is causing a tremendous increase of the light power, but it actually costs as another T5 body with the bulb (about 30CAD) in Montreal area, so I am a bit in question what would be the best decision. So far the distance between my self-watering plants and the light fixture is about 10 inch but I am afraid that if I lower it down, there would be too much heat.Oh, I forgot to mention that I have two heating pads but I did not used them so far as I’ve heard that they might generate sometimes more heat than needed and to kill the seedlings, so I was thinking about buying a thermostat but they are pricey too, so what is your opinion on that? Should I put a heat mat under, than on top a 10×20′ draining tray with another tray on top (72-128 cell) with drainage holes? If you say it would not overheat I would give it a try as it is something that I know my citrus cuttings would love to do.Btw, if you do a lot of seed germination, you might find a good idea to make yourself a light bulb stand from pvc pipes and fittings. I think that this is what I am going to do as it would come up about 10/15CAD but would avoid any risks of having the books fall down etc. And on top of that, the light would be hanging there on a chain or rope, so it would be easy to lower/higher the bulbs.I have never tried the ocean minerals but I have red tons of goods about it so do you think it would improve the growth rate too? I have lots of kelp in powder so I am making my own kelp extract (as well as spirulina and chlorella) but have no ocean next to me to try some of that water 😉

    • Phil on June 6, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      Lower your lights Milen – 4-6 inches above the plants. The reflector would also help. No need for the heat map though – that’s most helpful for germinating the seed. Kelp and ocean water are my favorite fertilizers – both are useful.

  11. Milen Kostadinov on June 6, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Thank you, Phil. I adore all your ideas and have implemented quite a few but it is a bit strange to apply some when our garden is our balcony and our “micro-farm” (with other words one of the rooms have been turned into a jungle 😉 ). I will make the light stand and try to lower the light and see where would that lead me and I guess there won’t be much of a heat when the bulbs are fluorescent. That might substitute the heat mat I guess, so it is all a matter of test&try.Thanks again,Milen

  12. Dean on February 21, 2015 at 8:07 pm

    HI Phil can you please elaborate on what is ‘good soil’ in making your own potting mix?

    • Phil on February 21, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      I guess that could be a big discussion, but I just mean any purchased topsoil that looks/smells good and doesn’t have weeds growing through it, or any of the soil from your own yard that looks and feels like nice soil.I.e. Don’t take soil from the bald patch of your garden that can never seem to grow anything, and don’t buy topsoil that’s infested with weeds.

  13. Kerry Allen on February 21, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    Hi Phil, nice info! One thing I hadn’t thought of was sterile soil inviting in the bad microbes. It has troubled me in the past about how on earth I should bake all that homemade starting mix to sterility. I’ve only been tinkering with the idea with starting seeds indoors for some years as I really don’t have a great place to do this. I may start small this year though on a table in the cellar which I have cleared off.Last year, I tried ‘winter sowing’ outdoors with recycled opaque milk jugs. Have you tried this? I had some success, but limited… I think mostly because I did not monitor them carefully enough in the spring. I plan to work on learning how to do this better as it seems like a great way to start seeds and have them sprout and grow when the time is right for them. Also, I think if I do it right– i.e. opening up the tops on warm days, then they will already be hardened off when I am ready to plant them out. I would like to learn to do both this and indoor seed starting as well.Thanks, Phil, for the seed starting video. Every bit helps clear up the mysteries! ;P

    • Phil on February 21, 2015 at 9:39 pm

      I don’t personally do winter sowing, but it can work. One thing to keep in mind is that once a seed starts germinating, it often needs some attention for the first couple of weeks, mostly water, so even with winter sowing, it still pays to keep an eye on them.

      • Kerry Allen on March 23, 2015 at 5:13 am

        Hi Phil, It’s one month later and I had finally gathered all of my supplies in time to get some things started 4 weeks before our average last frost. (Thanks for the motivation to get it going this year!) I bought a four flat heat mat and a thermostat, organic seed starting mix and I used water from my fish aquarium with EM added (I hope not too much). That’s what I had on hand this time, none of the sea minerals or other stuff that you mentioned, this time. Everything has sprouted within 2 to 3 days and look very good! I have 12 kinds of tomatoes in one flat, herbs, flowers, various brassicas and peppers, etc in the other two flats. I still have room for one more. I am wondering about any possible challenges you may have found with mixing species of plants in one flat? Also, if I prick them out to move to 3.5 inch pots, there are sites that say, if the stems are leggy, you can plant them up to their first true leaves. One such site with the Royal Horticultural Society… but I thought you could only do this with plants that would develop adventitious roots such as tomatoes. I know you plant sweet potato slips deep as well, etc. but this web site did not specify any species in particular. Thanks!

        • Phil on March 24, 2015 at 12:29 pm

          Good job! There’s no problem mixing species in the same flat. I’m not entirely sure about deep-planting seedlings that don’t develop adventitious roots, but I don’t think’s an issue for most vegetables. More important would be to give them sufficient light to not get too leggy in the first place.

          • Kerry Allen on March 24, 2015 at 12:41 pm

            thanks so much. I think most of them are not leggy. I only have regular fluorescent light bulbs at this point and they are just barely above the plants, so I think that’s okay. the only ones that are very long and seem to be leggy are actually a vine; purple hyacinths beans. so maybe it’s because it’s a vine and not due to insuffficient light. Thanks again.



  14. JB on February 22, 2015 at 12:15 am

    high altitude (7000 feet) short growing season, sometimes only 90 days… Have a grow dome and mini greenhouse to help me out outside. How early can I plant tomato seeds indoors to get tomatoes before the frost comes in the fall? I want nice big plants to set out in the grow dome….have a light inside too.

    • Phil on February 22, 2015 at 3:14 pm

      If you have sufficient light, I say you can seed them indoors as early as 8 weeks before you plan to plant them outside. That’s the max I would do. Choosing early-fruiting varieties will be key here.

  15. Gigi Memphis on February 22, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    Many organic gardeners are switching to coir (coconut hulls) as a sustainable alternative to peat moss. I have used this for several years and really like how it keeps the soil both light and evenly moist. I recommend about 1/3 coir in your potting mix.

    • Phil on February 23, 2015 at 1:11 pm

      Thanks Gigi, it’s definitely more sustainable than peat, but for those of us who don’t live where coconuts are grown, it still has to be shipped a long way. But yes, arguably better than peat.

  16. Ian McAllister on February 23, 2015 at 1:55 am

    Is an egg carton usable as a multi-celled planting tray, or are they impregnated with something?

    • Phil on February 23, 2015 at 1:15 pm

      Good question. I’m not sure about that.

  17. Barbara on February 23, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    I am setting my trays with tomato and pepper seeds on a heat mat to germinate. Do I need to also turn on my fluorescent lights over them before they germinate?

    • Phil on February 24, 2015 at 1:16 pm

      Light isn’t needed, but I actually provide it, partially because it adds more warmth, but also because it better mimics what would happen in nature. That being said, some seeds need a little light to germinate and other seeds can’t germinate with any light. Tomatoes and peppers seem to slight benefit from it.

  18. Kathy on February 25, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    2 questions. 1)my seedlings tend to get moldy. Am I watering too much?2) I started sunflowers indoors and planted them outside only to have something dig them up. Did I plant them too soon?

    • Phil on February 26, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      1. Maybe watering too much, or maybe you need more airflow (a fan will solve that), or a healthier soil food web (compost and effective microorganisms will help with that), or a lighter soil mix (compost and perlite will help with that), or all of the above.2. Not necessarily. Some animals like to dig up plants. You may have to protect the plants with a small fence or other type of cover.

  19. JT Jamz on March 12, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    After I put the dome on, do I still water everyday, or do I leave it alone?

    • Phil on March 12, 2015 at 4:40 pm

      Only water when the soil surface has dried out just a bit. We don’t want it to dry out too much, but we also don’t want to oversaturate it with water. You may only have to water 2 times per week. It depends on how much you watered in the first place, plus the heat and the humidity.

      • JT Jamz on March 12, 2015 at 5:41 pm

        Thank you very much Phil. This is only my second year gardening, it is greatly appreciated.

  20. Patch on April 24, 2015 at 7:02 pm

    My seedlings are doing well and have the first & second sets of leaves so I’m wondering how much fertilizer to use: I have Pacific Natural concentrated fish from the Organic Gardener’s Pantry. I use 4-liter size and I wonder if 2 tablespoons per 4 liters is okay or should I use less considering they are still under grow lights indoors. TIA.

    • Phil on April 25, 2015 at 12:58 pm

      Their suggestion is 2 Tbsp per quart for indoor plants, used monthly, but yes, using less when they’re so small is a good idea. I would do 2 Tbsp per 4 liters as you said, but every 2 weeks. Or 1 Tbsp per 4 liters every week.

  21. Patch on April 26, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    Thanks Phil! I fed them yesterday morning. Thanks for sharing Symphony of the Soil with us!

  22. Heidi Critchfield on September 28, 2015 at 11:42 pm

    I am in Florida and when I plant lettuce I have to keep it in the AC to keep it cool enough to germinate. I would prefer to keep trays outside. Any suggestions on keeping it cool enough to germinate outside?

    • Phil on October 1, 2015 at 1:36 pm

      I’m not sure how to keep it cool outside, but I do have a few tips to help with germination: Use green-colored, looseleaf lettuces because they often can take a little more heat; soak seeds for a full 24 hours before planting, in the sun for at least part of that time because sun helps them germinate; keep seed regularly watered after planting; provide some light shade for them with shade cloth or straw mulch or something else. Good luck!

  23. Barbara Mate on March 10, 2016 at 3:18 am

    I remember seeing the ratios somewhere but cannot find them now. I’d like to know what the dilution that you use to soak the seeds. Thank you!

    • Phil on March 14, 2016 at 2:43 am

      1:100 for sea minerals and 1:50 for liquid seaweed.

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