I’ve spent the last week or so talking about seed catalogs and buying seeds. But what should you do once you’ve got the seeds? How do you go about starting the little things?
Well, if you’ve looked at the catalogs–or even in the stores–you’ve seen that there are a whole lot of things that are often sold with the seeds. Are any of them necessary?
I would tell you that the only thing necessary is a sterile potting soil without fertilizer. If you can find that, you don’t need to buy anything special. But since that seems to be impossible to find these days, that’s why I buy seed starting soil. If I can find it, and quite often I can, I buy organic seed starting soil, because for the most part I am growing edibles so I want them grown in organic soil.
If you want to buy one of those fancy tray systems with the wicking mats and the heat mats for your seeds, by all means, go right ahead. Anything you can do to give your seeds an advantage is fine by me. If you want the little peat pots, okay–but try to find something a little more sustainable. I was so thrilled a few years when I found little round discs made of coir (the coconut fiber). Peat comes from non-renewable resources and is acidic. Coir is neutral. It’s up to you.
In any event, here’s what you need to ask when starting any seeds:
- Do they need light to germinate?
Do they need heat (or cold) to germinate?
- How long will they take to germinate?
- Are there any other special conditions I need to know about?
All of the information you need to know should be on the seed package.
One thing to pay attention to, particularly if you’re growing edibles. It may say something like “harvest in 28 days” or “harvest in 68 days.” That harvest is days from germination, not days from planting. It doesn’t really specify that.
I also doesn’t really tell you that if you’re starting seeds inside (like with tomatoes or peppers) versus what we call “direct sow” (in other words, planting them in the ground–how novel!), it’s really going to take longer, I find, for harvest to occur. Some things you just can’t speed up. Nature has its own timetable.
In other words, don’t plant the tomato seeds in February in Maine and expect to harvest tomatoes in June. It will not happen. There’s not enough light, heat and sun on the planet or in an electric plug to make that happen!
Finally a word about when to start those seeds. Don’t start them too early. With the exception of peppers, (and parsley, if you’re starting that from seed) most seeds will come up in about a week or so. Then you’ll have tender little seedlings to nurse along until you can plant them in the garden.
So if you know your last frost date is in May, don’t start tender things in February. By the time you get them outside, you’ll have bean-pole looking things that are all scraggly and mal-nourished. Don’t set yourself up for failure.