Phil: Welcome to my bedroom.
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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. I 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.