Starting garden plants from seeds indoors can be an enjoyable project for any gardener. It's a relatively inexpensive way to grow a wide variety of plants. Many garden favorites are found in a greater variety of colors, sizes and growth habits as seeds, rather than as started plants. When selecting vegetable varieties, check packets for the number of days until harvest to be sure your choices will ripen before frost. Many long-season vegetables must be started indoors in early spring. Similarly, many annual flowers need an indoor start if they are to bloom during the summer.
Seeds are available from many sources, ranging from your local building supply store to garden centers and mail order catalogs. The percentage of germination and seed purity is governed by law. Many companies sell different sizes of seed packets, from mini-packs of as few as ten seeds to seeds by the pound. Although smaller quantities cost more per seed, don't buy more seed than you will use in two or three years.
The fresher the seed, the greater the chances that all the seeds will still be viable. As soon as you're done planting, store seed packets in an air-tight container in a cool place: the refrigerator is ideal.
To keep the humidity low in the container, add a packet of silica gel. A teaspoon of powdered milk in a piece of facial tissue or paper towel will also absorb moisture.
Start seeds in small, individual containers. It's best to use divided containers with a single seedling per container, rather than filling a larger container with potting mix and sowing many seeds, because the seedlings' roots will grow into each other and are likely to be injured later during transplanting.
Exceptions to this rule are onions and leeks from seed. These can be started in one larger flat and transplanted out into the garden while still small without harm to the seedlings. Small individual plastic pots are also suitable. All seed starting containers must have drainage holes at the bottom. Most plastic seed-starting containers are reusable but may harbor plant pathogens once used.
Sterilize used containers by soaking the cleaned cups in a solution of bleach or other disinfectant for 30 minutes, then rinse and use. Mix the solution to the strength recommended on the label for disinfecting surfaces.
There are many kinds of fiber pots made from organic materials such as peat, cow manure, and shredded wood. Some gardeners make pots from strips of newspaper.
Fiber or paper pots that break down in the soil are particularly good for raising seedlings that don't transplant well, such as cucumbers and squash.
Many gardeners use clear, plastic domes that fit over trays of plants. These domes allow light in, but help keep moisture from escaping. They can also help retain heat provided to the root zone. Obviously, the domes have to be removed when the seedlings are tall enough to touch them!
Next week, seed starting mixtures and seed starting times. For more information on gardening, you can reach me at 823-4632.