I admit it. I do not do well during the short, dark, cold days of winter. I so look forward to the spring every year. That’s why seed starting day is a day I relish in. To me it is the first sign that spring is just around the corner. The dark days of winter will soon be gone. Here is the way we start our seeds.
1. Gather your necessary items
Those would include:
Seeds, soil, a shallow tray or bucket to moisten your soil. a tray to place your plants in, a propagation mat, jiffy pots, plant stakes and a permanent marker, vented humidity dome, and a lamp if you are starting indoors.
Seed Starting Kit
Seeds – should be for this year, although I store my seeds in the refrigerator in a baggie, and I have used seeds as old as 10 years and gotten germination (sprouting). Of course the germination rate may not be as high as with fresh seeds, but I don’t like to throw anything away. I just plant extra seeds when planting. You should also make sure that you are planting the proper seeds for the season you are planting.
Soil- I use a good grade of potting soil. The one I have been using for the past couple of years is a natural and organic seed starting mix. You will need a bucket to work the soil with some water before planting. If you don’t do this the water will just sit on the top of the soil and not penetrate it at all.
Tray – You should have some sort of shallow tray to place your seeds in for watering.
Propagation mat – I suppose if one thing on this list would be desirable rather than completely necessary, this would be it. I always use a propagation mat under my seeds. It will warm the soil and assist the germination rate (how many seeds sprout) and also give you healthier seedlings.
Jiffy Pots – These are available at just about any garden center. These are made from compressed peat. They are biodegradable, so you plant the entire pot. I remove the bottom of the pot when planting. I usually just throw it in the hole since it is biodegradable. The great part about these is that you are not disturbing your roots.
Plant Stakes and a Permanent Marker – There is nothing more frustrating than planting a seed, watching it grow, picking your vegetables and saying “What variety of tomato is this? I would really like to plant it again.” Be sure to mark your plants and be sure to use a permanent marker.
Vented Humidity Dome – This also assists in the germination of the seeds. It will help to keep the humidity higher. This can be removed once all of the seeds have germinated.
Lamp or Lighting – We use fluorescent lighting with wide spectrum lamps. They don’t produce any heat, so they can be close to your seedlings without damaging them. As a rule of thumb these should be placed 2 – 6″ above your plants. You can start out as low as an inch. Monitor your plants to make sure they are not getting burned. If you find they are too warm, move your lamps up slightly. This is where a stand with an adjustable height is really nice. Also, as your plants grow, you are going to want to be able to raise your lights to meet the height of the plants.
2. Make sure that all of your items are clean and ready to use. If you are reusing soil, it should be sterilized before use. For the homeowner, most will start with new soil. You will probably be reusing some of the items such as your tray and your bucket. Just make sure that everything is good and clean. This will help to cut down on disease. You may even want to use a really dilute bleach solution to rinse the items before use.
3. Moisten your soil – You should take the amount of soil you think you will need and place it in a clean bucket or container of some type. Mix in water in small amounts until you come up with a crumbly consistency. Place your moistened soil in your jiffy pots up to the rim of the pot.
4. Plant your seeds – I like to place 2 to 3 seeds in each pot. Some recommend only placing one seed per pot. I think that the cost of the seeds is so low that I would rather not take a chance on that being the one seed that will not germinate.
5. Mark your seeds – Do this as you are going, pot by pot. We have not bought any markers for years. We have an old mini blind that we use. We just take the slats apart, clean them good and cut them into marker sizes. There is nothing wrong with recycling here.
6. Place your heat mat in your tray and place your jiffy pots on the heat mat. I use a simple basic heat mat without a thermostat. There are heat mats available with a thermostat if you want to be able to set your heat to a specific temperature. Plug in your mat.
7. Place the humidity dome over the tray. Keep an eye on this. You don’t want to get too damp of conditions. A dome with an adjustable vent is preferred. This will be removed once the seedlings have germinated.
8. Turn on your lights – Now is the time to turn on your lights. I have mine on a timer. I set them to come on at 5 AM and go off at 8PM. Be sure to monitor the height of the lamps as your seedlings grow.
Finally, for the best seedlings you should follow these rules.
1. Plant at the proper time. Plant about 6 weeks before your last frost date. If you are not sure of this you make be able to get a vegetable guide from your local extension office. If you are not sure where your local extension office is just search for extension office, my town.
2. Don’t over or under water your plants. If you are not sure of this, watch your plants. If they start to shrivel, they probably need more water. The soil just be damp to the touch only. I like to water from the bottom. I find that it is gentler on these young plants. I just fill up the bottom of my tray and watch to see that the water is taken up at a reasonable rate. If I see that the water is sitting in the bottom of the tray I will dump it out.
3. Watch your lights. Make sure that you are moving them up with your plants.
4. Harden your seedlings off. Your plants have been inside and not exposed to wind or the harsh sunlight. You will want to take the tray outside for about 7 – 10 days before you plant them. Place them in a well protected, semi shady location at first for a brief period of time. I start with about an hour. Then, gradually move them to a less protected spot for a longer period of time. This will help strengthen them and get them used to being in a wind. Make sure to keep them watered well at this point. Once you are done with the hardening off, you are ready to plant.
Vented Natural Gas or Propane Greenhouse Heater
Getting ready to heat your greenhouse? Well, now is the time to either check your existing heater or to purchase a new one. Our top pick, the Southern Burner natural gas or propane greenhouse heater is going to have a price increase (the first time since 2008) on November 20th. So you want to be sure to order prior to that date. This is a super greenhouse heater that will fit under a bench and not take up any valuable floor space. It requires no electricity. The heater is all aluminum and stainless steel. They will keep the temperature at the top of the greenhouse within about 5 to 7 degrees of the floor heat. There is a vented and a non vented model available. The vented model is 25,000 BTu’s and will be adequate to heat most small hobby greenhouses. If you have a larger greenhouse you would simply add a heater or two. There is a formula to calculate how many BTu’s will be required to heat your greenhouse based on the size of your hothouse, the glazing type, the indoor and outdoor temperatures. Please be sure to follow this formula, or your heater may be too small to get your greenhouse to the desired indoor temperature. Plan ahead. Winter is headed our way. Don’t be left out in the cold this year!
Plants Growing in A Lean To Greenhouse
If you are in the process of designing or purchasing a greenhouse you probably have questions about what accessories you should purchase with the greenhouse. I get asked this a lot. Some people want to completely ignore the accessories, while others have read every article and believe they should buy everything that you can put in a greenhouse. My recommendation is to start with the ventilation package. Yes, you will need it even if you are only overwintering plants and even if you are in a cold location. I have seen sunny winter days when it was 60 degrees outside and my fan and shutters were operating. And, I keep my ventilation system set at 90 degrees. On the other hand, I hate to see people load up on a lot of items that they will never use. A heater is a good idea, if it is close to the time of year you will need it, or if any modifications to the structure are needed to accommodate for vents, etc. I think the rest of the items should be added as needed.
Here is a nice article from our friends at Garden and Greenhouse which talks about some small hand tools and re purposed items. These are things probably most of us would never think about, but will be used over and over again.
If you already have or are thinking about getting a greenhouse you should consider purchasing several inexpensive tools and related products. Although the items are not very expensive they can make a difference in how much you enjoy greenhouse gardening and how efficient you are at doing it.
Greenhouse and Indoor Garden Growing
This is an excellent article from our friends at Garden and Greenhouse magazine regarding the need for consistency in your greenhouse environment. In order to have the best, consistent growth it is important to have the best, consistent climate. Although I must say that I find this a little bit more on the advanced end of greenhouse growing. I do not suggest that someone jump in with every known greenhouse accessory when initially purchasing their greenhouse. I recommend getting a ventilation system, as it is an integral part of the building. You can retrofit them, but it is easier to install them when you are putting up your structure. A heater is also a good accessory to order with your greenhouse. As far as some of the other systems are involved, I suggest experimenting and finding out what you need rather than outlaying a bunch of money for accessories that your climate or plants may not need. Unless you are an experienced orchid grower, for example, you will know what humidity, etc your plants will need. Then it would be a wise decision to get your greenhouse set up with these systems at the beginning.
Consistency is the key to unlocking the maximum potential of an indoor garden or greenhouse. Plants thrive on consistency. Plants respond best to light energy, atmospheric conditions, and nutrients when they are kept as consistent as possible. Like people, plants burn sugars to provide energy for growth. In contrast to people, plants have the unique ability to create those sugars from sunlight. The creation and consumption of these sugars are actually part of a chemical equation. In other words, there are countless chemical reactions occurring at all times within and around the plant that contribute to healthy development.
When atmospheric conditions, lighting and nutrient levels are at optimal levels, the plant has everything it needs to make those chemical reactions happen without interruption. When the chemical reactions can occur without interruption, the plant’s growth rate is maximized. Maximizing the potential of a particular crop is the goal of just about every indoor horticulturist or greenhouse hobbyist. In order to maximize the potential of an indoor garden or hobby greenhouse, a horticulturist should closely monitor the consistency of the garden’s temperature, humidity, lighting and nutrient solution. Each of these factors has a significant effect on the chemical reactions that contribute to plant growth.
Advance Greenhouses Personal Greenhouse
Even though this picture was taken several years ago, it won’t be long before many of us will be seeing this as we look out our windows and long for summer. I know it is a few months yet, but now is the perfect time to prepare your greenhouse for winter. It is still warm enough that you can move any plants remaining inside the greenhouse to the outdoors. This will allow you to give your greenhouse a thorough cleaning. Be sure to use a mild disinfectant soap to clean with. Get the mold out of every nook and cranny. I know that we all keep our greenhouses relatively clean, but this is just something that happens with all of the humidity. Check any corners or places where there may be potential leaks and be sure to seal them up. Clean your benches if you have any. Repair or rework your flooring, depending on what you have in place there. Check all lighting and electrical systems. If need be, get a certified electrician in to help you with this. You can never be too safe. Same with your greenhouse heater. Whether you have electric, natural gas or propane, be sure to check your greenhouse heat source and be sure that it is properly connected with no leaks. Also, turn it on and make sure that it works. You may have to go out later in the evening as the temperatures drop to try this, but trust me, it is worth the time and effort to do this. In fact, I think that checking your heating system is the most important part of getting your greenhouse ready for winter. I cannot tell you how many times I have received panicked calls that it is going to freeze tonight and my heater won’t come on. There is just no way to get parts or a new heater to you fast enough. So, even though we are still enjoying summer time temperatures, think about the winter and your greenhouse now.