Friday, March 27, 2009

Sowing Seeds

I finally started my first batch of seeds. It's been four years since I started seeds -due to moving, living overseas, and returning to a home that needed repair. Most of my seeds have been kept in refrigeration, but viability is still a worry.

Here is my method of seed starting.

I start with cell packs that I re-use every year. I separate them since they come all stuck together in a flat-sized group (I'll explain why later). I fill them gently with a moistened, but not sopping, soil-less mix that I've sterilized.

Next I place the seed onto the surface of the medium (these are tomato seeds) and gently press into the medium to just less than the suggested depth. I use a dull pencil or chopstick.

I then cover the seeds with a layer of milled sphagnum/peat moss, spritzing with water to moisten. Tiny seeds are barely covered. Larger seeds, like tomatoes are covered with about 1/8 inch. The moss helps to retard fungal growth, such as damping off.

I mark the cells with labels showing the type of seed, variety, and start-date. I make my labels out of cut up mini-blinds and write with Sharpie markers. This is a great way to re-use the extra slats that often have to be taken off to make the blinds the correct length. I avoid using very old blinds as they may have high lead levels.

The flats are covered with a clear dome top and placed under fluorescent lights. I use one cool white and one warm white in each fixture to mimic natural light. Since fluorescent bulbs are cool to the touch, I bring the bulbs down until they just rest on the surface of the plastic dome...touching, but not buckling. I have my lights hanging on chains from hooks in the ceiling so they are easily adjustable to whatever height I need. The lights are on an automatic timer that goes on at 7:00 am and off at 10:00 pm.

Here they are, awaiting germination. As of today -the 27th, the broccoli, kale, and Celosia have germinated. Once germination takes place I remove the cell from the domed flat and put it in an un-domed flat with the leaves less than an inch from the actual fluorescent bulbs. This is why I separate the cells before putting them in the flats. It makes it much easier to remove individual cell-packs as they germinate. Different plants have different germination rates.

I remove the cells because the heat and humidity under the dome is more than the germinated seeds require. Once they have sprouted I want to slow down growth. Bright lights very close to the seedlings, and cooler temperatures will help avoid disease problems and leggy growth -which causes flopping seedlings.


  1. Wow! You have quite the operation there. Reminds me of my parents' basement--my dad hybridizes hostas and grows his seedlings over the winter.

    My own seed-planting aspirations aren't so far-reaching. I'm hoping to start a few tomatoes and lettuces soon. Not enough sun in the yard for much more!

  2. Una, I'm in awe. This is quite an endeavor. So worth the effort. I have always wanted to try to grow seedlings for a vegetable garden. You inspire me to try.

  3. Holy cow! You have quite a set up!
    I ready for the first tomato, a real tomato, red all the way through! YUM!