Why start seeds indoors
-Starting seeds indoors will extend the growing season in cooler climates. Some plants for example tomatoes, eggplant, basil and parsley require a longer growing season and need a head start.
-Small flower seeds germinate and grow better if started indoors in perfect growing conditions rather than the hostile outdoor environment.
-Starting your own seeds, gives you a choice of a large variety of plants that may not be available at nurseries and garden centers.
Check seed viability
If you saved seeds from previous years, you may want to check to see if they are still viable. Put 10 seeds on a moist paper towel, cover and place in a plastic bag. Periodically check the seeds. If 5 of 10 seeds germinate, then you should expect 1/2 of the planted seeds to germinate.
When to start planting
Generally, seeds should be started 6-8 weeks prior to planting. Some plants may take as long as 12 weeks. For example peppers can be started 8 weeks before planting outdoors and tomatoes 5-6 weeks. Check the back of the seed packet for timing recommendation and track back so that the plants are ready at planting time.
For good germination seeds need warmth, moisture and some require light. Some seeds germinate best with bottom heat. Warm weather crops such as peppers and eggplant need 78-80F degrees. Germination temperature and time varies for different seeds. To provide warmth, set your container on top of a refrigerator or on a heating mat. When using a heating mat make sure you control the temperature so as not to “cook” your seeds. Remove the mat when seedling are 1-2 inches tall. Water seeds by soaking the soil from the bottom. This keeps the seeds from floating in the soil.
When the first leaves (cotyledons) appear, remove the plastic and move the container to a bright, sunny window. If you cannot provide enough light add a grow light or fluorescent shop fixture for additional light (14-16 hrs a day). The lights should be placed 2-3″ above the seedlings and adjusted as they continue to grow. Not enough light can result in leggy and spindly plants.
Plant seedlings into individual pots when they are about 2″ tall. Bury them down to the first set of true leaves for stockier plants. Water in well and provide even moisture; do not overwater or keep the soil soggy or you will have fungal problems (Botrytis). If you let the seedlings dry, they will die. Once established start to fertilize lightly with a seed starter or fish emulsion.
Before you set your plants in the garden, they need to “harden off”. When temperatures reach 60F degrees, move your seedling outdoors for a few hours each day, gradually increasing the time with each subsequent day. This will toughen up your plants and make planting into the garden an easier transition.
Garden tip: If you would like to sterilize your own potting soil mix, place soil in an oven proof container and cover with aluminum foil bake @180 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Be sure to open the windows as this will have a disagreeable odor.